Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #536
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: December 20, 1978
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $24,946,533 (North America)
Running Time: 115 minutes
Director: Philip Kaufman
Producer: Robert H. Solo
Screenplay: W. D. Richter
Based on The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Special Effects: Russel Hessey, Dell Rheaume
Cinematography: Michael Chapman
Score: Denny Zeitlin
Editing: Douglas Stewart
Distributor: United Artists
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Art Hindle, Lelia Goldoni, Kevin McCarthy, Don Siegel, Tom Luddy, Stan Ritchie, David Fisher, Tom Dahlgren, Garry Goodrow, Jerry Walter, Robert Duvall
Suggested Audio Candy
 Denny Zeitlin “Angel of Death”
 Denny Zeitlin “The Reckoning”
I’m sure that we’ve all heard the term “you don’t seem like yourself today” and, with our increasingly hectic lifestyles, we’re very much entitled to the occasional off day. However, imagine attempting to get a good night’s rest next to somebody who looks like your significant other, but whom you’re convinced is a total stranger. Even more disconcertingly, now imagine this “change” wasn’t exclusive to only them and that everyone around you started growing distant. Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion of The Body Snatchers tapped into these fears to give us one of the best and most effortlessly foreboding science fiction movies of all time.
Just like John Carpenter achieved with his 1982 update of The Thing, Kaufman’s updated vision is just as well, if not better, regarded than its celebrated original. Where Don Siegel’s version focused on small town life in Middle America, he transposes the action to deep within the heart of San Francisco, offering social commentary on the self-absorption of the “me generation” of the seventies. Gone is any intimacy and sense of community and, in its place, is a genuine feeling of alienation. We’ve all got our conspiracy theories but what happens when we can longer trust, not only the authorities, but our nearest and dearest too? His urban setting is the ideal sandbox for generating a truly unsettling feeling of creeping dread and the reason why this movie scared me more as a child than pretty much any other.
“I keep seeing these people, all recognizing each other. Something is passing between them all, some secret. It’s a conspiracy, I know it.”
After a haunting opening credit sequence that introduces us to our gelatinous intergalactic organism as it is pushed from pillar to post by solar winds, we meet Health Department scientist Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) and get to share in her consternation. Her boyfriend, Geoffrey (Art Hindle) is exhibiting some rather uncharacteristic signs and his newfound nonchalance leads her to believe that perhaps she is shacking up with a doppelgänger decoy. She relays this to her colleague Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and he is happy to entertain anything that offers respite from trying to ascertain the difference between a caper and a rat’s turd. They both agree that shenanigans are afoot but neither can quite place what is causing this sudden outbreak of indifference.
The pair decide to share their concerns with Matthew’s long time friend, psychiatrist cum successful author Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) and, after being given heads-up via a disheartening episode in the local bathhouse, struggling writer Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum) and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) join the fast-populating list of conspiracy theorists. Actually, fast-populating may not be the correct term here. You see, the city is pretty much overrun with weirdness by this point and that leaves the five feeling very much alone in an alien place. The whole trust dynamic comes into play and suckles our paranoia glands accordingly.
While Invasion of The Body Snatchers is shifting into more ominous territory, the tilted cinematography of Michael Chapman is doing its level best to have us feeling off-kilter. To say it is beautifully shot would be true although more notable is the drab emptiness of the big city, even though it is constantly bustling. Kaufman and his cohorts capture this stunningly and, at no time during 115 minutes, did I ever feel relaxed. Instead, I was edgy, irritable, and increasingly cheer-free. As our beleaguered heroes begin to succumb to the sad truth that we all “gotta sleep sometime”, every yawn become contagious and, their desperation, even more pervasive. I kid you not, on numerous occasions during the tense second act, I glanced over to my left just in case I, myself, was being snatched without my approval. That is the power of good sci-fi cinema and Kaufman’s film has an embarrassing wealth of this persuasion agent.
Moreover, the performances are downright superb right across the board and each character is made to feel like far more than simple sci-fi stereotype. Sutherland is on utterly commanding form as is rarely not the case and Adams provides the ideal foil, leaving me befuddled as to why she has had precious little exposure since. Meanwhile, Goldblum is nail-bitingly on edge as Jack, Nimoy dubiously calm as the voice of “reason”, and Cartwright totally believable as Nancy. The naturalistic turns add real gravitas to proceedings, bringing emotion, where all around it is at a distinct premium. Meanwhile Kaufman makes sure that, while we never feel detachment, it is never more than forty winks away.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. They were right. It’s painless. It’s good. Come. Sleep. Matthew.”
The final act is pure cat-and-mouse and encourages utter hopelessness as the net begins to close in. If you have a fear of authority and, let’s face it, we all do then Invasion of The Body Snatchers milks it for all it is worth and we begin to question our own identity by the time capture becomes imminent. If there is a bright side to all this doom and gloom, then I’d love to hear about it as there are few movies quite so downbeat. Having said that, after hearing of the painless metamorphosis process enough times, it actually all begins to sound strangely appealing. Ignorance is bliss right? Not with Sutherland in the picture it isn’t. Tooth and nail, his integrity is never in question and it is his dogged resolution that prevents our weary legs from buckling.
Invasion of The Body Snatchers is a bona fide masterpiece from whatever vantage you choose to view it. Agonizingly bleak, its comments on the sterilization of society are worryingly accurate and offers scant reason to sleep restfully afterwards. As a science-fiction extravaganza, it is bold and lavish, thrilling from first seed to ultimate harvest and contains one of the most soul-destroying endings of all time. Between this, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Richard Marquand’s Eye of The Needle, Sutherland has never been far from my worst nightmares and Kaufman’s film is the sole reason why, almost forty years on, I still sleep with one eye open and a packet of weed-killer in my pajama pockets.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Never so much grue as eurgh, it is all about the sickening quick-fire transformations and the effects are truly state of the art. Even now, they still look the ticket and I would gladly take their scary authenticity over gushing contusions on this occasion. Adams supplies us with a naked walk behind the rows but any excitable squeals are promptly muted the exact moment she points the finger. However, it simply has to be said, nice pods!
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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