Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978) - Arrow Films Blu-ray review

BEWARE! This blog comes with another Fifth Dimension health warning: Remake - the word that should not be mentioned in my presence otherwise painful consequences may occur.
Available from the 18th November - mine is on order!

I mentioned (some may say, ranted) in my last blog entry about a problem or two that I have with franchises in horror. However, the dislike I have for franchises is absolutely nothing when it comes to the word that creates feelings of dread and occasional nausea in any self-respecting science fiction or horror aficionado - and that word is 'remake'. Whatever word one uses, be it 'remake' 're-invention' or 're-imagination' there have been some real clangers over the years - I've already mentioned Gus Van Zandt's  deplorable shot-for- shot remake of Psycho some years ago. I would also add to that; Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001) with possibly the worst 'twist' ending in the history of cinema, the 2005 remake of John Carpenter's The Fog, Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Halloween (2007)......and I've only began to scratch the surface, for this list goes depressingly on and on. Whether the problem is a lack of respect, a mis-placed feeling of homage to the original material, or simply a lazy attempt to cash in on a familiar title by the film company, it is difficult to say.


And yet, and yet....It doesn't have to be that way. A remake may not necessarily be the kiss of death for a movie, for there have been some that have not only matched the original (and often much loved) version but in some cases have surpassed it. In the case of The Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1978), we have the perfect example of the subject matter not only being respected by the film-maker's re-imagining, but in fact honouring it's fore bearer by making it feel as if he is continuing the story, not re-inventing it.


The original 1956 version was a masterpiece of anti-conformist storytelling exploring the paranoia of a claustrophobic inevitability for the future of the masses. Whether it was an attack on the terror of the McCarthy witch-hunts or the reverse, a veiled warning of the threat of the communist 'enemy within', it doesn't really matter. The fact that was a clever, intelligent piece of science fiction that could be interpreted either way was the genius of its director, Don Siegal.

The 1978 remake by Phillip Kaufman is quite simply as equally relevant as its illustrious classic predecessor. Though partly with its roots clearly in the book by Jack Finney, there is a distinct acknowledgement to the 1956 version. Kaufman brought a similar story of human fear and paranoia and transported those elements to a late 1970's America beset by mistrust and loss of innocence where his genius was not only to tap into that post-Watergate and Vietnam era but also to poke fun at the emptiness and vacuousness of the humanistic 'open your heart' Psychology of 1970's West coast America.

After reviewing the delights of the Arrow Blu-ray release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in my previous blog entry of excellence, I was  as excited as a pig in the proverbial when I received word again from the marvellous Arrow people that the next goody on offer the highly anticipated UK Blu-ray release of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).  One of the happy perks of blogging is being able to see the preview works, so sadly as yet I haven't got my sticky little hands on the full deluxe steelBook Blu-Ray set- lets just say it is on my list for Santa. 

So, a brief Synopsis.........

The plot of the film is cunning simplicity in itself. The film begins in deep space where we see some strange Jellyfish-type lifeforms abandoning their dying planet and drifting through space until they are carried to a certain blue planet - and specifically, the city of San Francisco. Here the lifeforms assimilate themselves into the local vegetation where they morph into a small pod-like plants together with a rather eye-catching pink flowers.

When health department employee Elizabeth Driscoll (played by the lovely Brooke Adams) finds the new flowers and brings them home, she soon notices that her lover has suddenly become strangely distant. Thus begins a strange and terrifying series of discoveries as she and her colleague Matthew (played by the legend that is Donald Sutherland) as they realise that people all over the city are seemingly changing in eerily subtle ways. 


As I mentioned (ranted) earlier, remakes of classic movies are often in something of a no-win situation, but The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is a distinct exception to that rule. By updating the social backdrop from the fear and paranoia of the 1950's to the fear and paranoia of the 1970's and adding to the recipe a delicious recipe of a venomous social analysis of the "me, me,me" post-hippy generation it is still entirely relevant. I was surprised when I watched it again the other day that the film's relevancy is still powerful today as it was when it was remade in 1978. We are still faced with a distrust of those in authority, perhaps even more so than in those heady days of Nixon et al.

Not only is Kaufman's direction and storytelling something of a masterstroke with the plot pacing and the stellar performances that he brings out to the two leads, together with a  classy supporting ensemble in the case of Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy as the condescending face of facile pseudo psychology. The director also pays a fond namecheck to the original film with a delightful cameo by the star of the original Bodysnatchers, Kevin McCarthy who reprises his “They’re here!” prophecy of doom speech before being swiftly done away with.

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a truly powerful science fiction thriller that taps into our innermost fears of not being able to trust ANYONE at all and that we may be entirely alone in whatever terrorists, demons or aliens that we may be facing. The ending of the film is as powerful and chilling as any, I repeat, any film climax in cinematic history. And that is not hyperbole.

Special Features
I read in another review that the extras provided by Arrow are plentiful but possibly on the unspectacular side - I disagree with this sentiment completely. In the list of extras there is something to please everybody's tastes. This mouth-watering deluxe Blu-ray set will be available to own in the UK in a limited edition SteelBook™ showcasing the original poster artwork as well as a standard edition case with newly illustrated artwork. Both editions will be available on 18th November and come loaded with a selection of classic interviews, featurettes and newly created never-before-seen special features as well as an in-depth 52-page collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film and archives interviews with director Philip Kaufman and screenwriter W. D. Richter and more.

·        The High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film is particularly beautiful, with the HD transfer perfectly highlighting the cloud detail. Yes there is a certain amount of grain feature in one or two of the dark scenes, however for me that adds to the overall claustrophobic feel of the movie rather than detracts from it.

·         Original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 audio / 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

·         Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

·         Audio commentary with director Philip Kaufman

·        Discussing the Pod: A new panel conversation about ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and invasion cinema featuring critic Kim Newman and filmmakers Ben Wheatley and Norman J. Warren

·         Dissecting the Pod: A new interview with Kaufman biographer Annette Insdorf

·         Writing the Pod: A new interview with Jack Seabrook, author of ‘Stealing through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney’ about Finney’s original novel ‘The Body Snatchers’

·         Re-Visitors from Outer Space: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod – a documentary on the making of the film featuring Philip Kaufman, Donald Sutherland, writer W.D. Richter and more

·         The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod – a look at the film’s pioneering sound effects

·         The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod – cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) discusses the look of and influences on the visual style of the film

·         Practical Magic: The Special Effect Pod – A look at the creation of the special effects from the opening space sequence

·         Original Theatrical Trailer

·         Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh [Amaray version only]


·         52-page collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic David Cairns, as well as re-prints of classic articles including contemporary interviews with Philip Kaufman and W.D. Richter, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

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