Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978): The Loss of Self

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) 115 min – Horror | Sci-Fi

As a general rule, I like to avoid reviewing and analyzing  horror movies that are already heavily reviewed. My thinking is that there is little for me to add to the discussion, beyond what’s already been said. I think this year I may make an exception, and cover some of my favorites, and I can at least explain why it is I like them so much. Sometimes, in examining my tastes in visual media, I realize I have a type of film that I gravitate to, or find out what it is that is really scaring me, and such is the case with Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

 

In order to understand why this movie works so much better on me, than the others, I have to put things into historical context. America was just coming out of a period in the 60s, where people were greatly consumed by the idea of community. People had this idea that world peace could be brought about by a lessening of the concern for the individual, and more concern for those outside of oneself, something which  could only be achieved by living communally, also known as communitarianism. But this was a failure, and as a result, there were many  failed communities, with the most infamous being The Jonestown Massacre, in the late 70s, which marked the end of that particular era of thinking.

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/jonestown-massacre-what-you-should-know-about-cult-murder-suicide-w512052

The Jonestown Massacre took place in 1978, and really was the last gasp of the Hippie/Free Love Generation, cementing the idea that communitarianism was a complete failure. By the time of the massacre, most of the hippies had given up that lifestyle, and America was fully enmeshed in the Me Decade. I was old enough to understand what happened at Jonestown, and  have the distinct memory of watching the news stories about it. A few years later, I watched, with horrified fascination, the Made-for-TV movie, while my mother explained the details of it to me, in ways than I was more able to understand, than when I was 8.

Image result for narcissism gifs

In the Me Decade of the 70s, the focus was on the improvement of the individual self, the development of, and getting in touch with, one’s better nature. People took up esoteric hobbies like Chinese cooking, in order to better themselves, they went to see psychiatrists for fun, and they joined movements, like transcendentalism, to reach their higher mental self. Dr. Kibner, a psychiatrist played by Leonard Nimoy, is the embodiment of this idea. But you can see elements of it in Matthew Bennell’s lifestyle, as he darts around his kitchen, frying up dinner in a wok, and in the everyday life of the Bellicec’s, who run a mudbath/spa.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/culture-magazines/1970s-me-decade

Economic and political shifts help to explain much of the change. From the end of the World War II (1939–45) until the end of the 1960s, the American economy had enjoyed one of its longest extended periods of growth. That growth came screeching to a halt in the 1970s, and matters got worse as the decade continued. An Arab oil embargo halted shipments of oil to the United States, forcing gas prices to raise dramatically and forcing rationing. Another oil crisis in 1979 continued the economic shock…. Many Americans turned inward and focused their attention on their economic problems rather than on problems of politics or social justice.

This version of The Bodysnatchers sits squarely  in the center of the Me Decade, with its insular focus on the self, and captures all  the dread and fear  in losing that sense of individuality, which the aliens represent. This movie could not have happened in the 80s, in the same way,  as  self development had advanced into narcissistic self involvement, by that time, and was called the Me First Decade, or Decade of Greed.

Several times in the movie, characters state, that when a person is duplicated, all the person’s memories are left intact, but since the fibrous bodies of the pod people are not organic, in the same way that human bodies are, the chemical rush of emotional connections are missing. You’re still an individual, but lack any ability to care, and there is no emotional connection to anything, which  would have seemed nightmarish to people who had spent the past decade caring very, very, deeply about everything.

Image result for its me gifs/miss piggy

I have spent a lot of time and effort in developing who I am as a person. As a young girl, I decided there was a type of woman that I wanted to be, (a combination of Grace Jones, Nyota Uhura, a dash of Ellen Ripley, and my Mom), and pointed myself towards being that person, with varying degrees of success. So developing and understanding who I was, am, and meant to be, is of huge importance to me. My formative years were during the 70s and 80s, when self discovery and enlightenment was of primary importance in popular culture. It helps that I saw this movie during that ten year time period, when I was discovering  what qualities I considered important for being my best self. I definitely think all of that  informs my reaction to this movie.

I have lost track of how many times I’ve watched this movie, and it has never NOT been scary to me. Unlike the first movie, where the emphasis was on the fear of  sameness, and conformity, the primary theme, of this story, is the loss of the  self, a loss of the uniqueness of self. A subtle, but important difference, although both movies contain elements of both themes. The 1978 version is able to  capture this better than any of the other versions, because it’s so well situated in the center of  the ME Decade, in the original city of self love, San Francisco.

The opening credits are interesting. It’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, because its one of the more unique versions, depicted on screen, of an alien invasion. And also because later in the movie, Nancy Belicec acknowledges this, by asking, “Why do we always expect metal ships?” And she’s  right. There’s no reason to assume that aliens cannot transport themselves through the vacuum of space in some other manner. In this movie, it happens in the form of spores, that travel along solar winds.

https://www.space.com/5843-legged-space-survivor-panspermia-life.html

The revelation that tiny eight-legged animals survived exposure to the harsh environment of space on an Earth-orbiting mission is further support for the idea that simple life forms could travel between planets.

This idea, called panspermia, is not new. It holds that the seeds of life are everywhere, and that microbial life on Earth could have traveled here from Mars or even from another star system, and then evolved into the plethora of species seen today.

 

 

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers gifs

The Bodysnatchers is horrifying, not just because of the inevitability of the invasion, but because its horrifying to watch this happen to the funny, quirky, vibrant individuals in this movie. For as little screen time as we get to spend with Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Geoffrey, we still  get an idea of what a vibrant, and energetic, person he is. The actor, Art Hindle, imbues him with such an  amount of character, in such a short time, (he’s an asshole), that his change after his duplication, (into a completely different type of asshole), is as jarring for us, as it is for Elizabeth, and we start to identify with her through her anxiety over this change.

Elizabeth becomes increasingly suspicious that Geoffrey is not Geoffrey, as she follows him to his appointments, stalking him through the city. There’s a scene of her striding swiftly through the downtown streets of San Francisco, the swish of traffic, and the low rumble of human chatter, the only sounds, as the camera pans jerkily around, illustrating her wound up emotional state, her paranoia, and her disconnect from the rest of humanity. The first part of the movie is full of such scenes of chaotic city life, as the camera jitters and shakes. The city is energetic, and loud, and vibrant, and these scenes show the disconnection between people, that city life encourages. People don’t actually know each other in the city, the population is too transient, and no one is really close to anyone. Well, the duplication process,  simply amps this quality up to eleven. As a Pod Person, you aren’t just disconnected from others, you’re no longer connected to yourself either.

Matthew Bennell works for the city health department, and is very obviously in love with Elizabeth, although it is unclear if she is aware of his feelings, his friends are certainly aware of his feelings, (including Dr.  Kibner). Elizabeth is either unaware of what he feels, or unaware of her own feelings. One of the more tragic moments, for me is, after Kibner has been duplicated, he declares  love to be irrelevant, and Elizabeth’s immediate response is to turn to Matthew, look him in the eye, and matter of factly state that she loves him, because she knows  she’ll be incapable of saying so, after her duplication. She knows that not only will she not love him, she won’t be capable of loving him, and what’s more, she won’t even care. According to the Pod people, she will remember that she once loved him, but she won’t be capable of caring that they used to care about each other.

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers 1978

Part of the horror is watching these friends fight against their inevitable duplication, as they argue, and love, and laugh. Then, as they are duplicated, one by one, we can see that the duplication process is not as peaceful as the Bodysnatchers would have their victims believe. They are alive, in that they appear to be who they once were,  but that essential part of who they were, what made their life worth living, is all gone. (I think this is where the other movies fell flat for me. I was not invested in the characters, or what happened to them.)

The aliens keep emphasizing that the process is painless, and that all the memories are left intact, and you can tell by this statement, that they lack  any ability to understand why the  humans are defiant, or why they might be afraid of the process, attributing their fear to pain, or loss of memory. The aliens are often puzzled by the emotional defiance of the humans around them, and  incapable of  understanding  that memories, without any emotional context, are  meaningless, and are an erasure of the “self”. Kibner flatly states, “We don’t hate you.” None of this is a personal thing for the aliens, and they are often mildly baffled at the personal reactions of the humans, to being duplicated.

In the scene where Elizabeth first meets Kibner, they are at a party, and a woman is having an emotional breakdown, as she insists that her husband isn’t her husband. She knows this because he got his hair cut short. He has a scar on the back of his neck that he always used to cover up by growing his hair out, but now, he no longer cares about the scar. There’s no emotional context for a habit he kept up for, possibly, decades. He simply doesn’t care. He can’t. That is the tiny erasure of a personality quirk that his wife understood, and possibly found endearing,  and that itty-bitty erasure of self, is for her, the clearest indicator that he is not who he claims to be.

During this woman’s  breakdown, the other party goers look on with detachment, some of them with faint distaste. These are Pod people. They don’t know, care, or begin to understand this woman’s hysteria, and just want her to stop making a scene. Actually, the aliens do have emotions…of a sort, but they are very faint, and very far away, a distant  memory of what they used to be. They all  display a faint,  muted, (as if through a thick wad of cotton batting), contempt for humanity.

 

Ironically, contempt for other people is such a part of Kibner’s natural human state, that one can see little change in his behavior after his duplication.When Kibner first meets Elizabeth, he engages in the worst sort of psychiatric practices, telling her what she’s feeling and thinking, instead of listening to what she says. This entire scene is infuriating  to me, having been on the receiving end of more than a few armchair psychiatric diagnoses, of whatever pathology that someone decided to slap on me, because I was doing something unexpected.

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/belicecs

When Kibner is  counseling Elizabeth, he interrupts her,  and doesn’t  listen to what she’s trying to tell him, as if he knows better than she does, what she’s feeling, and why. Instead of helping her to explore why she thinks what she thinks, he already has a theory handy, and applies it to her circumstances. He tells her  she wants to get out of her relationship with Geoffrey because she’s frightened of having one, and that what she’s saying about Geoffrey is just an excuse to do so. It’s  the  same advice he gives to the hysterical woman at the party,  diagnosing their problems as  societal ones, rather than  personal ones, based on his newest book.

The scene where Kibner is counseling Bennell’s  group of friends is fascinating, because you don’t realize Kibner has been duplicated. He comes across as just a more sedate version of the man we saw at he party the night before, and it is not until after he leaves the meeting, that we realize he is an alien. This makes  sense of how uniquely unhelpful he is to the Bellicecs during that scene. Calming them down is not his objective, because, as a Pod person, he can’t do that. He has no understanding of their emotions, so can’t possibly counsel them. He only causes them to become more upset, and he is, once again, mildly baffled by their hysteria. Afterwards, Kibner says to the Geoffrey duplicate, that the duplication of Bennell, and his friends, can’t happen soon enough, and says it in  a mildly disdainful way. Those messy emotional humans!

The Belicecs are my favorite characters in the film because they really do seem like a quirky, odd couple, who also happen to be deeply devoted to one another. After they thwart the duplication of their entire group at Bennell’s home, they are pursued into the streets by Pod people. It is Jack who uses himself as a distraction so that his wife and the others can escape the crowd. Nancy, however, is having none of that and, refusing to be parted from her husband, chases after him.

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/nancy

Surprisingly, it is Nancy (played by a superb Veronica Cartwright) who turns out to be the most resourceful. Its surprising only because  you are not invited to think this way about her during certain scenes,  although in hindsight, all the signs of her pragmatism are there. She runs a successful business, and compassionately, but firmly interacts with the customers. As one of them pressures her to turn off the spa’s music, she resists, saying its good for the plants (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the pods, I think). She may have a head full of fringe ideas, and her reactions are a bit extreme, but she knows how to take care of herself, and is the only one who figures out how to successfully trick the aliens into thinking she’s one of them.

We spend the rest of the movie with Matthew and Elizabeth, as they  attempt to outrun the invaders, getting caught and drugged by Kibner at one point. They escape Kibner, and a duplicated Jack Belicec, but the drug eventually kicks in. Elizabeth falls asleep, and  gets duplicated. The pointlessness of all that fighting and running, their defiance of the inevitable, is what fuels the horror, because everyone has to sleep, eventually. Matthew, in a fit of spite after Elizabeth’s death, manages to burn down a couple of warehouses full of pods, but that act is meaningless. The pods and their caregivers have had at least a couple of days to ship them everywhere. Eventually Matthew is himself captured, and duplicated.

The first time I saw this movie, I still held out hope that maybe Matthew had  managed to escape his fate. Part of the reason I got my hopes up, was at the end of the movie, he is seen walking aimlessly around the the areas he frequented when he was human, quietly observing the activity around him, engaging in his usual hobby of cutting up newspaper articles, or going to work, and I remember Nancy’s ability to fool the aliens. I hope that’s all Matthew is doing but how realistic is that?

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/party

We can see what life is like in Pod-land, when Matthew goes to work. At the beginning of the film, he started his day with newspaper clipping, and he does so at the end of the movie as well. This is just a habit he remembers doing, and it makes me wonder if the articles he clips, when he is a pod-person, are different from the ones he clipped, when he was human, and it’s also sad, because without any emotional tie to what he’s doing, it’s just as pointless as his fight against being duplicated.  After all, whatever he’s clipping can have no emotional resonance for him. He wanders into Elizabeth’s department, and the two of them look at each other, through each other,  and don’t acknowledge each other’s presence. Elizabeth slowly reaches over and turns off a Bunsen burner, as if in dismissal of Matthew’s presence, and he slowly walks away, as if he’d forgotten why he stopped there. The  clicking of the burner, as it slows and stops, feels like an acknowledgment of the death of their relationship. There’s nothing to see here! Move along!

Ironically, Kibner’s theory about people moving in and out of relationships too fast, and searching for excuses to get out of them, has actually come to pass. Being duplicated is the ultimate relationship killer, and it also perfectly illustrates one of the movie’s premises about living in the city. People really are disconnected from each other now. Imagine the horror of  not being able to feel anything for your kids, although you certainly remember they’re your kids. Or your spouse. Or your parents. You remember that you have relationships with these people, but you don’t care. No one  acknowledges anyone else’s presence, as they all glide slowly through their routines, with the blank expressions of robots. A bell rings and everyone rises in unison for the exits. It’s time to go home, and do what? They are all just going through the motions of living.

This brings up a point that was well illustrated in a scene from the 2007 version of the movie. In that scene, several pod-people are having dinner, as  television news reports are heard of the Middle East Peace Agreements, and the de-nuclearization of other countries.  In such a world, everything that arises out of human emotions is meaningless. Jobs, money, bills, all of the usual anxieties of life are gone, but then so are all of life’s biggest issues. There are no wars, no pogroms, no rape, no domestic abuse, no violence of any kind. For what reason do people have to harm one another, in a world in which nobody feels anything for,or about, anyone? Kimberly says it best, it is a peaceful world, a world without strife or anxiety.

Recall what I said in my last review of these films, that the next remake of this movie should be done from the point of view of those right in the middle of some crisis, and not, yet again, from the  point of view of comfortable, middle-class, white Americans. What happens in an environment, (or to protagonists), who actually welcome the alien invasion, because it means an end to their suffering. The war has suddenly stopped. No more police brutality. No more racism. The prisoners have all  been freed. Your husband no longer hits you. Can you still make a horror movie out of such a theme? What if there’s world peace, and your personal crisis is over, but you don’t feel relief or happiness, because you  no longer care. What price to pay for this? This is part of the horror.  What if the revolution occurred and nobody cared?

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers gifs

 

 

*(Hey! You there! I love, love, love this movie, and writing this was a labor of love, so let me know if you loved it, too. Like it and leave a comment (if you’re not too shy!) let me know if I should keep doing these long form film essays. The topic for this series is The Foundations of Fear.)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Vs. … All The Rest

There have been three other iterations of the original 1956 movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Hollywood keeps rebooting this movie (in fact, there is yet another remake of this movie in the works), despite diminishing returns on its efforts. I blame this on a lack of understanding, by the last two directors, of the core themes.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers

The first film is based on Jack Finney’s novel of the same name, which was written in 1955. I haven’t read the book since I was a very young child, (like 9 or ten),  so I can’t speak to the authenticity of the plot vs. the book, but Hollywood has been fascinated with it for over six decades now, remaking it every twenty or so years, to less audience enjoyment.

The 1956 version was directed by Don Siegel, and starred Kevin McCarthy, and Dana Wynter. This version is very much a product of its time, so to understand its themes, you need to understand something about the era during which it was made.

A simplified version: Just after WW2, America and Russia were not on good terms with each other. The Russians were still reeling from the devastating 1941 German invasion, and America had just used its first nuclear weapons on Japan. So both countries were paranoid from the war, and shit talking each other in the media.

Related image

During this time, the Red Scare, as it was called, was  ramped up to hysterical heights in the American media, by Senator Joseph MCCarthy. Called McCarthyism, there was increased paranoia that America was full of Russian spies, that they were everywhere,  and their goal was to destroy American democracy, and make America a communist nation.

American society was inundated by the media  ‘…with stories and themes of the infiltration, subversion, invasion, and destruction of American society by un–American thought and inhuman beings.’

… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Scare#Second_Red_Scare_(1947%E2%80%9357)

There were numerous congressional hearings, the federal government targeted Hollywood as the bastion of communist thought, popular actors were accused and blacklisted, careers were destroyed by even the smallest whispers of private disloyalty, people were encouraged to tell if any of their acquaintances were disloyal, and many of the movies from that time period reflected, not just the paranoia of the American government, but the fear that Hollywood actors  lived with, that at any time, they could be accused, and have to defend themselves against accusations of UnAmerican Activities. Just associating with the  accused, could put a person in the spotlight.

‘Some reviewers saw in the story a commentary on the dangers facing America for turning a blind eye to McCarthyism, “Leonard Maltin speaks of a McCarthy-era subtext.”[17] or of bland conformity in postwar Eisenhower-era America. Others viewed it as an allegory for the loss of personal autonomy in the Soviet Union or communist systems in general.[18]’The general consensus over the decades, is that the movie’s primary theme was anti-communism, even if the creators say there was no particular political allegory involved.

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers

In the movie, Dr,Miles Bennell is approached by patients who all claim their family members aren’t really them. Ironically, this is an actual mental illness known as Capgras Delusion, a psychiatric disorder in which a person believes that the people closest to them have been replaced by imposters. While investigating these delusions, he and his companions keep stumbling across pods, and duplicate bodies, and come to the terrifying realization that the delusion is all real, that humanity is being slowly duplicated and replaced by aliens spawned from seed pods.

The original story takes place in a small town in California called Santa Mira, and ends with the lead character, on his own, trying to warn the rest of the populace of the threat.The lead, Kevin MCcarthy, and the director, Don Siegel, both went on to make cameos in the 1978 remake.

The 1978 version manages not only to perfectly replicate the paranoia of the original, but build on it, by setting it in a large city, and  touching on themes of existential dread, mental illness, and urban isolation. It is, like the remake of The Thing, an exceptional example of a film remake.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers is regarded as one of the greatest film remakes ever made.[11] The New Yorker‘s Pauline Kael was a particular fan of the film, writing that it “may be the best film of its kind ever made”.[12] Variety wrote that it “validates the entire concept of remakes. This new version of Don Siegel’s 1956 cult classic not only matches the original in horrific tone and effect, but exceeds it in both conception and execution.”[13] The New York Times‘ Janet Maslin wrote “The creepiness [Kaufman] generates is so crazily ubiquitous it becomes funny.”[14]Related image

This version has an all-star cast of Veronica Cartwright, who had yet to star in the movie Alien, but had been the young star of Hitchcock’s The Birds, playing Nancy Bellicec. A very young, and handsome, Jeff Goldblum, as her husband Jack, whose career was just picking up speed.  Leonard Nimoy, who was still working against being typecast as Mr. Spock, plays Dr. David Kibner, Donald Sutherland is Matthew Bennell, a city health inspector, and Brooke Adams as his co-worker and best friend, Elizabeth Driscoll.

Yes, this is a remake, although McCarthy’s cameo, as a panicked pedestrian screaming about the alien invasion, in the same manner that the first film ended, has prompted some viewers to speculate that this is a sequel to the original film. (No.) All of the primary plot points of the original are replicated in this film, only writ large. Part of the success of this film is the skill, and charm, of the actors who are at the top of their game here, especially the relationship between Matthew and Elizabeth.

One of the more charming things in the movie is the genuine friendship between Matthew and Elizabeth, with more than a little unrequited love on Matthew’s part, although that’s never specifically stated. Elizabeth is already in a committed relationship with one of the first of the pod people, her dentist boyfriend. In any other movie, a romantic relationship between her and Matthew would be inevitable, but that’s not the focus of the film. It has other messages to convey.

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers 1978

This version improves and embellishes on the original in ways that feel entirely natural, while keeping all of  the basic elements of the plotpoints of the original. When humans fall asleep, duplicate versions of them are birthed from pods, and the original body is destroyed. (So, yes, even though the duplicate has all the memories and thoughts of the original person, it is not them because  all of their the emotions are lacking, and the original body is dead.) The movie  manages to keep the mood and messages of the first film intact, while tweaking and embellishing the relationships and characters.

From  the opening moments, there is the theme of urban isolation, which is the opposite of the original’s theme, which focused on the closeness of a small-town environment, where everyone seemingly knows everyone, an environment which makes it all the more horrifying to find that people have changed, and that what was once known, is no longer. In the remake people are already unknown to one another, no one is really close in the city. This urban isolation is juxtaposed against the intimacy of Matthew and Elizabeth’s friendship, and their relationships to their friends The Bellicecs.

In the remake, the aliens are able to finish what they couldn’t accomplish in the first film. No one knows anyone in the city, and everyone lives in such small personal bubbles, that’s it easy for the pods to make significant inroads into the population. By the time Bennell finds out about the invasion, it’s already far too late to do anything to stop it, and it’s a just a matter of time until he, or one of his companions, falls asleep, and are changed.

I’ll have to do a more detailed review of this movie at a later date, because “I got some thoughts.”

Body Snatchers (1993)

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers 1993

This version is set up as if it were a sequel to the second film, although none of the characters from the previous remake appear. Apparently, its a parallel story of the invasion, happening on some other front, and according to this movie, humanity is gonna lose, no matter how many pods get blown up at the ends of these films.

The 1993 version loses a lot of the atmosphere, and messages of the first two films, although it does make a game effort.  All of the basic rules of the first two movies, are kept in place. People fall asleep, duplicate versions of them come out of pods, and the original person is killed. This one takes place on a military base,  and there is a vague theme that the aliens are successful because of military conformity, or because people are unhappy, or something, but this isn’t clearly articulated.

Just as in the second film, the aliens get to speak for themselves, stating that pod-ification of humanity will solve all of its troubles, and the screaming and pointing stuff, from the previous remake is kept intact. The way a person is duplicated is every bit as disgusting, involving what appears to be large worms, but unlike in the first remake, it’s not entirely clear how the worms are draining a person’s life essence.

Image result for invasion of body snatchers 1993

You have to pay very close attention to infer the themes of this movie, and you are, more or less, left to guess what was the point. Unfortunately, paying close attention to the dialogue (which is actually not bad) brings the actors lack of skills to the forefront. Billy Wirth and Gabrielle Anwar are just bad, and many of the other characters already act like pod people before they get duplicated, so its hard to tell whether or not they’ve been replaced. These particular actors just  are  not in the same talent realm as those of the  previous remake. Theyre too young, for one thing, and simply don’t have the talent, or gravity, to carry this movie, although Christine Elise does turn in an engaging performance as the best friend of the lead character, Marti, played by Anwar.

The core plot is centered around the Malone family dysfunction, as Marti and her family, which consists of her, her father, her stepmother and her baby half-brother, have moved to a new military base. I think we’re meant to sympathize with Marti’s displacement and isolation, from her family, and her surroundings, where she has no connections or friends, and is angry for having to start all over again. I see the parallels the director was trying to make, but I  don’t think it was very successful, because Anwar’s performance is so bad, and she has an annoying, and unnecessary, voiceover, as well.

There’s some surprisingly sedate, and creepy, acting from R. Lee Ermey, from Full Metal Jacket fame, Meg Tilley, and even a cameo from Forest Whitaker, who gives one of the more compelling performances, as an officer who is terrified of being duplicated. Both Whitaker, and Ermey do a great job in their scene together, making you wish the movie had been entirely about them, and leaving out Marti’s family melodrama altogether. These three actors (Ermey, Whitaker, and Tilley) are the highlights in what is otherwise a mediocre film. It doesn’t begin to reach the heights of the previous one.

I get that the pod people are not meant to have strong personalities, but Tilley manages to imbue her pod-Mom with just enough personality to be really creepy, while the rest of the pod people don’t. There’s just all kinds of different acting across this movie, so the pod people don’t seem like so much as a unified group, as much as they seem like a bunch of people who have all been lobotomized.

This movie mostly stars a cut-rate cast, that is very obviously sub par to the 1978 version. Most of these actors, who were unknown at the time, continue to be unknown today, with the exception of the colonel played by Forest Whitaker, and Terry Kinney. who went on to star in the series “Oz”, for HBO, and Gabrielle Anwar later starred in Burn Notice, and Once Upon a Time. Billy Wirth (from The Lost Boys) stars as Tim, a young helicopter pilot, who becomes an unconvincing love interest for Marti. It seems that every body snatchers movie must include a, not-quite-romantic subplot.

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers 1993

This movie differentiates itself from the first two by depicting the alien invasion from Marti’s point of view. She, and her friend Jenn, are the only two people on the entire base whose personalities seem to be intact.

While the film has some occasionally creepy moments, (as when Marti’s little brother first attends school, and we realize his entire classroom has been duplicated), it is rather lackluster, and  kinda disappointing. The duplication special effects don’t evoke the same fear and sadness that the process did in the 1978 version, the soundtrack isn’t as memorable as the city/heartbeat sounds of the previous movie, and the sonic screaming of the aliens in distress, is mostly all that’s left from the ’78 version. This was directed by Abel Ferrara, who went on to make more violent indie movies in the 90s, like Bad Lieutenant, and The Addiction.

The Invasion (2007)

Image result for invasion 2007

In 2007, the film was remade, yet again, this time directed by James McTeigue, and starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. The atmosphere of this one is cool and emotionally detached, almost as if the viewer had been duplicated, rather than the actors. The messages and themes of this movies are even more vague and unstated, but a close reading suggests that the messages of urban isolation, and peace through conformity are still intact.

This time Dr. Bennell is a woman (Kidman) and there are some brief feminist themes mentioned because of this change. This time the film is from her point of view, but also viewed through the lens of a parental love, as she seeks to protect her son, who is immune to the effect of duplication.

Everything about the 1978 film is jettisoned from this movie except the occasional name, so this is a clear reboot. Even the aliens themselves get an upgrade. There are no pods in this movie, but rather a kind of sentient virus, brought to Earth from some space debris, like in the movie The Blob. Anyone who is infected with the virus gets possessed by a kind of alien collective, after they fall asleep, but their primary body is left intact.

Dr. Carol Bennell is a psychiatrist whose patients start to report that the people they love are not who they seem. Daniel Craig stars as her counterpart Dr. Ben Driscoll, and they too have a not-quite- romance type of friendship, which is about the only thing kept intact from the original films. Carol has a young son named Oliver who, because of a previous illness, is immune to the virus. The plot becomes a race against time for Carol to save Oliver from one of the pod people, her ex-husband, Tucker, who wishes to kill the handful of humans who are immune.

This is a better movie than the 1993 version, mostly because it has better actors, although I have never liked Nicole Kidman, considering her to be an actress who lacks enough warmth to be engaging. She is too formal and icy for me to care about her plight, or buy her relationship with Oliver, although she does give it some effort. She’s not a bad actress. She’s just too emotionally remote. This is something that worked well when she starred in The Others, but not here.

Related image

In an effort to approach some of the mood of the 1978 version, McTiegue only makes the viewer feel detached , although there are some deeply creepy moments, like various pod people trying  to get people to drink various infected fluids, and a scene where one of the pod people vomits in Carol’s face to infect her,  along with a couple of exciting chase scenes.

One of my favorite moments in this film is when Carol, pretending to be one of the pod people, is invited to dinner by the possessed child of one her friends. While they’re eating you can hear snippets of news shows, in the background, as someone talks about the Middle East Peace Treaties that were recently signed. I feel like that type of political idea should have played a larger part in the plot. Most certainly the political situations of the entire world would change after humanity is possessed by an alien species, and I found that intriguing.

Another scene I found intriguing, was a scene on a bus, with Carol and several other passengers pretending to be possessed, because they don’t know who is or isn’t possessed. I thought it was a very effective scene. This scene also contains some of the few Black people with speaking lines, in any of these movies, (there is Jeffrey Wright, and a Black cop who gives Carol advice in an earlier scene) and I was intrigued at the possibilities of some highly imaginative future director making a movie about how  an alien invasion would affect PoC, and their communities. Would they notice, and would they care if they did? I would love to see a movie where an ethnic community’s reaction to such an invasion is unexpected, positive, or even ignored. There are 7 billion people on this planet and not all of the reactions we would get to  such an invasion would be “fight it out” with guns, and explosions.

Related image

It’s unlikely I will ever see a film about people who have already experienced colonization by a foreign entity, experiencing a second colonization by another. Alien invasion movies are almost always from a  Middle class, White,  Western perspective, are almost always about White people’ s reactions to being colonized, it is always  coded as a negative, and it always involve fighting and explosions. One of the most intriguing lines from the 1978 version is Veronica Cartwright’s character asking why people always expect metal ships. What makes IotB unique is that it is one of the few alien invasions caused by space travelling spores.

Once again, there’s a cameo of an actor from a previous film, Veronica Cartwright, who probably should’ve been allowed to play Dr. Bennell in this one, because she’s the most emotionally accessible character in the movie. Daniel Craig is completely unmemorable in this movie, as a love interest, who is so removed, he barely affects the plot. He barely affects Dr. Bennell. Jeffrey Wright is  a scientist who comes up with a way to stop the aliens. He is never in any danger and is mostly wasted, as he’s only there to give exposition. (I suppose we should be grateful that he survives the movie.)

The themes of this movie are even murkier than the last remake, although I get the focus is on familial bonds. But again, the emphasis on rugged individualism, and its protection at all costs, is something very common in White Western filmmaking.

There is a new version of this movie in development, or so the rumor goes, and I’d like to see some of the above themes addressed in it, but I’m not holding my breath. Chances are, it will be written by, and from the perspective of a White middle-class urban professional, and just reiterate the same themes of paranoia, and the protection of individual identity that were addressed so well in the first two films.  These movies have become less effective over time, and one way of grabbing a new audience is by infusing it with different thinking. What I would like to see is this film, done by a PoC, and what messages they might have to convey.