Friday, 27 November 2020

The Invasion

I, Pod

The Invasion
USA/Australia 2007
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
and James McTeigue (uncredited)
Warner Brothers Blu Ray Zone B

Okay, so here we are at the tail end of ‘Body Snatchers Week’ on the blog with the fourth and, at time of writing, last of the big screen adaptations of Jack Finney’s serialised sci-fi novel, The Body Snatchers. At least, the final ‘official’ adaptation at any rate, there have been a lot of movies suddenly springing up over the last few years which have more or less stolen the basic concept and did their own thing with it. So yeah, this is the fourth version after the 1956 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (reviewed here), the 1978 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (reviewed here) and the 1993 Body Snatchers (reviewed here). This one is just called The Invasion and, I guess if this is the trend now of sequel titles, when they decide to do it again the only word they’ll be left with is... Of. That’d make a great title for a film about duplicates replacing humans... better than Us at any rate. ;-)

Now, I understand there were problems on this in terms of the suits (or shall we just call them what they are, ‘pods’) at Warner Brothers not liking the cut that Hirschbiegel delivered. So there were rewrites and reshoots with another, uncredited director in the form of McTeigue. This may explain why, at least over here in the UK and from what I can remember, there was no fanfare or publicity for the movie and its cinematic legacy. I think I may have seen a trailer for The Invasion the week before at the cinema or, most likely, saw the title of a new science fiction film starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig listed in my local paper... and decided to go along as there was nothing better on.

I remember sitting in the cinema as the movie opened on a scene from towards the end of the film which is foreshadowing the action to come before putting the title card up and then going back to... how it all started. So I was sitting in the cinema and not expecting any familiarity with the story but, I get about ten seconds into the film when I realise Nicole Kidman’s character is looking for drugs to keep herself awake, I put two and two together with the title of the movie and think to myself... ‘No way! Surely this isn’t yet another remake... I didn’t know it was even being done again?’ So I sit tight and wait for about 5 mins and, yep, the main character names confirm what I already suspected a few minutes earlier... this was definitely a fourth version of The Body Snatchers. Except, and I loved this, they flipped the genders so, instead of Kevin McCarthy playing ‘Miles’ Bennell and Dana Wynter playing ‘Becky’ Driscoll, we had Nicole Kidman playing psychiatrist ‘Carol’ Bennell and Daniel Craig playing her doctor friend ‘Ben’ Driscoll. Which, given the fact that we were now onto the fourth version of the story, I was not bothered by in the least.

Other notable people in the film are Jeremy Northam, playing Carol’s ex-husband Tucker Kaufman (presumably named after director/writer Philip Kaufman, who helmed the 1978 edition) and future Felix Leiter, Jeffrey Wright, as a chemical doctor friend of Ben. When the film was being shot, Daniel Craig was given the role of James Bond and had to halt filming for a few days to fly over and do a press conference about it over here in the UK.

Now, I know this film is probably the most hated by fans of the Body Snatchers movies but, honestly, I don’t think this is a bad film and it’s no worse... possibly even better... than the previous version directed by Abel Ferrera. It does, however, have its problems. It does things a little differently too, while staying almost exactly the same and... I don’t think this is a bad attempt. I do wonder, though, at the hasty soul who typed in a big paragraph in the trivia section of the IMDB listing all the ways this film adds new ideas to the original concept... before listing almost entirely ideas that were already there in the previous versions. It’s almost like the person who wrote that entry didn’t actually see any of the other films. Bit strange.

The one thing this does do slightly differently... and this is a bit of a loss to all the people who loved the prior three... is to get rid of the actual seed pods. These aren’t space spores drifting and finding our planet before growing clones of us and absorbing our intelligence... instead, after a space shuttle that has somehow come into contact with the source in space before crash landing back on Earth, it spreads itself as a virus and replaces our body ‘on site’, as it were. However, it does still need the host human to go to sleep before it can take it over and so the mechanism is essentially the same, just the delivery is a little different. When a human goes to sleep and is cocooned within its own biological material, it also looks just like the unfinished pod people from the 1978 version too.

So instead of growing a huge, novelty seed pod in your immediate vicinity, the alien versions of us here just vomit into our coffee or even onto us to get the dormant aliens into us. This gives us the bizarrely ‘out of place for commercial cinema’ moment where we have Jeremy Northam vomiting all over Nicole Kidman’s face and in her mouth, which also makes her the second Bennell in the movie versions to be actually ‘infected’ by the aliens... although with a much different result to what happened when Donald Sutherland was ‘podded up’ nearly 30 years before. And, of course, Jeremy Northam, who I always think of as the modern Cary Grant, plays a pod person quite well. Although, it has to be said, the aliens in this movie seem really dumb and easy to detect.

The writers and directors haven’t forgotten their long cinematic heritage either. For starters, one of Carol’s patients is played by Veronica Cartwright, who was in the 1970s incarnation of the film (and who is also famous for appearing in such films as The Birds and A L I E N). There’s also the nice moment where an old lady does the whole Kevin McArthy thing of running through all the cars and screaming about the aliens as a foreshadowing technique, before being run over and killed. It’s a shame they didn’t tap McCarthy to pick up this scene again but, you can’t have everything. There’s a nice moment later in the film where Nicole Kidman almost repeats the entire scene, which is a nice moment... from one Bennell to another. And another nod to the original is a scene which is a fourth version... although with people and not pods this time around... of the town square distribution scene. So that’s always nice.

The direction and editing is... somewhat problematic but there’s some nice cinematography in this, with some nice colours and framing, especially in the exterior city scenes when it’s raining at night. There’s also a bizarre, Dario Argento kind of moment where, when Nicole Kidman’s character starts to succumb to sleep a few times and the director switches to close ups of the white cells in her blood being swaddled by the alien virus.

The paranoia of the piece is fairly well done too, with a camera walk with Kidman’s character following her on her way to the office, taking in all the hustle and bustle of the people clashing against each other on their daily routine, contrasted later on in the film with more or less exactly the same sequence of shots... but showing all the people nicely behaved, to indicate that by now the majority of the people on the streets are alien hosts. There’s even a tense moment where the director resorts to using the old, boiling, whistling kettle sound in the background to ratchet up the tension... which works pretty much as well as it always does in these kinds of movies.

One of my biggest problems with the film is in the editing. There are four or five moments in the movie where they just start crosscutting between various scenes showing bits from earlier in the movie, bits which are happening now and bits which will happen later on in the movie, in fairly extended but rapidly edited pieces. Maybe its another stab at giving us some foreshadowing but I suspect it’s more a way of excluding bits of explanatory footage which were either missing and not shot... allowing us to get the jump on the next scene as we slide into the middle of the action on that next sequence... or the shot footage was just too slow and boring and they needed to ramp up the pace. Either way, it looks like the editor is trying to be Nicolas Roeg and, honestly, as much as I appreciate that particular directorial genius and his editing decisions, resorting to it here in an almost random manner really doesn’t serve the film and makes you pop out of the experience, as opposed to letting you make visual, metaphorical connections. It just doesn’t work well.

It’s not a total let down though because John Ottman’s score serves the film quite well and is appropriately sinister, helping to build the suspense when the colliding visuals let things down on occasion. Alas, fans of the previous versions of this may find the ‘magic bullet’ of the ending a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, it has to be said. Actually, being as we’re all now in a kind of magical and somewhat ineffective pseudo-lockdown from Coronavirus at the moment, I found it a nice idea that the aliens come up with the plan a third of the way through the picture to infect everybody under the guise of it being a vaccine. That’s a nice idea. I still prefer giant seed pods though, if I was given a choice.

Not much more to say on The Invasion other than... it’s not a terrible film, it’s quite a good one hobbled by some problems which may well have been exacerbated by the reshoots and re-editing job, I suspect. If you like the various Body Snatcher movies and the ideas in them, then there should be no real reason why you shouldn’t have an okay time with this one. I’d have to say, though, that I’m probably not going to rewatch the third or fourth ones as frequently as I’ll revisit the first two in years to come. But still... this is not a bad shot at it.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers at NUTS4R2

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

Body Snatchers (1993)

The Invasion (2007)

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