AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 97 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
After the space shuttle Patriot crashes on Earth, a fungus-like alien life form is discovered on the remaining parts scattered over US territory. Tucker Kaufman, a CDC director investigating the crash, is the first person to be controlled by the organism after coming into contact with it, turning detached and emotionless. Tucker’s ex-wife, psychiatrist Carol Bennell, begins to feel something is amiss when her patient Wendy Lenk describes how her husband “is not her husband”, one of her son’s friends acts detached and emotionless, and at a neighbourhood Halloween party, Carol’s son Oliver finds a “skin” on another boy which is initially believed to be costume make-up. There are widespread report of a flu virus, and Tucker begins to uses the CDC to spread the disease further, disguising the spores as flu vaccine. Carol’s friend, Dr. Ben Driscoll, discover how the spore takes over the brain during REM sleep….
Oh dear! Frankly I was dreading it as the time approached where I would watch The Invasion, a film I remember being as being a bit of a travesty compared to the proceeding three versions of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Was it really as bad as I recalled? Well, the answer is not quite, but almost. Taken as a very simple, fast paced variant [it’s even further from the Jack Finney book than the 1993 one] at the story aimed purely at people who just want to switch off and not think at all, it’s not quite as appalling as all that, at least until its tacked on happy ending which is astonishingly unconvincing and had me literally shaking my head even though this was the second time I’d seen the film and knew it was coming. Saying that, it’s still something of a mess, with much of the reshot material being painfully obvious, though more jarring to me was that the film just wasn’t very scary, a sure sign of failure considering how frightening it should have been as it’s based on such a sure-fire premise. There are a few individual scenes which work quite well and there’s even some social commentary in there, but typically, it’s rather clumsily spelt out in a movie which feels the need to clumsily spell things out constantly for the benefit of a viewer.
In 2004, Warner Bros. hired Dave Kajganich to write a script for a new version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers to retain that title, but after reading it decided that Kajganich had crafted a different enough story for the studio to see the project as an original conception. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel was soon attached to what was called Invasion, then The Visiting so it would not be confused with ABC’s TV series Invasion, then The Invasion when the TV series was cancelled. Star Daniel Craig got the part of James Bond during shooting and has to temporarily abandon it to do press work. Hirschbeigel’s cut was completed late 2005, but Warners weren’t satisfied with it, shelved it for a whopping 13 months, then hired the Wachowskis to rewrite parts and James McTeigue to direct re-shoots to increase the action quota and add a happy ending. It seems that huge chunks of the picture were cut out too. All this effort that Warners made to supposedly ‘save’ or ‘improve’ [I distinctly remember an interview with Craig where he said that all these alterations were making it better] the movie were almost for nothing as it was a major flop at the box office, when it eventually came out just over two years after shooting has begun.
The beginning has quite a frantic edge about it as we are given quick cut shots of the interior of a chemist’s, our heroine Carol is seen talking to herself, and we hear people outside who want her to open the door. This, of course, is towards the end of the story, so we flash back to how it begun….and find out that it begun with a tasteless sequence of a shuttle breaking up which is clearly intended to reference the 2003 Columbia disaster when a shuttle disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members, but with terrible CGI explosion effects. It’s bits of the supposedly dead alien creature now scattered all over the US which cause people to lose their humanity when they touch it, but one of the major aspects, which provides an extra level of creepiness, is already missing. Previously, new alien bodies for potential takeover victims would form and their old bodies destroyed, but here, everyone just has the same body, so in a way they’re not so much totally different creatures, just humans which have been infected. Of course, this is quite a different version altogether, though it does have a few nice throwbacks to the 1956 one like a psychiatrist who is told by a woman [the 1978 one’s Veronica Cartwright!] that her husband isn’t himself, and all her patients later disappearing, while the hero and heroine seem reasonably close to the ones in the 1978 version except the female is more the lead character this time.
The Invasion depicts the takeover reasonably well, and there are a few good details, such a Tucker’s dog showing hostility to him when he comes home changed, a crazed woman doing the Kevin McCarthy: “You’re next” routine before being killed by a car, an obviously ‘taken over’ census taker trying to get into Carol’s apartment, people throwing themselves off roofs to avoid being infected, and Carol on a train where all the passengers are trying to ‘blend in’but there’s just very little sense of fear. I think I’m fairly good at noticing things in movies, but I can’t quite put my finger on why this adaptation falls so short in this respect, except that it falls short in many other respects too, which makes kind of sense. As with the 1993 film, we have a child having to deal with a parent who is not himself, and Carol’s intended rescue of her son Oliver is quite tense and leads to one of the few scary moments as all exits seem to be shut off to her, but Oliver being immune to the infection weakens things considerably, and the potential of all of Washington D.C. in the thrall of this epidemic ends up being largely squandered as the takeover seems to occur far too quickly [whole chunks of footage is clearly missing] and it all climaxes with all this out of place, added action as Carol manages to shake a ridiculous number of attackers off the roof of her car while barely damaging the vehicle, then managing to drive it for ages while it’s on fire. And the ending? We have a rescue, then we cut to a year later with everything now being okay because of a cure. I mean for God’s sake!
Of course we’re not meant to think that everyone’s okay, because we are also left with the idea that perhaps humanity was better when it was infected. People talk about the terrible way that humanity is going, news reports show us peace treaties breaking out as the aliens take over, and Ben is given a speech near the end that makes the aliens’ point of view rather sympathetic. It’s rather good.
“You wondered what it’d be like if people could live more like those trees, completely connected with each other, in harmony. A world without war, without poverty, without murder, without rape. A world without suffering. Because in our world, no one can hurt each other or exploit each other or destroy each other, because in our world, there is no other. You know it’s right, Carol. Deep down inside, you know that fighting us is fighting for all the wrong things. Carol, you know it’s true. Our world is a better world.”
Unfortunately this idea is rammed home with no subtlety whatsoever. It was felt by the makers of the earlier versions that 1956, 1978 and 1993 that viewers were intelligent enough to pick up on certain themes and/or make their own conclusions, but not the folk who made this one, which is full of on-the-nose lines of dialogue which often badly stick out in context and may as well have a sign flashing on the screen saying IMPORTANT THEMATIC REFERENCE or something similar just to make sure we “get it” even more. It’s by far the least visually stylish of the four too. Cinematographer Rainer Klausmann emphasises blue and yellow throughout, and Hirsch [or is it McTeigue?] gives us flash forwards to a frantic car dash when Driscoll is thinking about it, but overall the whole thing comes across as bland, aside from cartoonlike shots from inside people to show them being infected which are just laughable.
Kidman is solid but Craig is a bit bland and the two have little chemistry together, so much so that it seems odd when they kiss. Jackson Bond does okay as Oliver, and is especially good in a scene where he has to inject his mother. Overall though, this film is n almost shocking waste of great potential. The time was right [and still is, though I doubt we’ll get another one for a while] for a terrific version which would make the most of being set in a world which has more fear and paranoia than ever before, where thousands of people lose all discernable humanity as they join a terrorist group bent on world domination, where it’s hard not to look at a person with brown skin on a bus with a briefcase without suspicion, where we are virtually controlled not just by the media but also technology, and so forth. And they blew it. Taken on its own, it’s not really a terrible movie, but still seems almost devoid of soul and humanity, coming across as if it were made by Pod People who tried to replicate a winning formula but ended up with a emotionless, mechanical kind of copy.