Posted on January 29, 2008 at 8:00 am
This fourth movie version of the Jack Finney story about “body-snatchers” again reminds us that the scariest enemies are not creatures with sharp talons and teeth, aliens with super-powerful weapons, or enormous dinosaurs with powerful jaws but the prospect of losing ourselves and those we love by having everything that makes them individuals erased by some sort of emotionless collective mind.
Unfortunately, it also reminds us that a scary premise and a top-notch cast are not enough to make a good movie. This movie does to the original Jack Finney story what the alien virus what-not does to the characters — it sucks out all of the energy and spirit. Where the original earned its thrills through good old-fashioned psychological terror, this one substitutes a couple of “boo!” moments and some gross-out effects. In the original, as people slept, their duplicates grew silently in alied pods. In this one, the virus that turns people into drone-like automatons is transmitted by — projectile vomit. Ew. And in this one, first-class performers better known for Shakespeare are covered with slime and barf on each other. Ewww.
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a brilliantly terrifying film that resonated and illuminated the issues of its time. Liberals claimed it as theirs, arguing that it portrayed the consequence of soulless conformity. Conservatives said it was a parable about the dangers of communism. The 1978 version (rated PG) was directed by Philip Kaufman (“The Right Stuff”) and features Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams in a post-me-decade take on individualism vs. the community. In 1994, another version, this time called Body Snatchers (and rated R) was released. That version is less a political analogy than a reflection of a teenager’s conflicts over identity and separation.
And now this one which is sort of about…national security? Would it be worth it to give up our individuality and ability to feel emotions to gain what every Miss America claims as her platform, world peace? That might be worth thinking about, but thinking is something this film does not do. If it did, perhaps it could tell us how someone could avoid an impenetrable roadblock keeping anyone from leaving Washington DC by buying a ticket and taking the train. Or how sometimes the infected creatures seem to share one consciousness and other times they do not. Or why the bad guys check everyone’s IDs but don’t seem to notice that one of them has the name of someone from their Most Wanted list.
Reportedly, this film was retooled with new directors after an earlier version did not pass muster with focus groups, and some scary stuff was added in. It only serves to make the story more disjointed. The action sequences are dull and the story does not work at face value or as metaphor. It was a great mistake to remove intentionality from the threat, which weakens the story further. Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, and Roger Rees look great (except when Rees is covered with slime and creeping along the floor like Regan in “The Exorcist”), but their greatest achievement as performers in this film is hiding what must have been strong emotions about appearing in this film. Someone should check the basement of the studio for pods.
Parents should know that this is a creepy thriller with graphic shots, some jump-out-at-you surprises, chases, suicide, and some gross-out effects. There are bloody wounds, corpses, adults and children in peril, and bodies covered with ooze. Characters shoot guns, crash cars, and hit each other with various blunt objects. A child gives an adult a shot with a syringe into the heart. There is brief strong language.
Families who see this movie should talk about the Russian ambassador’s statement that “in the right situation we are each capable of terrible crimes.” What evidence does the movie have for and against that view? How does this version of the movie attempt to reflect our times?
Families who like this movie will also like the book , the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1978 version with Donald Sutherland, the 1994 version, or The Faculty. This film continues the tradition of putting alumni of the original in small parts. Actor Kevin McCarthy and director Don Siegel from the original appear briefly in the 1978 version. And one of that film’s stars, Veronica Cartwright, appears in this one as Mrs. Lenk.
A grislier exploration of some of the same themes is in Night of the Living Dead and its remakes and sequels. The classic children’s book A Wrinkle in Time also deals with the same issues.