Warner Bros. // 2007 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Mina Rhodes (Retired) // January 22nd, 2008
"I wasn't intending to make a little art film. I tend to make
commercial, mainstream movies. [The Invasion] just needed a little
-- Producer Joel Silver, on why he felt the need to savage Oliver Hirschbiegel's (Das Experiment, Downfall) original cut of The Invasion.
Does anyone else see a pattern emerging? Eyes Wide Shut, The Stepford Wives, The Golden Compass, and the subject of this review, The Invasion. What do all these films have in common? All have Nicole Kidman, of course, but all also suffer from varying degrees of psychotic post-production "retooling" at the hands of their respective studios. Eyes Wide Shut suffered the slightest, but those ridiculous CGI silhouettes inserted into the brilliant orgy scene in the US theatrical cut were unforgivable (Warner made up for it by releasing the unrated version late last year, in all its icy, completely unsexy glory). The Stepford Wives, directed by the sporadically wonderful Frank Oz, from a script by the also sporadically wonderful Paul Rudnik -- the queen of spectacularly bitchy one-liners -- seemed like a good idea at first...until Paramount submitted the film to test screenings, held reshoots, completely re-edited it, and delivered a watered down, vaguely amusing film that apparently differs significantly from its original cut. In 2007, The Golden Compass was mutilated in post-production by New Line, who chopped a two-and-half hour film down to just 113 minutes, then held massively expensive reshoots to try and make some sense out of the story they had hacked to pieces. The film bombed in America, due in no small part to New Line's idiotic hack job in the editing room, leading to poor reviews from most critics (this one very much liked it, despite its wounded present theatrical cut), and the equally idiotic Christian boycott.
These aforementioned examples of what I shall hence dub The Kidman Studio Film Curse all pale in comparison to the atrocities commited against The Invasion by Warner Bros. Viewing the film, one can clearly see the dividing marks between Oliver Hirschbiegel's original cut and the jarringly awful work by the Wachowski's (at least here they don't shamelessly steal from Alex Proyas's Dark City and Mamoru Oshii's original Ghost in the Shell) and the equally artless influence of director, James McTeigue (helmer of that over-praised, laughably didactic piece of revolutionary chic, V for Vendetta), self-servingly commisioned by producer Joel Silver. Surprise, surprise; bloggers who had seen early test screenings of Silver's cut did not give favorable advances (at one point, test screeners reported the film ended with John Lennon's "Imagine," which caused the members of the audience to burst into laughter -- at least Silver made one smart move and removed that from the final theatrical cut), and the film grossed a downright pathetic $40 Million worldwide against a $65 Million total budget.
A mysterious, unscheduled landing from the US space shuttle Patriot goes awry when the shuttle explodes middair, scattering debris all across the United States, and bringing with it a highly resiliant extraterrestrial organism that infects humans and takes over their minds in REM sleep. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. psychiatrist Dr. Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman, Dogville, The Hours), begins to notice things are not quite right with many of the people around her. One of her patients, Wendy Lenk (Veronica Cartwright, the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien) says that her husband is not her husband. The media begins to report that a strange "flu virus" is going around, and starts to set up suspicious innoculation booths, while Carol's estranged ex-husband Tucker (Jeremy Northam, Gosford Park, Showtime's The Tudors), a CDC director conducting the innoculation efforts, mysteriously demands to see their young son again, Oliver (Jackson Bond, surprisingly likeable). With her best friend/romantic interest Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale, Infamous), Carol races against time to rescue her son from his father as the infection spreads, eventually working its way into Carol herself, who must now fight to stay awake, or lose herself and everyone she loves forever to the invasion.
For its first hour and twenty minutes, I was surprised to find that The Invasion is -- despite all the negative press -- rather, well, effective. And in the first fifty minutes, where the studio tampering is kept to a less distracting minimum, it is, dare I say it, very effective.
The grand ol' "body snatchers" story is one of the most potent in all of horror cinema, and while the lack of pods hurts the premise here a bit, Hirschbiegel presents an equally icky method of transport for the 'snatchers': projectile vomit. From pod people vomiting in coffee cups when no one is looking, puking all over defenseless subway-goers, and spewing extraterrestrial bile all over Nicole Kidman's face, it's an amusingly clever substitute, but one that has the dangerous likelihood of devolving into pure camp. Luckily, Hirschbiegel handles it extremely well, successfully managing to evoke just how unpleasant and frightening it would be to have someone forcefully spew vomit all over your face (I can't believe I just wrote that about a film that isn't called American Pie XII: Body Shots).
I did not expect to be scared by The Invasion (although, to be fair, I never expect to be scared by any film). How ashamed I felt, then, when Hirschbiegel managed to make me a teensy bit fearful of a film I was supposed to despise -- after all, the film arrived at the box office officially stamped with a critical "DOA." But, surprisingly, several of the scare scenes actually work. A particularly jump-inducing scene involving a "census taker," who menacingly threatens to vomit in Kidman's face before attempting to violently bust through her door, is superbly done, as are the scenes of Kidman fleeing from the podless people on a subway train, and suppressing her emotions when a suicide is used to weed out the remaining humans in a crowd. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, aka "the two most beautiful people working in film today" (your opinion may differ), are at least adequate in their roles. Kidman, despite her unconvincing Southern accent, which comes and goes seemingly at random, is -- accent aside -- uniformally excellent, and expresses Carol's increasing paranoia and sleep-deprived instability extremely well. Craig, on the other hand, is curiously wooden, and later suffers the indignity of having to wear an unflattering black turtleneck. At times, he is even reminscent of Dr. Sanchez from the great British comedy series Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, but he's always watchable. Veronica Cartwright, she of the awesomely brilliant 1978 version of Body Snatchers, drops in for a welcome cameo; too bad her subplot is not resolved in a satisfying fashion. Hirschbiegel's excellent visual sense is regularly on display here as well; most of the scenes he originally shot are bathed in eerie blues and greens that saturate every corner of the screen, and many of his images are beautifully haunting -- a shot of Nicole Kidman, terrified and waiting on an abandoned subway platform, is terrific. Score-wise, John Ottman's music is subtle and effective; a menacing electronic bassline undulates beneath much of the film, and works wonderfully. The first half of The Invasion is really quite good, and had the studio suits backed off, it would have been excellent. But sadly, this was not the case.
The Wachowski's and McTeigue's corrupting influence is felt right from the beginning. Opening with a brief sequence that occurs well into the film's final act, they quickly introduce their annoying rapidfire editing montages, which infect the rest of the film in far too many spots. This opening scene is followed by a sequence depicting the Patriot exploding into big, loud CG fire. That's not the only completely unnecessary CG-work forcefully added in (Hirschbiegel's original cut featured only minimal CG work). When someone is infected with the alien virus, a quick montage of cheap looking CG cells explodes onscreen, accompanied by equally dumb loud sound effects -- apparently, Silver thinks we the audience are too stupid to remember that certain characters are infected. Later in the film, more nonsensical montages glaringly interrupt; these depict events happening in the future, things that happened in the past, and on one occasion, things that didn't even happen at all (where exactly was the scene where Kidman and Craig walk, talking about noticing "changes" in people? And there's that hideous turtleneck again!). McTeigue may think these amatuerish bouts of music video editing and expository dialogue are clever; they are really just confusingly awful. Add to that scenes where the frustratingly bland doctor, played by Jeffrey Wright, quickly explains everything away with long passages of meaningless, silly gibberish (Craig gets the worst of these, though -- his explanation for one character's possible immunity to the virus contains so many spoken acronyms that is unintentionally hilarious), and you have something cancerous beginning to grow within the film. These wretched inserts thankfully limit themselves to a few isolated incidents in the film's first half, and you think perhaps Hirschbiegel's original vision may yet survive in some form.
You would be very, very, very wrong.
For the most part, the last two "Body Snatchers" films have been allegories for the paranoias of their times (the anti-Communist and anti-McCarthyist interpretations applied to the original, as even Don Siegel himself has said, are really just a case of reading too much into an overrated little B-movie; if the original has any message or subtext at all, it's that "love is good!"); the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is supposedly about urban alienation, mistrust of the government (Watergate, etc), and the spreading appeal of vacuous pop psychology and New Age theories ("This is just like it happened thousands of years ago when those spaceships landed and those spacemen mated with monkeys and produced the human race!"), while Abel Ferrara's mediocre 1993 remake, simply titled Body Snatchers, is about militaristic conformism, family dysfunction, and how children must grow up and conform to the world of adulthood (all interesting themes for a sci-fi/horror film to address; it's a shame that Ferrara's film is otherwise dull, and suffers from an awful score and some embarressing visual effects). What is The Invasion's subtext? Good luck finding it amidst the stitched together mess the film is now. There are promising starting points that never get fleshed out: while Japan and Europe immediately declare that the alien virus is a pandemic, and begin to fight it, the United States media carries the baton of misinformation that the government hands them, and aids in the spread of the virus by ruthlessly promoting the sinister innoculation booths (signs everywhere on street corners remind citizens to "Take the Step!"). A dinner conversation between Carol and a Russian diplomat introduces the film's central theme, that humans are essentially selfish creatures who think only of themselves and their desires, and that civilization is a pretentious joke which could crumble at any moment. Apparently, Hirschbiegel's original intent was to contrast the isolation and selfishness of the human characters (Carol's desire to save her son instead of fighting the invasion, and later killing several infected people) with the unity and peace of the invaders, a fascinating idea that gets completely lost in the studio revamped cut of the film. After all, exploration of such themes led to Joel Silver desparaging Hirschbiegel's cut as "talky" and "arty," as opposed to his desire for a film that was action-y and stupid. It is a kind of poetic justice that after spending $17 million on dumbing down The Invasion, it all tremendously backfired in Silver's face; the last 15 minutes of The Invasion are so insultingly dumb, so aggressively hateful toward any kind of intelligent filmmaking, that it is almost despairing. One can only imagine how Hirschbeigel's original cut ended, because the ending supplied here by the Wachowski's and McTeigue is so appallingly stupid that you just have to sit in awed disbelief. Quite possibly the biggest cinematic cop-out in many a year, the studio-approved ending here is also one of the worst, and after all the gratuitous stunt driving, podless people throwing molotov cocktails at Carol's car, and helicopters landing on skyscrapers in Washington, D.C. (where it is illegal for any building to be taller than the capitol...), it pathetically makes a half-hearted attempt at being 'haunting' (the human race is back to normal, "for better or for worse"), but by that point, the film has already completely imploded.
You'd think that after the film's failure at the box office, Warner Bros. would be inclined to release a director's cut. Nope. The cut of the film presented on this DVD is the theatrical one. Hugely dissapointing. Visually, the transfer is unremarkable; highly watchable, as to be expected for a major studio release, but the picture is often not as sharp and clear as it should be. The audio, presented in Dolby Surround 5.1, is fairly good -- John Ottman's score is reproduced nicely, as are the more ambient sound effects of dogs yelping (an effectively subtle touch -- this time around, the invaders really don't like dogs) and people crying or screaming in the background. Surround use is adequate, and about what one would expect from the film. In terms of extras, there are four featurettes. The first and longest, a "documentary" called We've Been Snatched Before: Invasion in Media History (18:50 minutes), is one of the most ridiculous special features I've ever seen. Essentially a collection of talking heads, such as virologists, "homeland security researchers," and members of the cast and crew, it completely dances around the film's troubled production in favor of ludicrously pontificating on viral pandemics and superficially paying lip service to the cultural fears embedded in the original Body Snatchers films (mysteriously, Ferrara's version is not mentioned). It comes across as a simultaneously desperate and self-satisfied cry of "THIS FILM IS RELEVANT!" There is one small moment in the "documentary" that is worth it, however: in an interview, Veronica Cartwright blurts out "Who's to know that aliens aren't here already?!" Perhaps her character in the 1978 Body Snatchers, and her subsequent appearences on The X-Files rubbed off on her a bit too much.
Following that, there are a trio of shorter puff piece featurettes, the first of which is The Invasion: A New Story (02:54 minutes), which basically plays like a three minute ad for the film. Completely superfluous. The Invasion: On the Set (03:21 minutes) gives a few precious glimpses of Hirschbiegel directing parts of the film (nowhere on the entire DVD are the Wachowski's or James McTeigue shown or even mentioned; can you say whitewash?), while the last one, The Invasion: Snatched (03:13 minutes), focuses on the creation and filming of the more extraterrestrial elements, including a few more scenes of Hirschbiegel directing, and some "spit takes" of the special effects used for the scenes involving the alien bile.
Perhaps someday, Oliver Hirschbiegel's original cut will be released, because sadly, all we have now is a crippled film that deserves better. However, it's highly unlikely, as the film's reputation has already been permanently tainted.
Warner Bros. and Joel Silver are found guilty of nearly ruining what could have been a potentially excellent genre film, and are hereby ordered to release Hirchbiegel's original cut on a DVD with extras that are more than just filler.
Review content copyright © 2008 Mina Rhodes; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (For the Hearing Impaired)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* We've Been Snatched Before: Invasion in Media History
* The Invasion: A New Story
* The Invasion: On the Set
* The Invasion: Snatched
* Official Site
* Get Infected!