INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) Blu-ray Review
Philip Kaufman's take on the Body Snatchers compares unfavorably, I think, with the Don Siegel-directed version from 1956. Of course it would--Siegel had Cold War paranoia going for him while Kaufman mined frustration with post-hippie psychology of reason, which emphasized problem-solving over emotional reactions in interpersonal relationships. The older film benefits from sociopolitical context which has been claimed as both anti-Communist and anti-McCarthyist while the latter carries a less prominent cultural footprint given the relatively narrow scope of its subtext.
Which is not to say that Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) isn't a damned excellent piece of filmmaking that still works on its own merits as a sci-fi thriller. I bring up the Siegel version only because the 1978 film is just slightly on the wrong side of being great, but still taps into the nerviness of the paranoid thrillers of the 70's, alongside greats like The Conversation and The Marathon Man.
The basic outline of the story is the same, from a script by W.D. Richter (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Big Trouble in Little China) moving the action from a small town to San Francisco, where alien spores have slowly begun replacing the population. The always-terrific Donald Sutherland plays health inspector, Matthew Bennell, who initially takes the fears of his co-worker, Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), as some kind of mass-hysteria but quickly finds out that something sinister is overtaking the Bay Area. Everyday people are finding that their friends, lovers, and spouses are being replaced overnight with cold, emotionless facsimiles, who just want them to lay back, relax, and maybe get some sleep. They'll find themselves feeling like a different person in the morning.
Kaufman's direction keeps the uncertainty and anxiety going fairly early on, with a reliance of Dutch angles, and increasing numbers of extras just staring with intent at the leads as it becomes clearer and clearer that our heroes are in the minority. The script also does something interesting with the women in the movie with several of the female characters being more sensitive to the changes in the people around them. "Hysteria" feels like an apt word here with regards to how their instincts are perceived by the ever-rational male leads. It's only love and emotion that allows us to know we're human and the so-called calmer, cooler heads have abdicated that (pre-pods) for an almost mechanical rationality.
Leonard Nimoy's self-help guru, Dr. David Kibner, is the embodiment of this ethos, substituting love and affection in relationships with an intellectual accounting and cost-benefit analysis. Nimoy excels in a role that leaves you constantly uncertain of which side of the pod invasion he's on.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, besides being an intelligent film is also not afraid to acknowledge the past a bit, with a cameo by the original's Kevin McCarthy (who sadly passed last week) and the novelist responsible for the story, Jack Finney. It's this respect for both its viewers and the genre that keep it fresh 30 years on.
The disc touts its video as using AVC @37MBps encoding, which to my eyes indicates a pretty clean picture, albeit with some unavoidable grain. It's largely absent in very dark scenes, and blacks tend to look absolutely black. The best, most visually arresting stuff, however, comes at the opening sequence with the migration of the pods from their home planet, through space, and the landing on the San Francisco fauna.
In terms of sound, some of the dialog levels are a little low, requiring me to crank my system up a bit, only to get blasted by the piercing shrieks of the Pod People who are cranked up to 11. Your mileage may vary on whether you think this is a good or bad thing.
The disc comes loaded with the following extras:
• Visitors From Outer Space or How I stop Worrying and Learned to Love the Pod
• Practical Magic - The Special Effects Pod
• The Man Behind the Scream - The Sound Effects Pod
• The Invasion Will Be Televised - the Cinematography Pod
• Original Theatrical trailer
• DVD Copy of the movie, featuring commentary by director Philip Kaufman
This is kind of a weird package. The features on the blu-ray amount to a nice little archive of info about the making of the movie with some of the principals from the filming including Sutherland, Kaufman, and McCarthy spending a few minutes talking up the experience of making the film in the 20-odd minute "Visitors From Outer Space or How I stop Worrying and Learned to Love the Pod" doc. The other 3-4 minute pieces walk through the cinematography, effects, and sound behind the movie in informative but not exhaustive pieces.
Where the weird comes in is with the inclusion of the director's commentary on the SD DVD. It's a decision that defies explanation and mars the otherwise interesting set. It's not exactly a deal-breaker, but it's damned inconvenient.