I’m Podster Syndrome
USA 1993 Directed by Abel Ferrara
Warner Archive Blu Ray Zone A
Body Snatchers is the third of, to date, four adaptations of Jack Finney’s serialised novel The Body Snatchers, following on from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956 - reviewed by me here) and Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (1978 - reviewed by me here). Although, with the tag line to the movie, still used on the latest Blu Ray packaging, of “The Invasion Continues”, you might be forgiven for thinking this is a sequel to the previous versions. However, that’s not really possible given both the timeframes and outcomes of those previous films, obviously.
Now, I didn’t have fond memories of this one from the previous time I saw it but, looking back at it again, I have to say that it’s not nearly as terrible as I remember. It actually, in its kind of watered down way, has some interesting things going on and it is relatively entertaining, once it begins to pick up the pace a little (the first 20 mins to half an hour are somehow deadly dull compared to pretty much any other version of the story).
There are strengths and there are weaknesses to this version and, I’d have to say (if my memory of the fourth one is anything to go by... it may not be but I’m revisiting it again soon for this week’s reviews), that this third one is the least interesting or watchable of the four. But, like I said, it does have its moments and some of it hangs together quite well. I’m not sure what, if any, of the blame for the content of this film lays with the director or with the studio heads so, I’m not going to point any fingers here. I will refer to it as the director’s film throughout but, take that with a pinch of salt is what I’m saying.
So this version really does ditch a lot of the story while drilling into the heart of Finney’s original concept. None of the character’s names and personal situations are the same as the original (and this version is unique in this, even in the gender swapped version that came next, the last names of the characters were retained). This one features a family of ‘sometimes protagonists’ and ‘sometimes antagonists’ (as so happens in these kinds of movies), headed up by Terry Kinney as Steve Malone, an inspector for the Environmental Protection Agency who is sent to a military base (where the entire film is set) for a month to check out that they are storing their toxic chemicals safely. So he moves there with his family... his wife Carol (played by the underutilised Meg Tilly), his little boy Andy (played by Reilly Murphy) and his teenage daughter, Marti (played by Gabrielle Anwar), who is the lead protagonist of the film. Indeed, one of the elements that the film brings back from the 1956 version is a voice over narrative, as given to the audience by her character.
After an unnecessarily long opening credit sequence featuring possibly the least interesting use of moving typography in the history of cinema, we have a sequence where Marti gets accosted in the toilets of a garage on the outskirts of the base. Here, a military guy comes up to her and starts dementedly telling her... “You're scared, aren't you? Good! They're out there, they're everywhere! They get you when you sleep! They get you when you sleep, you hear? Get out, get out or you'll be next!” It’s one of the few times the movie ties in with the ‘56 version as this is, obviously, very similar to what Kevin McCarthy was yelling in the road near the end of the original (and also, in his cameo in the 1978 one too, of course). It’s a shame they actually didn’t get McCarthy back for this version because I’m sure the fans would have loved it. That being said, I get annoyed when Marti says to the audience that we spend half our lives asleep because, honestly, it’s more like a third of our lives asleep so... yeah... just a thought.
At some point, the pods start replacing people and it all happens very quickly with all the usual clichés being touched upon and escalating into a chase movie but, being as it’s set on a military base, with more gunshots and explosions. Although Anwar is excellent as Marti, the story seems somehow less interesting from a teenage point of view (and I don’t know who the target audience was supposed to be but why have those wretched pop songs playing over bits of the movie?) and even Forest Whitaker’s performance, as a surviving paranoid human (doing the old “How did you know my name?” gag from the previous two movies, to the telephone switchboard operator) can’t really dial this film up from... okay attempt to great movie.
There are some nice ideas added into the mix in this version, though. There’s one scene where the little boy is in a military school and they are all doing some abstract finger painting. The teacher gets everyone to hold up their painting and every kid in the class apart from Andy has painted the exact same picture. This is interesting because it shows us quite conclusively for this film that the writers are thinking of the aliens as a collective hive mind and this is pushed further and made quite implicit in some lines of dialogue emphasising the concept of ‘collective’ versus ‘individual’ (aka pod versus human).
Apart from the pods’ psychology and the life cycles of the aliens, though, there are one or two other things which have been brought back from prior versions. One is a nice little nod to the town square seed pod distribution scene, which made its way into the previous two cinematic versions. The other two things are much more blatant though and are both strictly hangovers from the 1978 movie...
One is the ever present garbage trucks, collecting what are obviously the decayed human remains of the original human bodies. A moment made quite explicit when Meg Tilly’s character, who we’ve already seen disintegrate and reborn as a pod person, throws in the black bin bag containing her prior self. The other is the finger pointing screeching made famous by the ending of the previous version. This is used in a similar fashion to indicate the pod people are on to the humans but... it’s perhaps overused a little, truth be told.
I did find it somewhat astonishingly sexist (in a bad way), that one of the pod’s specific way of testing whether the male lead and love interest of Marti (played by Billy Wirth) is an alien like himself is for him to tell him that he’s “f*cked his girlfriend”. As if it’s established among the aliens that a human pretending to be one of them would not be able to contain his rage at such a notion and lash out in a human way. It’s a pretty preposterous and almost offensive notion, especially since the narrative has already expressed the idea of a hive mind at work so... they should know if he’s one of them or not anyway, shouldn’t they? And no need, then, for all that screeching and finger pointing either, I suspect.
The film is nicely shot and framed. Ferrara seems to know what he’s doing but it seems to be a competently made movie rather than a truly great one. He seems to favour dingy blue washes on this a lot and I’m wondering if this kind of palette manifests excessively in any of his other pictures (I’ve only seen one other of his, I think, although a friend of mine is an absolutely devoted admirer of his work).
I don’t think Body Snatchers did very well at the cinema but my understanding is that it wasn’t really given a chance to, receiving a delayed and limited theatrical release (I’m guessing the producers didn’t like it) before going straight to home video. So, in some ways it never really had a chance to make a dent and, yeah, I guess it didn’t. At the moment I’m thinking this is the least watchable of the adaptations of The Body Snatchers but, I have to rewatch the version with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig next... which will be my next review this week.