Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Blu-ray + DVD (1978/2010)

by | Oct 18, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Blu-ray + DVD (1978/2010)

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Philip Kaufman
Studio: MGM [9/14/10]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0, English Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary by Philip Kaufman (on DVD only!), “Re-Visitors from Outer Space or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod” featurette, “Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod” featurette, “The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod” featurette, “The Invasion Will Be Televised,” “The Cinematography,” Original theatrical trailer
Length: 115 minutes
Rating: *****

I had no idea there were more than two Invasion of the Body Snatchers films until I explored some of the background of this classic.  Guess Hollywood just can’t let go of a good thing and has to re-do it again and again. I don’t think I need to summarize the main plot again – by now most people are familiar with it from either the 1956 original starring the recently-deceased Kevin McCarthy or this superb 1978 remake shot in San Francisco.  But it turns out there was also a 1994 remake by Abel Ferrara (Body Snatchers: The Invasion Continues) which takes place at an army base, and a 2007 effort starring Nicole Kidman, titled The Invasion – which differs from the others in eliminating the pods; there’s just a virus from outer space. All are supposed to be worth seeing.

The original novel by Jack Finney was first brought to the screen in black & white in 1956 and some still consider it the scariest of them all. There no doubt that both it and Kaufman’s later effort are superb suspenseful horror/sci-fi films that would be difficult to improve on.  One of the online reviews warns “Don’t fall asleep while watching this one.” An interesting point brought out in the many extras is that Kevin McCarthy happened to be in the studio office when Kaufman was proposing his remake of Body Snatchers. And McCarthy revealed that the original version of the first film had some humor in it which the audience reacted to very positively at a test screening.  Yet when it was shown to the Republic studio execs, they said “Edit out all the humorous stuff.” So those involved in the original welcomed the idea of a re-make. And Kaufman arranged for McCarthy to basically reprise his role in a dramatic cameo in the new film, trying to warn Sutherland and Adams about the pod people.

There is an element in the 1978 version that is informed by the New Age pop psychology of the 70s.  Leonard Nimoy plays a celebrated psychologist/author who supposedly aids couples in which one spouse insists the other one is not their husband or wife, but he is actually already one of the pod people who has replaced the human psychologist. I was aware of small details in the Blu-ray that I had totally missed in a couple earlier viewings of this film.  One example of a thread of black humor is that the film opens with a garbage truck coming across the Golden Gate Bridge. Then all thru the film one seeks garbage trucks picking up debris at the curbside, and it all looks like similar grey material.  In one shot Sutherland is seen next to one, just waiting to cross the street and oblivious to it, because it hasn’t yet been identified by the remaining humans that the trucks are really picking up the withered remains of the original humans who were replaced by the pods. And each time a truck is seen, it’s sounds become subtly more creepy.  That’s part of the terrific electronic score by jazz pianist Denny Zeitlin (who’s also a psychiatrist, by the way), working with sound designer Ben Burtt. And according to the credits, the banjo played by a street character with whom Sutherland was friendly, was actually played by Jerry Garcia!

The bonus feature on the cinematography is also of interest. There is a discussion of how the cameraman surreptitiously wandered around downtown SF with his camera sort of hidden on his chest, and got footage of passersby.  Viewing it one wonders which of the people in the crowd are pod people and which are still real humans. After while they all appear to be replicants by their baleful stares. The only thing wrong with the many extras is that director Kaufman’s commentary audio track is inexplicably on the standard DVD disc, so to hear it you must view the low-def DVD version instead of the Blu-ray!

This film was low-budget, and how the opening scenes were created of the pods originating on some dying planet was very clever. Also the development of the pods and the flowering buds on some of them. (They pulled the flower petals into to the pods and then reversed and slowed down the film.) The lighting was often from below or making use of large dark area, with the look of Hitchcock’s films as a model. Much of it was shot with natural lighting or nearly so.  As a result some scenes are very grainy, of low contrast, and occasionally there is a sort of light mist over things. I understand the standard DVD release was terrible visually and this Blu-ray is a big improvement, but since they didn’t use heavy noise reduction during the transfer, you might find this one is considerably lower image quality in some scenes than are most Blu-rays.

It was great fun to see some of the local SF scenes in the film, having lived there. Everything worked together to make this an unforgettable sci-fi/horror classic.  And if by chance you haven’t seen it before, be prepared for an absolutely mind-blowing conclusion.

 — John Sunier

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