2007; Director: Olivier Hirschbiegel (with reshoots by James McTeigue); Writer: Dave Kajganich (with rewrites by Andy and Larry Wachowski), from the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
With Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright, Veronica Cartwright, Roger Rees
Warner Home Video
Available Jan. 29, List Price $28.98
This is the fourth official movie made from Finney's novel about an extraterrestrial race that lands on our planet as spores, sucks the humanity out of earthlings as they sleep and turns them into numb, soulless "pod people." All the films were directed by men who hadn't worked in science fiction before: Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956, Philip Kaufman's film of the same title in 1978, Abel Ferrara's The Body Snatchers in 1993 and now one from the German director of the Hitler drama Downfall. Hirschbiegel's is the least impressive of the quartet, at least in the version released to theaters and on this DVD, though it has its moments.
The setting is now Washington, D.C., where psychiatrist Carol Bennett (Kidman) has been monitoring her patients' complaints that their spouses are acting oddly; they're just not themselves any more. (One of the patients is played by Cartwright, who was also in the 1978 Invasion). Carol sees people around her with the same symptoms: moving about the city like zombified wind-up dolls, speaking in the metallic, slightly singsong tones of 2001's HAL 9000 computer. Her ex-husband Tucker (Northam) is one such pod person; he tries to infect her through projectile vomiting alien puke, which is one way the new movie tries to out-gross-out its predecessors. (A chest-busting scene out of Alien is another.) "All you have to do is nothing," Tucker tells her. "It's just like catching a cold."
The pod person seems to be counseling political passivity; that was the implied message of the 1956 film, where the pod people could be seen as either Communists or McCarthyites; however you took the story, it was a parable of individualism vs,. conformity. The new movie goes further: it says that we are essentially warlike, that war, genocide and terrorism are not anomalies but part of our nature. "We are all capable of the most terrible crimes," a Russian ambassador (Rees) warns Carol. "To imagine a world where this was not so, where every crisis did not result in new atrocities ... this is to imagine a world where humans cease to be human." So, when the pod people take over Washington which you might guess is ancient history, not science fiction peace breaks out and longtime international enmities are patched up. What if alien invaders robbed us of our belligerent humanity and, in doing so, saved the planet?
This is a piquant notion; I'd like to see a movie that fully pursued it. The Invasion isn't that movie, because after unfavorable early screenings much of it was rewritten by the Wachowskis the Matrix guys and reshot by McTeigue, their director on V for Vendetta. The picture devolves into incoherence, with lots of car chases and crashes, zombie hangers-on from Night of the Living Dead and an unpersuasive happy ending (which, by the way, is closer to Finney's optimistic conclusion than any of the other film versions). It's as if the movie had been taken over by pod people. The DVD would be just the showcase for Hirschbiegel's cut. Instead we get the usual supplementary material that makes no mention of the original movie's behind-the-scenes alien abduction.