The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Kaufman's remake gets the Arrow hi-def treatment.

Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright, Art Hindle, Kevin McCarthy, Don Siegel


The Movie:

As great as it is to have so many old and classic films being reissued on blu-ray and DVD, there are times when the cold light of day blows the cobwebs of nostalgia away. That much loved film of your youth becomes an also ran. The story simplistic, the direction slow and heavy. Therefore, it’s always exciting when a fresh look at a film not only stands up to scrutiny but actually improves when seen afresh.
Body Snatchers is a venerable old story, remade officially three times and also spawning innumerable imitators (or is that pods?). Such a fluid concept allows whatever social malaise or fear is currently in the zeitgeist to be imprinted on the text. Don Siegel’s fifties version can be viewed as either a fear of communism or a trenchant criticism of the burgeoning McCarthyism that was sweeping the US. Abel Ferrara’s maligned version attacked the conservative family unit and the creeping militarism of the Bush and Reagan years. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s recent version, Invasion, tampers with the format, making a bland popcorn entry; this is Invasion of the Body Snatchers as directed by a pod person.
Philip Kaufman’s iteration looks at the erosion of individuality, the last burning of the light of hippy counterculture. The aliens in this film might as well be the mythical "Man". These cats are tired of fighting and are finally ready to conform to their cosy office jobs and conservative world view. Kaufman transposes the location in his re-visioning from small town America to San Francisco. Home of Haight Ashbury, breeding ground for the counter culture movement and Castro Street, synonymous with the homosexual rights movement. If the most free thinking and radical area of the States is assimilated then what hope for everyone else?
I first caught this film as a youth on television, so my memories of it were somewhat vague. The pig squeal alarms and pointing of the invaders stuck in my head, as did the incongruous use of bag pipes on “Amazing Grace” at the film's climax. The scene with the dog also stood out but that was about it. Political nuance and allegory were not exactly top of the list of a ten year old boy seeking the forbidden fruits of X certificate horror (Invasion of the Body Snatchers was interesting in being one of those select films that has a PG rating in America but an adults only one in the UK. The only other example that springs to mind is Poltergeist). Seeing this film afresh it now very much belongs in the spirit of such paranoid thrillers as The Conversation, The Parallax View, Klute and All the Presidents Men. Exalted company to be in, but one it very much deserves to be a part of.
It builds the terror slowly whilst moving at a brisk old speed, tiny details that seem innocent and haphazard, such as the waste disposal trucks, gradually build into chilling portents of doom, like Mechanical Grim Reapers removing the husks of the assimilated. Okay, a priest on a swing (yes that is Robert Duvall in a blink and you’ll miss it cameo) may seem more sinister to a modern audience than it did in the seventies but the city locale makes telling use of the ease in which a faceless group of aliens can go unnoticed in a society that is trying to develop its inner self rather than communicate with the community at large. Donald Sutherland makes an interesting protagonist as Matthew Bennell (the first and only time a Public Health Inspector has been the hero of a movie), a man who is unstinting in his job with a keen eye for a rat turd. He is somewhat inflexible, in a platonic relationship with work colleague Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), a married woman who has unknowingly transferred a pod to her home, mistaking it for a new species of plant. Add to the mix Jeff Goldblum as spiky poet Jack, his wife Nancy (Cartwright) and self help guru Kibner (Nimoy) and you have a potent mix of acting talent, all at the top of their game. Sutherland has always been a languid presence, totally convincing in all that he does, his relaxed disbelief giving way to full acceptance. His increasing paranoia ratchets up with every phone call to those in authority, assisted by some great hand held camerawork on the streets of San Francisco. Adams' performance makes you wish she had been in more films; her easy chemistry with Sutherland makes the loss of identity at stake not only chilling but also heartfelt and tragic. Goldblum gets his first major screen outing displaying the same tics and eye popping awkwardness that has become his stock in trade, but never crossing the line into showboating. Cartwright tries out the frayed-at-the-edges performance she gave in Alien to great effect and Nimoy is having a blast removing the shackles of Spock as a smarmy self help guru who becomes a suede-elbow-patched harbinger of the Apocalypse.
It’s hard to fault in any areas. Michael Chapman’s camerawork is every bit as exciting and menacing as his work in Taxi Driver; his ability to capture urban environments in all their energy and grime is unsurpassed. W.D. Richter’s script is economical and beautifully crafted (he seems to have mostly disappeared after the failure of his directorial debut Buckaroo Banzai). Ben Burtt’s sound design is a thing of beauty and the Special Effects, particularly the pod transformations, stand up today.
The picture on the new transfer is of a high standard, the night time scenes are grainy but rich (this is a very dark film) with plenty of detail and a natural look. Audio is in a new 5:1 DTS mix and also original 2:0 stereo.
IOTBS is a must see slice of paranoia, a film that has improved with age. A film with a gut punch of an ending that ends on a note of despair. This ranks as one of Kaufman’s finest films, which is no small thing for a man who has created some of the best films and most famous characters in modern movie history.
9/10
Extras

Once again Arrow deliver the goods. You get an interesting but dry commentary from Kaufman. An interview with Kaufman biographer Annette Insdorf, contextualizing his work. A look at the work of the original author Jack Finney with writer and aficionado Jack Seabrook. A short documentary on the making of the film with all the major players involved. A short interview with sound effects whiz Ben Burtt, which is fascinating. A short with Cinematographer Michael Chapman, which is great on the logistics of shooting on location. A look at the effects on the films opening scene (Slime plays a part apparently). You also get a trailer for the film which shows how bad you can make a great film look.
The main feature on the extras is a round table discussion with Kim Newman and directors Ben Wheatley and Norman J Warren, a fascinating hour long discussion. This has Wheatley throwing out a theory about the ending which is absurdly brilliant and proves that Kim Newman has more throwaway knowledge of the genre at his fingertips than most will have in a lifetime. The film alone makes this a worthy purchase; with the inclusion of a bumper crop of interesting extras it becomes nigh on essential.
9/10


Jason Abbey