The Invasion Review
Jack Finney’s novel, Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers, has been the inspiration for three previous cinematic outings. In 1956 Don Siegel made it as an allegory about communism (whether Finney intended it that way or not), in 1978 Philip Kaufman made one of the best chillers of the decade and, in my humble opinion, bettered the original, and in 1993 Abel Ferrara dipped a toe in the mainstream to make Body Snatchers, where the virus was used as an Aids metaphor. Quite why anyone would want to remake a classic is a good question. Why you would attempt to do one that has already been remade successfully is anyone’s guess, but that is the decision Olivier Hirschbiegel made when deciding on his first Hollywood project. After directing the now classic Downfall, he was courted by all the studios and could have probably chosen to make anything he wanted which makes his decision to rework Body Snatchers all the more perplexing.
The story remains much the same as all three previous versions; alien virus starts making people behave strangely while a small group of plucky protagonists work out that we are under attack and fight to save the planet. It's been done hundreds of times before in different ways, so the trick is to bring something new to the table and that is where Hirschbiegel falls down. There is fundamentally nothing much wrong with his version of events, there’s just nothing new. Of course there has to be a metaphor in there somewhere, and the scriptwriters make it clear that their alien takeover is a (not so thinly veiled) metaphor for the war on terror. Every time a TV or radio is seen or heard on screen it is reporting on terrorists or extremists, virtually screaming to us that if we let them win we are as good as dead. The metaphor shoots itself in the foot near the end when we are told that the pod people will put an end to violence and suffering and all the bad things that people do to each other, indicating that our continued violence towards each other is part of what makes us human and long may we continue to do it. Our continued fighting, it seems, is so that we can continue fighting!
The casting of Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig doesn’t really help the film, as they are two of the coldest actors around. Fine if you want a cold hearted bitch or unfeeling killer, but here we needed people we could identify with and Craig and Kidman are hard to distinguish from the people that have been assimilated by the alien virus. Every time Craig speaks you think that he’s succumbed only to find out he’s still human after all. This coldness also affects their relationship, with zero chemistry between the two leaving you to wonder why they are even friends in the first place.
What Hirschbiegel does well is giving the film a true sense of dread in the early scenes. People being herded into police vans in the street, queues of zombie like people at pedestrian crossings and people throwing themselves off the tops of buildings in broad daylight all make for a chilling spectacle and the film generates enough goose bumps in the early scenes to mislead you into thinking it will continue that way. And maybe if Hirschbiegel had been left alone it would have. It’s now common knowledge that the studio weren’t happy with the director’s version and took the film off him to add in scenes to up the action quota, and these scenes, two car chases in particular, stick out like a sore thumb. Some terrible continuity would also suggest that the film was hacked by the studio after completion. At the start of the film Kidman’s character will hardly speak to her ex husband and wont let him see their child, yet five minutes later she is dropping him round for a sleep over. For a film that is only 99 minutes long you get the feeling that there is a longer director’s version just waiting to be discovered on DVD.
So this isn’t the disaster that a lot of critics would have you believe. Bad casting decisions, sloppy editing and studio interference have conspired to disguise what could have been a creepy little psychological horror film. Lets hope that when it gets to DVD the director is given free reign to give us the film that he had in his head when he took the project on. For once, a directors cut might not just be a vanity project, but may actually give us a film worthy of its predecessors.