In which Learned Foote, one of those delightfully over-eager first years (and a legit film reviewer), muses on Nicole Kidman’s latest risky venture.
No sarcasm intended whatsoever�Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which weird alien intelligence hits Earth and stealthily creates duplicates of the people we know and love, should definitely be remade every twenty to thirty years. Humans know something�s off, but we can never figure out exactly what�s wrong until�gasp�we�re walking emotionlessly through the crowd, trying to hide our humanity from the alien majority.
I had high hopes for The Invasion. The first two (1956 and 1978) are classics, and the 70s version is one of my personal favorites. Oliver Hirschbiegel. who recently helmed the Hitler biopic Downfall, signed on to direct the 2007 version, although he was fired during production. The movie stars A-listers Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. What really whet my enthusiasm, however, was the trailer, which nailed the poetic tension these B-movies need. Using a lulling and mournful Sigur Rós song, the film actually seems to be about The Loss of Humanity, not just gross sticky aliens.
But no, The Invasion messes up right from the beginning, when Nicole Kidman freaks out under fluorescent lighting. Actually, that part�s rather cool, because you can instantly tell which scene from the original movies is being re-imagined, which is half the fun with the Body Snatchers series. Then, however, the story flashes back to the chronological beginning, and this is how the invasion takes place in 2007: a spaceship falls from the sky, leaving a trail of contagious debris from Texas to Washington DC (so much for the eerily quiet takeover). People scratch themselves with a sharp item from said debris, expose their blood flow to the air, and wake up in the middle of the night with a goo mask. That�s right, original Body Snatcher fans, The Invasion features nothing growing to life in the closet next to your bed. There�s just a virus or bacteria or whatever, as if this were some goddam zombie movie, rather than the highly-appropriate-for-wanton-subtextualizing process of the olden days: seedpods.
The seedpod concept is totally archetypal, instantly worming its way into the psyche. It inspires a horror that adapts to any time or culture (ensuring that these films never feel dated). The version from the 1950s is totally paranoid about the Commies; the version from the 1970s frets over a pop psychology that reduces our profoundest emotions to Point A and Point B. Needless to say, post-9/11 America has plenty of issues to develop into sci-fi goodness. And The Invasion certainly reaches for modern context: divorce, over-medication, e-Bay. Yet the movie devotes a good 80% of its subtext to another political message�
Now, the tagline to the 1978 version read, �be born again into a world without fear or hate.� Not much of a bone-chiller, is it. As the aliens begin to take hold in 2007, in turn, the newspapers blare: America pulls out of Iraq, President Bush and Hugo Chávez make sweet love. It�s an interesting moral territory that these body snatchers navigate, with their message of peace and cooperation. As a human audience, we don�t like to see certain implications made about our humanity. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has always played this theme wonderfully, and The Invasion experiments more than any before it (and as a specifically American movie, it eagerly draws parallels to current US policy). All is good and well, aside from some ham-fisted musings on Darfur and Katrina, until we begin to hear dead characters delivering voice-over monologues, the dialogue wrapped in a thick twinkling aura of goodness. Um, only Gandalf can do that.
Despite this PG-13 fairyland�where Nicole Kidman won�t even brutally murder a cute little alien boy, instead choosing to push him into a door or something equally ineffectual�The Invasion has its moments. The visuals are striking and sterile; the editor insists on flashing forward five minutes and then back again, which is occasionally cool. Aside from a tendency to lock herself into dark rooms before turning on the light, Nicole Kidman is awesome, obviously going batshit insane beneath her ice-cold exterior (she should always have roles where she pretends to be emotionless). Veronica Cartwright, one of the leads from the 70s version, has a small but meaty part, reminding us of the days when weird-looking actresses owned Hollywood. And for all its unwillingness to admit its heritage, The Invasion still manages to include the same monologue featured in every Body Snatchers film��They�re here already! You�re next!�
I�d prefer to view this series as an incredibly important and evolving document of American history, but it�s not as sterling as I like to think. Nobody watches Body Snatchers, the 1993 remake, and this 2007 version seems doomed to the same fate. Marketing people: you�ve got to have the whole cheesy title. The Invasion sounds like a boring Kiefer Sutherland picture, but who could go wrong with INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS!? I await the next entry, fully named, with undimmed enthusiasm.
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