Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Year: 1978

Production: Solofilm / United Artists

Director: Philip Kaufman

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum

Screenwriter: W.D. Richter

Based on The Body Snatchers (1955) by Jack Finney

115 minutes; Color


This unusually interesting remake shifts the emphasis from political to sociological, from cohesive small town to alienating big city (San Francisco), where it is more difficult at the best of times to tell who is a pod and who isn't, a point made by the psychiatrist (Nimoy). The script is witty, making satirical points about Californian society in the late 1970s, so intent upon development and change that becoming a pod is almost a logical next step. Kaufman's direction is confident, but sometimes too ominous. A recent remake is Body Snatchers (1994).

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This is one of the more interesting of the cycle of remakes that emerged in Hollywood in 1970s. Kaufman and writer Richter wittily update Don Siegel's 1956 classic by replacing the simple contrast between rational "pod" people and emotional humans with the more complex idea that urban alienation makes it virtually impossible to distinguish between pods and people. From this perspective, the film becomes an assault on the "Me Generation" of 1970s, a literalization of psychiatrist Nimoy's wprds in the film, "People are changing, they're becoming less human", a point neatly underscored as plants from outer space (whose arrival is masterfully shown in the pre-credit sequence devised by Ron Dexter and Howard Preston) take control of the chic houseplant world of San Francisco.

But, although Richter's screenplay is radical re-statement of Siegel's original theme, Kaufman's direction is less sure, with the result that the paranoia of the earlier film is far less prevalent. In its place are numerous shock effects intended to create menace but which dissipate the mood and tone of Richter's literate screenplay. Similarly Sutherland, as the public health inspector who finds the people around him are strangely changing and is then given the runaround by the city authorities after he's found out about he pods, is too earnest and not instinctive enough in his defense of humanity pure and simple against the improved life the human pods claim is theirs.

Adams is effective as Sutherland's assistant and, in a playful homage to the original film, Kevin McCarthy reprises his role as the hero of that film, still desperately trying to inform the world of the danger of the pods. Even more ironically, Siegel himself has a cameo role as the cabbie (and pod) who takes the fleeing Sutherland and Adams out of the city.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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