Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

    The original film is a classic.  But this is one of those rare-breed, serious, and worthy remakes.  Starting on some distant planet, we see weird alien life launch into space, like plant or fungal spoor.  It eventually descends on our unsuspecting world in a rain storm, and the horror begins.  Right from the start, there is an unsettling, off balance feel to the movie.  Weird angles, suspicious faces, and creepy lighting.  Paranoia is whipped up with gusto.  This is a story archetype that is one of the fundamentals of science fiction.  Who can you trust?  Is the person you know and love really who you think they are?  Or are they something else, something sinister and alien?  One of the more obvious and frequent uses of the concept was in the anti-Communist films so popular in the 50s, but it goes far beyond that, becoming a timeless look at our fears of the Other.  We can never really know who someone is outside of ourselves.  And can we really know even that?  Director Philip Kaufman liked the idea of using these ‘pod people’ as a kind of substitution for what he saw as the dehumanized modern man, going about his business without much thought or passion.

    There are elements of this film that call back to the days of Noir, with the use of light and shadow, and general shot composition.  And though it uses a lot of handheld camera work, it never falls pray to modern shaky-cam crap.  And of course, like a good Noir film, the action gets rolling without a lot of delay.  And like the awesome works of Val Lewton, so much more is hinted at.  Of course, unlike Lewton’s more enigmatic work, those hints eventually become all too real and visible.

    I love the little touches, like people running in fear while most people don’t pay any attention.  It reminds me of some of the other great apocalyptic films, like In the Mouth of Madness or Night of the Living Dead, where you’re wrapped up in the personal lives of a few people, buy you keep seeing bits of other people going through their own horror stories.  Who is that guy in the suit, and what’s making him flee through the park?  What’s up with the trash collectors?  There sure is some bad stuff going on.  Is it all because of Father Robert Duvall on a swing?

    I like the cast of this film.  Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nemoy, and Jeff Goldblum are hardly what you’d call classic leading men.  They were part of that 70s birth of real-looking, kinda ugly actors that gave movies a bit more of a natural, realistic vibe.  Brooke Adams, obviously, is beautiful.  But even she has a more real vibe, not that pristine starlet thing.  Nemoy is so darned smarmy as the self-righteous psychologist.  Goldblum’s awkward writer, Veronica Cartwright’s patented, natural freak-out face, and Sutherland’s sensitive friendliness; it’s all pitch perfect.  And San Francisco, which serves as the setting feels like a characters unto itself.  Most of the stuff is shot on location, in real houses, in real places, riding on real streets with real people wandering around.

    Like The Thing and The Fly from a few years later, this is what remakes should be.  It takes the concepts introduced in the original, takes them seriously, and gives them a new twist (also taking some time to go back to the original novel that inspired the first film).  This isn’t a scene for scene remake.  It’s not a half-assed movie with a couple hints at the original.  It’s a memorable movie in its own right, and stands on its own.  And the finale give the whole thing a good punch to the gut.  It’s very well crafted and very satisfying.  Even of the world films are not uncommon, but few are particularly good.  This ranks among the better ones.


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