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Old 10-04-2007, 09:24 PM
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Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Special Edition




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 4, 2007

Released by: Fox/MGM
Release date: 08/07/2007
MSRP: $19.98
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



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I am not against remakes in principle. While most of today’s remakes aim to cash in on the familiarity of a franchise, there are still some that aim to be faithful to the original story, or offer an original vision. Not an “original vision” in the bastardized Zombie vein, but one that better represents the times or the original subject matter. Carpenter did it with The Thing, taking a monster in a suit and turning it into a gory AIDS parable. Cronenberg did it with The Fly, taking the schlock subject matter and fusing it with his auteur statements about the liquidity of mind, body and ambition. And in 1978, Philip Kaufman did it first with the exemplary Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The old MGM disc is a fossil, and thankfully MGM has done like the film and replicated the original with a new, improved version. The movie is great, no question, but is it worth the upgrade?

The Story


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Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) returns home to see her boyfriend Geoffrey (Art Hindle) on the couch. He sits there lifeless, staring off trance-like away from her. No, he’s not an alien, he’s just watching television. But he will be. Soon. On her way home from work, Elizabeth picked a rare-looking flower. It had a beautiful pink bud attacked to a pod. It started off as a rare discovery, but quickly the pods multiply, attaching themselves to vegetation all over the metropolis. Inside them, clones ready to take the form of your loved ones.


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Elizabeth’s boyfriend is the first to be replaced by the body snatchers. His lazy couch potato mentality quickly becomes one of stern indifference and hushed business meetings. His emotions are gone, and his “colleagues” are increasing exponentially. When Elizabeth questions the identity of her “new” boyfriend to her co-worker, health safety inspector Matthew (Donald Sutherland), he takes her observations as delusional. He recommends her to the mod psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), but even his intellectual musings cannot rationalize the fact that her boyfriend is not the same man she used to know. He’s an alien.


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It takes a few more days for Matthew to notice that it’s not just Elizabeth’s husband that’s changing. Nature is being sucked out from under the society, with bird chirps replaced with garbage trucks, and peaceful scatter replaced with the conformity of organized pod meetings. It’s clear world domination is on the aliens’ minds, and unless Elizabeth, Matthew and their two friends, Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), do something, human life will be forever extinct. If they sleep, they are replaced. If they show emotion, they are replaced. Their scream will be their last…and their body snatchers’ first!


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The original 1956 film was black and white not only in aesthetic, but also in its conception of good and evil. It was the good old fashioned American dream against the soul-sucking commies. Philip Kaufman’s version operates in a much messier world, organic but never perfect. It’s evident with hypnotic televisions, unsanitary restaurants and vandalism that the world before the aliens come is far from perfect. What Kaufman argues instead is that even in an imperfect world, the idea of humanity, of unpredictable events and emotions, of love and pain, of laughter and leisure, is a life worth preserving. It’s a timeless concern, which dates this Invasion of the Body Snatchers far less than the knee-jerk hysteria of Don Siegel’s campy original.


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That’s not to say that this Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn’t without references to its place in history. If the first is about the commies, then this is about the yuppies, since by 1978 the hippies started to settle down, take all that “Me” generation personal exploration and instead look at how they can make themselves more money. With Geoffrey as their figurehead, the aliens look and act like business caricatures, from their ironed suits, standup posture and calculated business meetings. If there is one thing that sucked the life out of peace, love and happiness, it’s the idea that money was needed in order to achieve that. Kaufman effectively taps into the American zeitgeist with his generalizations about where the country was to tread in the Wall Street era of the eighties.


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Yet what makes Kaufman’s film much better than Siegel’s is that broad generalizations are only brush strokes to a more personal painting. Through Sutherland and Adams, he reduces humanity to two likable, generous citizens star cross’d by the pods of big business. Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an amazingly humanistic film in a genre usually defined by faceless adversaries and Final Girls. When Adams shows Sutherland her humorous eyeball trick on the beach, when Goldblum rants about new psychology and mod culture, or when they all call for each other in times of survival, you get the sense that they are real, living people. It’s thus not good versus evil for the finale, but us, humanity, versus death, conformity, extinction.


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Of course, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of those rare remakes that betters the original(s) not only because of the story, but because of the top notch production values. It’s hard to think of the film without noting the awesome pod growth reversal shots, those menacing otherworldly screams, and the lengthy, arty takes. With the sound designer responsible for Star Wars, the cinematographer responsible for Taxi Driver and the space effects designer responsible for camera innovations that would win him two Academy Awards behind the film, it’s no surprise it’s a technical marvel. While the realism of the performances and the high concept story highlight the text, it’s the flourishes of art in the technical areas that help round the film out as a timeless classic.


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The other two remake holy grails, The Fly and The Thing, are just as easily remembered for their effects, too. They still really haven’t been beaten, and in that respect they’ll always keep the films pertinent. Yet for these films, and Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it’s the artistry of the directors that make these films so special. In each case, they’ve found a unique voice and articulated it with a style that’s singularly theirs. They’ve taken popular stories, classic stories, and made them feel as if they’ve never been told before and as if they could never be told better.


Image Quality

The original MGM Invasion disc was non-anamorphic and minted from an even older laserdisc transfer. It was acceptable, relatively clean and fairly sharp. This new transfer adds anamorphic enhancement and a few other tweaks that both help and hinder the film. As the screenshots (courtesy of Adam Lippe) illustrate, in addition to the added resolution, the colors are now warmer. Although this is a film about the loss of humanity, skin tones still looked far from realistic, much grayer than they were peach. MGM has fixed that this time around, and on that front the colors look deeper, more vibrant and truer to life. In terms of picture clean-up, little appears to have been done to the blemishes in this new transfer, although the original was pretty clean to begin with. One thing this new transfer does though, is lighten up the picture, since the old disc crushed many of the blacks with its overly high contrast. This is both virtue and vice however, since it does add more detail to the picture in those previously concealed shadows, but it exposes a flaw of the picture at the same time.

The film was shot on a fast film stock, and brightening up the picture, the graininess of the image is far more pronounced now than it was in the higher contrast original DVD. This new disc is without a doubt one of the grainiest DVDs I’ve seen in years, probably since another Donald Sutherland film, Paramount’s Don’t Look Now. Both are products of the seventies though, when that high grain stock allowed a freedom of the camera never before seen. So while this new transfer adds in resolution, punches up the colors and brings more detail to the shadows, it also further illustrates that the film is a product of it’s time. The grain will be distracting, but that’s the way it was done, and by the end the flaws seem embraceable as products from a time of great creativity.


Sound

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was one of the first films to be mastered into Dolby Surround back in 1978, and to this day the track still stands out as an amazing example of fidelity and atmosphere. The sound effects are some of the best ever, with those lifeless alien screams and the pod sounds inseparable from memories of the film itself. They come through so sharp and overwhelming here, it makes for a very forboding track. The sounds come from all directions too, with the surrounds effectively utilized throughout, when people are running into cars or pods are developing in the background. It’s a standout track, comparable to any 5.1 track today, and it’s no surprise that it’s still often used by Dolby as a reference track on their demo reel.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageThe original disc had a subdued but perceptive commentary from Philip Kaufman, and while this disc keeps that, it also adds a second disc full of great supplements. On the commentary, Kaufman mostly watches the films and comments on the motivations behind the shots, the dialogue and other story variables. It’s not quite as pretentious as it sounds, and he illustrates even further the kind of thought that was put into every frame of this super remake. Okay, now the new extras.

inline ImageThe second disc starts out with “Re-Visitors from Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod” featurette. The name is long, but the length really isn’t, at 16 minutes. Still, the big three are interviewed here, with Kaufman, iconic cinematographer Michael Chapman and Donald Sutherland. The writer, W.D. Richter (Buckeroo Banzai) is also aboard, as well as a literary scholar. The two join Kaufman in first discussing the forming of the story, which is then followed by Chapman and then finally Sutherland with some nice anecdotes about his time with Brooke Adams. It’s a shame Adams wasn’t brought in for the extras, since her and Sutherland’s rapport really make the film. Kaufman talks throughout these extras, so the highlight is seeing Sutherland speak so highly of the film.

Effects man Howard Preston talks about his work on the pods and the opening sequence in the short 5 minute “Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod” featurette. They reveal the secrets behind how they achieved those sequences (although Kaufman goes into even further detail on the commentary), and they play the sequences as they were originally shot to help give a better perspective.

inline Image“The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod” follows, and as the title suggests, it delves into the making of all those creepy sound effects that have helped make the audio for the film so iconic. Sound effects man Ben Burtt talks about his method, and reveals the real life inspiration behind much of the sounds in the film. Who would have thought that whimpering babies and pigs would help create such a scary soundscape? This is a fascinating featurette, truly revealing the kind of art that goes into even the most unnoticeable of sound effects. It runs a nice 12 minutes.

inline ImageThe last featurette is with my man Michael Chapman, the great cinematographer who brought us Taxi Driver. In “The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod” he dissects much of the unorthodox shooting techniques he did in the film to help give it its memorable veneer. Him and Kaufman talk about how they wanted to transcribe the film noir into color, and how several portions of the film were done with Chapman just out and around San Fran with his handheld camera. The look of the film is beautiful, and it’s great to see it paid tribute in this short but sweet 6 minute affair.

The original trailer, as well as new ones for The Great Escape and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly are also included to help round off this very worthy upgrade.


Final Thoughts

Cronenberg and Carpenter’s remakes always get the praise, but really Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is every bit of an achievement itself. It improves over the campy original in all facets, pushing the limits of cinematography, sound, special effects and performance in the process. It’s a technical masterpiece, but the performances are so honest and human too, a feat to which few horror films can lay claim. The image has been enhanced quite capably, although the added brightness unfavorably reveals the high grain found on the original negative for the film. The sound track hasn’t been touched, but still sounds amazing. The supplements have been expanded considerably, and are a must see for any fans of the film. This is a fantastic release on all levels, and hopefully it will help this stellar remake get the respect it deserves. Not all remakes are bad…and this one’s probably the best.

Rating

Movie - A
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A
Supplements - A-

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour and 57 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 2 Discs
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Surround
  • French Mono
  • Spanish Dolby Surround
  • English subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles

Supplements
  • Audio Commentary by director Philip Kaufman
  • Re-Visitors From Outer Space or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Pod featurette
  • Practical Magic: The Special Effect Pod featurette
  • The Man Behind The Scream: The Sound Effects Pod featurette
  • The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod featurette
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

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