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THE INVASION. Snatchers #4 (Read 1498 times)
Jun 20th, 2019 at 11:06am

L.A. Connection   Offline
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Don Siegel's 1956 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is one of my favorite films of all time, full of subtle intrigue about what it means to be human. It's also one of the most psychologically terrifying movies. I have great respect for Philip Kaufman's '78 remake. Abel Ferrara did a decent job with his compact '93 remake. All three have played the 'Thon, the first two multiple times. But, when THE INVASION came out in 2007 to a chorus of negative reviews, I demurred. Well, it's been a dozen years, so I finally gave in....

Coming off his acclaimed German films THE EXPERIMENT and DOWNFALL (yes, the one that spurred all those youtube Hitler memes), Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, like so many other foreign filmmakers before, took the leap into Hollywood aligning himself with mega-bucks Producer Joel Silver and boasting a cast including Oscar winner Nicole Kidman and future James Bond, Daniel Craig. And, like so many before him, the Production left him scarred.

First, the positive. Screenwriter David Kajganich (last year's SUSPIRIA) script tries a different tack from its predecessors - no Pods. The idea of a virus that spreads rather than seedlings has some merit. As Dr. Carol Bennell (a nod to Kevin McCarthy in the original) Kidman is quite good as the mom who just wants to save her son.* Craig plays a close friend/suitor who is also a Doctor. Jeffrey Wright gets saddled with being 'Basil Exposition' as the lab scientist who deduces the nature of the threat. Veronica Cartwright, as Carol's patient, is a nice nod to the 70s edition (in much the same way as Mccarthy was, in turn, to that version**). The most interesting concept is one that is buried deep in the background: the idea that the Body Snatchers outbreak is helping World Peace. It's so obscured that many a viewer might miss is (it also makes little sense in context).

Hirschbiegel handles his cast well. The staging is fine, and Cinematographer Rainer Klausmann manages some good set-ups. John Ottman's score is solid. Still, THE INVASION is curiously flat. No matter how many car stunts and chase scenes (more on those later) there are, the film never quickens the pulse. Original author Jack Finney's storyline still generates some residue suspense, but, there's little new added here to justify a fourth official version (there have been, of course, numerous rip-offs and "homages").

Of course, the elephant in the room is the fact that Hirschbiegel's original cut was deemed unsatisfying by Silver and the Studio (WB). The Wachowskis were brought in for an (uncredited) re-write. V FOR VENDETTA Director James McTeigue Directed the new pages. It was an extensive re-shoot costing some $15M. From reports, most of the last 20 minutes of the movie were re-done. Unsurprisingly, considering Silver's reputation, most of it are stunts and explosions - not, subtle political subtext.

Even accounting for the reshoots, there's enough remaining to argue that even Hirschbiegel's uncut edition wouldn't have worked. To start with, the idea of a Shuttle explosion (pretty distasteful to watch) initiating the Invasion is fraught with issues: They don't burn up? How does it spread over such a vast area? Isn't the transmission awfully quick? Plus, by eschewing the pods, it takes away from the elemental one to one relationship. One pod for each person (the scene where McCarthy's character spies a family laying out one for their baby is chillingly nonchalant). All the vomiting in the world can't replace it. And, by making it a virus, the movie essentially becomes another Zombie tale. The crashing spaceship is right out of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Not to mention that just a couple of years prior, Danny Boyle's 28 DAYS LATER plowed over much the same road (the Body Snatchers here aren't the 'fast zombies' of 28, but, they are more aggressive than in the previous three adaptations). Toss in a little ANDROMEDA STRAIN and a pinch of I AM LEGEND/OMEGA MAN and the finished film is closer to Romero than Finney. The political allegory never gets a chance to come to the forefront (the most effective scene is with the Russian ambassador (Roger Rees)). Unfortunately, it gets completely overwhelmed by abundant action sequences. Further, the way the story unfolds, it makes little sense for such a world-wide panic to occur simultaneously with the 'peace outbreak'. It's either a pandemic or its not. Cities are being overrun and 'taken over', and the News breezily continues as normal? The film never explains how all of this can be happening concurrently. But, Wait! Over there! Look! It's Another Joel Silver Approved Vehicle Smash-Up!
THE INVASION is hardly the worst remake yet made. As noted, enough of Finney's novel survives to give the film some suspense. It's well made (if not smartly thought out) and acted. But, there's a reason that it is often lumped in with the "unnecessary remake" label.

*I disagree with those who say Kidman was cast for her icy reputation. She's a fine actress, plus, the way the screenplay is structured leaves little room for the audience to doubt her humanity.

** Josef Sommer and Celia Weston play Mr. & Mrs. Belicec (Cartwright's character name in the 1978 film)
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