Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

“I’ve lived in this city all my life, but somehow today I felt everything had changed — people were different.”

Invasion Body Snatchers 1978 Poster

Synopsis:
As alien pods descend on San Francisco and begin replacing humans with clones devoid of emotion, health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), his co-worker (Brooke Adams), and their married friends (Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright) run for their lives while trying to convince the authorities that something is amiss.

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Response Review:
Peary — an enormous fan Don Siegel’s original 1956 …Body Snatchers — misses the boat completely in his review of this remake by director Philip Kaufman. He complains that the “San Francisco setting seems ill-advised because we’re not seeing the transformation of average Americans but people who are already weird” — yet this is exactly Kaufman’s purpose. In his updated tale — taking place in the notorious decade of self-exploration, the 1970s — a mass-invasion which homogenizes humans would be doubly notable in a “city of individuals” like San Francisco.

Peary also laments the loss of political subtext so prevalent in Siegel’s film, but this doesn’t really matter: a world in which everyone you know suddenly becomes “somebody else” is a scary enough premise to exist on its own. Finally, Peary complains that Kaufman places too much emphasis on “special effects and snazzy visuals”, but I disagree; other than the subtle yet effectively creepy opening sequences of spidery alien wisps growing into tiny flowers, special effects don’t make an appearance in the film until almost halfway through — at which point they’re used judiciously and to good effect. With that said, Kaufman’s version does run a bit too long, and I could have done without the subplot involving Sutherland’s crush on the married Adams; nonetheless, this remains a surprisingly effective remake, and is well worth watching on its own merits.

P.S. Watch for several notable cameos: Don Siegel — director of the original …Body Snatchers — appears as a “replaced” taxi driver; Robert Duvall is shown in the very beginning as a creepy priest on a swing; and the original movie’s star, Kevin McCarthy, reappears as a man running wildly through the streets.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Donald Sutherland as the concerned inspector
    Invasion Body Snatchers Sutherland
  • Veronica Cartwright’s memorable performance as one of the last remaining non-clones
    Invasion Body Snatchers Cartwright
  • Atmospheric direction by Kaufman
    Invasion Body Snatchers Direction
  • Creepy special effects
    Invasion Body Snatchers 1978 Special Effects

Must See?
Yes. This is a rare remake which succeeds on its own merits, and should be seen by all film fanatics.

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One Response to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)”

  1. Yes, a must. One of those rare, smart instances in which the remake is in some ways as good as and in other ways better than the original – how many times can that be said?!

    Peary’s noted comment about “people who are already weird” seems to represent your basic anti-California sentiment. As well, his bemoaning “the loss of political subtext” is, from what I know though I haven’t read it, at odds with the original novel. Apparently, Kaufman’s version is closer to the book (which I would like to get around to reading) – and Don Siegel’s version, in keeping with its time, serves more as a metaphor for the McCarthy era. Both films, I should add, are quite good. But Kaufman’s expounds in interesting and logical ways.

    What I like about the romance between Sutherland and Adams is that it starts out as something between people who can’t fall in love (because one is married) but who are very comfortable with and very much like each other as friends. I don’t feel the film runs too long – at just under two hours, it seems about perfect. As noted, it is very atmospheric: brilliantly shot by Michael Chapman, and with a very creepy score – the only one ever by Denny Zeitlin (a psychiatrist/jazz musician on the side!).

    In some ways, the pods are to be envied, of course; they live “free of anxiety, fear, hate.” They also live – and here’s the rub – free of love. Damn! – ‘cept for that, I might want to fall asleep next to one of those little plants myself!

    Best line goes to Veronica Cartwright (terrific) to Jeff Goldblum re: a forming pod-man: “Jack, don’t touch it. You don’t know where it’s been.”

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