Running time: 115 min.
Release date: December 20, 1978
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is director Philip Kaufman's remake of the 1956 film of the same name, which in turn is an adaptation of the novel The Body Snatchers written by Jack Finney. This remake has the advantage of greater visual effects and sounds than the original, which makes for a more chilling version. If you have never seen the original film, this remake stands alone on it's own merits as a thrilling and scary sci-fi/horror. Invasion of the Body Snatchers should be considered the greatest remake of all time, as well as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. It takes the alien conspiracy theory, a trope that has been written about ad nauseum, and it dials up the intensity to 11.
The film opens with scenes of gelatinous-looking lifeforms dispersing from their dying planet and riding the solar winds to Earth, where they land in San Francisco, They touch down on plants and vegetation, forming beautiful pink flowers, many of which are picked by school children and others, such as Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), a worker at the Department of Health. She works there with health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), as we see that Bennell obviously likes her. Elizabeth, however, has a boyfriend named Geoffrey (Art Hindle). One morning, Elizabeth wakes up to find that Geoffrey is....different somehow. He appears distant and emotionless. Elizabeth confides this to Matthew and he suggests that she see his friend and published author, David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), a psychiatrist. She insists that she's not crazy and that Geoffrey is not really Geoffrey.
There is a scene where Matthew and Elizabeth are driving to Kibner's book party when a frantic man runs into their car, screaming "They're here! They're coming for you!". This man is played by Kevin McCarthy. who played the protagonist in the original film. The man is then chased by a mob and then found dead in the street, with emotionless onlookers. This is a cleverly used cameo appearance in a nod to the original film. At the party, we meet another friend of Matthew's, Jack (Jeff Goldblum). Jack runs a bathhouse with his wife, Nancy (Veronica Cartwright). Kibner convinces Elizabeth that she is imagining things in order to find an excuse not to commit to a relationship with Geoffrey. Later on, Jack and Nancy find a body in their bathhouse that looks suspiciously like Jack. They call Matthew to investigate, leading him to find Elizabeth in a similar situation, as he breaks into her apartment and finds a clone being formed in her garden. Matthew steals her from the house, and the four of them try to put their heads together to understand what is happening.
We get a scene with Matthew having phone conversations with various officials, who all tell him to keep things quiet, they don't want a panic, not to worry, etc. Matthew now realizes that the conspiracy is in effect: people are being replaced by emotionless clones. The film then becomes scene after scene of Matthew and friends running and hiding, and finding that the hiding places are becoming smaller and fewer. Philip Kaufman does a great job of pacing the film, building up the pieces to where we watch the characters eventually figure things out. In one scene, Matthew falls asleep, and several pods begin to spring forth their clones, in a gruesome and terrifying use of special effects.
The cast is pitch perfect, as we see everyday people reacting to things as regular people just might. Donald Sutherland gives a solid performance; Jeff Goldblum is actually as neurotic here as he would appear to be in later films. Leonard Nimoy was cast against type for once, and he makes a case for himself as a man who knows more than he's letting on.
The visual effects coupled with the sound effects create a very chilling atmosphere. Kaufman takes a big city and somehow makes it seem even colder. The clones emit a high-pitched scream when they see someone who is not yet one of them, alerting others to give chase. This is a scary character trait given to an otherwise faceless sea of people. The conclusion of the film probably provides the most chilling take of them all.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes ideas brought forth in the original and expands them, gives them more substance. It is a much more frightening film than the original and should give those of us who are already conspiracy-minded some fodder. There are not many flaws to be found with this version.