MGM // 1978 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // September 21st, 2007
The seed is planted...terror grows.
Are you tired of watching movies where a health inspector living in San Fransisco in the 1970's lives a cushy life on the fringes of high society? Well then you can't miss Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which features a heath inspector as he should be: fighting for his humanity against pod-creatures from another planet!
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an intelligent and witty sci-fi film that is not only completely terrifying, but also a well-crafted satire. And it doesn't have Nicole Kidman in it...so there's that.
Creatures from across the galaxy are forced to desert their planet and ride the winds of the universe to a new home. They arrive on Earth and immediately begin to enact their evil plans: take over the planet one person at a time by hatching an emotionless clone out of a pod!
Invasion of the Body Snatches was both a remake and somewhat of a continuation of the original 1956 film, which was originally based on a novel by sci-fi author Jack Finney. In the 1970's version of the film, the story is set in San Francisco and follows Department of Health inspector Matthew Bennell (played by Donald Sutherland) as he slowly discovers the escalating threat of the "pod-people." Along the way you meet his friends, played by Brooke Adams (Dead Zone), Jeff Goldbum (Jurassic Park), and Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek), and catch a bunch of cameos, including Jerry Garcia and Robert Duvall. As Bennell and his friends band together to escape the pod-people, they discover that no one can be trusted...not even the homeless banjo guy in the park.
This film was most recently remade into the Nicole Kidman vehicle The Invasion last August.
The idea of people being replaced with emotionless clones is nothing new to the world of cinema. And while this movie has had a whole bunch of iterations, few versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers have been both frightening and humorous, paranoid and heartwarming, and suspenseful and satirical. This 1970's version hits all the right notes, and has become the definitive version of the story.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a very paranoid film that reflects the 70's sentiments of distrust in authority, as well as a message of Ayn Randian anti-collectivism. It's as much a social satire about the state of psychiatry in the 70's as it is a story about invading aliens from another planet. And yet despite the heavy messages prevalent in the movie, it remains balanced and timelessly terrifying. Science fiction usually has a layer of social commentary attached to it, but the best stories are ones that apply to a general situation that people dislike. In the case of Body Snatchers, the filmmakers clearly had ideas they wanted to express, but the movie could be boiled down to "controlling superiors = bad" and "conforming = bad."
Part of the reason that the movie is so frightening is because it all feels very real (aside from the pods). The characters are layered, and every one of them reacts as if they aren't just following cues from a script, but actually living in the moment. Donald Sutherland does an especially fantastic job of treating this entire world with 100% realism, no matter how campy it gets. Brooke Adams also does a great job of being the paranoid friend/love interest. The movie has a smattering of great "actors' moments" where the characters truly connect and you forget for a moment that this is supposed to be a sci-fi movie. It's these sorts of realistic, and often humorous, moments that allow this movie to stand apart from its schlocky brethren.
But really the true star of the movie is Michael Chapman, the director of photography. Every scene in the movie is filmed with the themes of paranoia and suspicion in mind: most shots are framed with forced or low angles, the film world is filled with shadows, and purples and greens (colors representing the pods) are lurking in many of the scenes. The lighting in the movie also plays a key role, and Chapman has said that he filmed the movie as if it were in black and white. The use of shadows and dark locales gives the whole movie a noir feel, which in-turn makes Sutherland's Health Inspector more like Mickey Spillane rather than just another bureaucrat. Given the slew of splatter-driven horror flicks that have been released over the past four years, it's good to see something with a little more thought and artistry.
This "collector's edition" of the film may have just been released to capitalize off of Kidman's remake, but MGM put together a solid DVD. The video is pretty clean, although it still retains that "70's feel" that I can't quite describe. Color is an important part of this movie and this DVD transfer does a good job of showing it off with clarity. Invasion of the Body Snatchers also relies heavily on the use of sound effects and a pulsing avante-garde score to really make the viewer feel uncomfortable. The score of the film has a tendency to creep into the scene when you're not looking and raise your suspense to a new level. All of this transfers very well to the DVD in Dolby 2.1 surround.
This double-disc release features a handful of fairly well-produced featurettes and a commentary by director Philip Kaufman. Kaufman's commentary is a joy to listen to if you are at all interested in discovering the amount of planning and thought he put in to this remake. While his commentary comes in and out, and is at times a little dry, it's packed full of info about directorial choices and stories from the set. His commentary does tend to overlap with the featurettes, but it's still very good.
All of the featurettes are found on the second disc, and all have "punny" titles. "Re-visitors from Outer Space, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod" is a good 15-minute overall discussion of the film and its production. It features interviews with Kaufman, Chapman, Sutherland, and others amidst clips from the movie. "Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod" focuses mainly on the creation of the opening sequence of the pods floating through space. "The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod" talks about the unique sounds created for the movie and the definition of a "sound designer." Finally, "The Invasion will be Televised: The Cinematography Pod" focuses on Chapman's cinematography. Overall, these featurettes aren't bad, but they do seem a little light. It would have been nice if they had all been combined, and expanded, into an overall documentary of the film. They also would have benefitted from some footage from the set or clips from the original film to help break up the interviews a bit more. The release also comes with a booklet which briefly covers all the iterations of the "Body Snatchers" story, and how the story lends itself to social commentary.
Usually I wish that DVD releases based their packaging design around the original poster for the film, but I'm glad that Body Snatchers went another route -- that original poster is hideous. This new edition comes in a standard DVD case with a flipper for the second disc, and an embossed slip case cover, all cast in a metallic green. An excellently designed package.
This version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is something of a masterpiece in the realm of science-fiction-horror. It's a fantastically executed piece of social satire and a great showcase for artistic cinematography and realistic acting, with a campy wink and a nod.
If you're tired of mindless torture-horror flicks, check out this paranoid-laden gem of a movie.
Guilty of being the best iteration of the "Body Snatchers" story.
Review content copyright © 2007 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Commentary by Philip Kaufman
* "Re-visitors from Outer Space, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod" featurette
* "Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod" featurette
* "The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod" featurette
* "The Invasion will be Televised: The Cinematography Pod" featurette