Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers doesn’t mess too much with a good formula, and it benefits because of it. In both films, alien pods come to earth and methodically replace humankind with emotionless duplicates. Fall asleep, and you may just become a pod person.
That premise rests on a bed of paranoia, which makes the ’50s version, with all of its Cold War/Red Scare subtext, a much more interesting film, at least academically. Kaufman’s version may be almost entirely free of much subtext at all, but it’s an extraordinarily effective sci-fi chiller, with an excellent Donald Sutherland performance at the heart of it.
Sutherland stars as Matthew Bennell, a public health inspector in San Francisco. When his colleague and crush Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) starts complaining that her live-in boyfriend (Art Hindle) doesn’t seem to be himself, Matthew is about the only one who takes her seriously. He’s heard similar complaints around town, and the two eventually discover the pod people plot, along with friends Jack and Nancy Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright).
They have a harder time convincing psychologist David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), who dismisses the theory as preposterous. But the evidence is there — more and more people are turning into stiff, lifeless shells of a person.
Kaufman creates a stifling atmosphere of fear — sometimes with a quiet, barren street and sometimes with frenetic camera work and canted frames that are a direct homage to the visual strategy of the original film. Like the original as well, Kaufman’s version is best when it’s not leaning too heavily on effects work — a grotesque dog-man hybrid isn’t a bad special effect here, but it’s comes across as tonally incongruent.
Another change to the original — the pod people let out a blood-curdling screech when they discover an unchanged human — seems to put the film into more straightforward horror mode, but the decision ends up being an excellent one as it pays off in the film’s brilliant final scene.
Invasion of the Body Sntachers contains a storyline that has been reused to the point of exhaustion, but Kaufman’s version proves you can create an effective work out of old parts.
The Blu-ray Disc
Invasion of the Body Sntachers is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It’s always nice to see catalog titles like this get the high def upgrade, and although this visual presentation has its share of issues, it’s certainly a sizeable improvement over previous DVDs. The transfer has a nice amount of natural film grain that only becomes oppressive in certain low-light shots where blacks look more hazy than pitch dark. Apart from certain darker shots, the image looks quite good, with excellent sharpness and color consistency. Flesh tones in particular look very natural. The print used shows a few minor bits of damage, but overall, most should be pleased, if not blown away, by how the film looks on Blu-ray.
The audio, presented in a Dolby 5.1 DTS-HD track, fares even better, with the film’s array of surprising sound effects booming through with a nice amount of heft. Ambient sound is quite abundant, especially in scenes where the pod people are roaming the street and surrounding the protagonists. Dialogue can be a little quiet at times, but is always clear and cleanly reproduced.
Fox includes all the extras from 2007’s Collector’s Edition DVD, including solid featurettes on the making of the film, the visual and sound effects and the photography. Most of the principal cast and crew are present for interviews.
The extras also include a commentary from Kaufman, but you can’t listen to it while watching the Blu-ray, as Fox has inanely only included that feature on the DVD that also comes with the package. This DVD is the flipper disc that was the original DVD release of the film, but how hard would it have been to port that commentary to the Blu-ray?
The Bottom Line
While my allegiance still lies with the 1956 film, there are plenty of good things to say about the remake and its high def upgrade.