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Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1978)
When filmy sprees fall from space and take root in San Francisco, the city is beautifully transformed by spectacular and exotic flowers. But these lovely extra-terrestrial blossoms have gruesome plans for their Earthly admirers: to slowly clone their bodies- and then dispose of the originals!
For more about Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray release, see Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on September 24, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle
Director: Philip Kaufman
» See full cast & crew
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray Review
If you’re going to San Francisco, please beware the flower in your hair.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 24, 2010
Jack Finney's 1954 sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers has directly inspired four Hollywood films, and it's not hard to see why. What's more horrifying than the thought of our loved ones, friends, and neighbors changing inexorably—overnight—into emotionally blank automatons? What's more threatening than a silent, subversive invasion by an alien force? Of course, the novel and the first resulting film, director Don Siegel's 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, are clear reflections of the paranoia that gripped America at the start of the Cold War, when the witch- hunt mentality of McCarthyism aroused nationwide suspicions. It wasn't a huge leap from "Could my neighbor be a Communist intent on spreading leftist ideology?" to "Might he be an alien out to colonize the planet?" The political undertones of the first film are largely dropped, however, from the 1978 remake, which instead evokes the cultural and sociological concerns of the so-called Me Decade. As horror/sci-fi remakes go, it's nearly as good as John Carpenter's The Thing, sticking to the premise of the original but giving it a radical—and wholly nihilistic—update.
Unlike the 1956 film, which tries to sustain some sort of mystery about why people are suddenly acting so strange, the remake—directed by Philip Kaufman, who went on to adapt The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being—wisely assumes we've seen the original and already know the drill. We start here on a distant planet, where bubbly, translucent spores float into space and toward Earth, eventually touching down in San Francisco during a heavy rainstorm. Health inspector Elizabeth Driscoll (Days of Heaven's Brooke Adams) plucks one of the spores—which has since grafted onto a native plant and flowered—and puts it in an open jar on her bedside table. The next morning, her usually enthusiastic live-in boyfriend (Art Hindle) is strangely stoic and aloof. Elizabeth tells her colleague Matthew (Donald Sutherland) about the incident—they trust each other, and he clearly has a thing for her—and he suggests they talk to Dr. Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), a best-selling self-help guru who tries to explain the phenomena away with pop-psychology. People in the city grow progressively more bizare, though, and the horror of the situation is revealed when Matthew's friends, the mud-bath-owning Bellicecs (Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright), find a half-formed human body covered in tendril-like fibers in their spa.
Understandably, the film is much more graphic than its predecessor and, in many ways, is a contemporary to David Cronenberg's "body horror" films —think Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, and later, The Fly—in which the human form is subject to grotesque, Kafka- esque transformations. That said, while the practical effects are definitely creepy—twitching bodies coated in slime, "Pod People" birthed out of vaguely vaginal plants, a dog mutated to have a man's head—the horror in Philip Kaufman's remake is mostly subliminal. The film's tone is of slowly suffocating paranoia—the dawning realization that something about the world has changed. Kaufman plays this up visually—with the help of renowned cinematographer Michael Chapmin—giving the movie a neo-noir, soaked in shadows look, wielding the handheld camera like an actor within the scene, and frequently shooting through cracked or otherwise distorted glass as a commentary on the way the characters can no longer trust what they see. Of course, we know what's happening—dramatic irony—but this only increases the tension since we're aware of the fate that awaits Matthew and Elizabeth if they don't escape. Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams invest their roles with believable sincerity—especially toward one another—which makes the gut-punch of an ending even more effective.
Invasion has a thrilling, often outright scary exterior, but what makes it one of the better sci-fi/horror films of the 1970s is its subtext, which is rife with latent cultural criticism. A lot changed between the Leave it to Beaver-style domesticity of the 1950s and the post- Vietnam, fulfillment-obsessed "Me Generation" of the 1970s, and this is reflected in the film's setting, which trades the sleepy, fictional suburban town of Santa Mira—the kind of place where everybody knows your name—for the modern streets of San Francisco, where everyone's a stranger. The San Fran of the late 60s and early 70s was the kind of place where you could put a flower in your hair and be embraced by an all-inclusive hippy community—so the song goes—but in the 1978 Invasion, the city is alienating and unfriendly, and the flower—previously a sign that you'd joined the peace movement—is now a tool for forced transformation. Broadly speaking, the film is all about the dangers of both self-centered individuality and collective conformity. Characters like Jeff Goldblum's failed, woe is me poet Jack Bellicec and Leonard Nimoy's hokey look inside yourself psychiatrist Dr. Kibner—representing the former—are hardly any better off than the heartless, herd-like Pod People who symbolize the latter. And, indeed, a street full of inwardly focused individuals—not talking to one another, mentally ensconced in their own internal realities –begins to look conspicuously like a soulless collective. You can try to be different, but this only makes you just like everybody else.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Cinematographer Michael Chapmin gave Invasion of the Body Snatchers a murky, moody, shadow-covered color film-noir look, and this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from MGM reproduces that style nicely. As a fairly low budget catalog title from the late '70s, you can't expect crystal clarity, but if you're familiar with the film's collector's edition DVD release from 2007, you'll recognize the refinement in resolution immediately. Yes, there are soft shots, and even whole sequences, but fine detail is much more apparent, especial in close-ups of the half-formed Pod People, covered in a mix of ooze and tendril-like, individually discernable hairs. Color is pretty consistent with film stocks of the time, with a realistic, slightly muted quality that occasionally gives way to vivid primaries—especially reds. Likewise, contrast is a bit on the flat side and black levels—in the darker scenes—have a tendency to look slightly grayish and crush shadow detail. The oppressive shadows are definitely part of the film's intended look, but you will notice a mix of heavy grain and mild compression noise during nighttime sequences. Still, this is vastly preferable to DNR smearing, of which there's no evidence here. The film looks its age, but I wouldn't have it look any other way.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
It has to be said: For a 1970s sci-fi film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers' sound design is excellent! The movie was among the first to use Dolby mixing/mastering, and you can tell that a great deal of thought went into making the sound effects as unsettling as possible, from raspy breathing and oozy squishes to the Pod People's unmistakable shriek. Everything is clean and well-balanced, and the rear channels get a surprising amount of action, with frequent ambience filling all channels and occasional directional effects, like a pair of motorcycles zipping past us. Even the .1 LFE channel gets more than a few chances to rumble, adding menace to the scene. Denny Zeitlin's largely electronic score is fantastic as well, and sounds great here, with presence and nice separation between instruments. Dialogue is balanced and understandable throughout, and English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available in easy-to-read white lettering.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Yet again, MGM gives us a director's commentary on the also-included DVD but fails to port it over to the Blu-ray. I'm still not sure what the rationale behind that is. Regardless, the Blu-ray disc itself still has a modest handful of special features. First up is Re-Visitors from Outer Space: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod (SD, 16:14), a decent retrospective—covering the timing of, and reasons for, the remake—that features director Philip Kaufman, actor Donald Sutherland, writer W.D. Richter and others. Next, we have Practical Magic: The Special Effect Pod (SD, 4:38), which gives a brief overview of how the "seeds" in the opening sequence were brought to life. The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod (SD, 12:47) is a look at the film's sound design and pioneering use of Dolby Surround, and The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (SD, 5:24) explores DP Michael Chapmin's distinctive vision for the film. Lastly, we have the film's Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:12).
Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
One of those rare remakes that verges on the greatness of the original, the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is tense, scary, and a sly rumination on the self-obsessive Me Generation. If you like 1970s horror/sci-fi, you'll definitely want to pick this one up. (It goes without saying that compared to this version, 2007's The Invasion is a hollow shell.) MGM has made the purchase easier by giving the film a fairly strong 1080p transfer, a robust soundtrack, and a modest but in-depth array of extras. Recommended!
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• Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Return of the Living Dead Blu-ray - July 25, 2010
Early retailer alerts indicate that MGM will add to the pre-Halloween glut of horror titles with two titles from its catalog: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978) and The Return of the Living Dead (Dan O'Bannon, 1985). Both have a street date of ...
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