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Why Not A Space Flower?

June 28th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Marquee 5

In the month of June, Joe Valdez “takes over” programming of the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles with a series of double features on his favorite film themes.

Here’s Part 2 of a bill featuring our friends the pod people.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 poster A Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 poster B

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Screenplay by W.D. Richter, based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Produced by Robert H. Solo
115 minutes

Whether drawing up a ballot of Best B-Movies, Best Science Fiction Films, Best Remakes or even Super Cinema of the ‘70s, oddly enough, the intoxicating 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers would land on any of those lists. Based on a 1954 novel by Jack Finney, the 1956 film version hit multiple zeitgeists in its day, arriving at a moment when Americans seemed obsessed with invasion, whether from outer space or the U.S.S.R. Directed by Philip Kaufman and adapted by W.D. Richter, the remake boasts far more insidious wit, characters as contemporary as they are compelling and a brilliantly pitch black ending that in its own way, puts a stake through the heart of the ‘60s. It’s gleefully written, perfectly cast, jarringly made and more than three decades later, looks a lot like a minor masterpiece.

The Body Snatchers beautifully exploits a paranoia that seems wired into the American psyche: fear that others are coming to eliminate your way of life. The 1978 version could be interpreted as a warning against feminism or urban alienation, take your pick. Kaufman cast thoroughly offbeat performers in Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and too cool for school Leonard Nimoy; as opposed to movie stars, their survival is far from assured. Kaufman employs discordant camera angles and sound effects but instead of horror, focuses on the characters and their doomed love affair, making the story intense without much in the way of gore or cheap scares. Michael Chapman handled the stark lighting while Thomas Burman and Edouard Henriques executed the unsettling makeup effects.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 title card

Seeking escape from the surface of a dying world, alien spores drift into space and reach the Earth’s atmosphere, raining down on the city of San Francisco. Taking home one of the strange pink flowers than begin to bloom, biologist Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) recognizes the pollinization of two different species to create a third. Unable to pry her dentist boyfriend Geoffrey (Art Hindle) away from TV sports, Elizabeth shares her discovery with Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), a health inspector and her close colleague at the Department of Health. Geoffrey’s alienated behavior the next morning prompts Elizabeth to follow him. Distraught by the sinister changes she begins to detect in her boyfriend and in the city around them, Elizabeth is assured by Matthew that a friend — pop psychologist Dr. David Kibner — will have a logical explanation.

At Kibner’s book signing party, Matthew and Elizabeth meet up with another one of his friends, struggling poet Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum). While Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) reveals that six of his patients swear that loved ones have changed into something less human, the doc believes our fear of commitment is at the root of the hysteria. Returning to the mud baths he operates with his New Age spouse Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), Jack drifts off to sleep and is wakened to his wife’s screams when she discovers a dormant being with an uncanny resemblance to her husband growing in one of the stalls. Matthew rushes to Elizabeth’s house and wakes her before she too crumbles to dust and is replaced by an imitation. The two couples realize that most of San Francisco is no longer who they appear to be and fight to stay awake long enough to escape.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Brooke Adams

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Donald Sutherland

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Brooke Adams Art Hindle

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Brooke Adams Donald Sutherland

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Jeff Goldblum Veronica Cartwright

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Jeff Goldblum Leonard Nimoy Veronica Cartwright

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Donald Sutherland Leonard Nimoy

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Jeff Goldblum Veronica Cartwright Donald Sutherland Brooke Adams

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Brooke Adams Donald Sutherland

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 Brooke Adams

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 404 users: 89% for Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Aliens · Ambiguous ending · Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Black comedy · Cult favorite · End of the world · Famous line · Forensic evidence · Paranoia · Psychoanalysis · Remake

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mrs. Thuro's Mom // Jun 29, 2010 at 2:32 am

    I saw this in the theater with my friends and it was a great suspense thriller–definitely not horror. I haven’t watched it again since. Maybe it’s about time that I did. (I wonder what we were so paranoid about in 1978?)

  • 2 Flickhead // Jun 29, 2010 at 4:01 am

    When this film was made, northern California was emerging as Ground Zero for the first wave of New Age hokum, EST (Nimoy’s character is loosely based on Werner Airhead… uh, Erhard), and blank-eyed stoicism — so much so that a reviewer at the time (it might have been Carrie Rickey) called San Francisco “Pod City to begin with.” And although Kaufman was a SF resident, I believe a lot of the film was intended as a critique of its environs. Lucky for me, I was living there and saw it when it premiered.

    Personally, I prefer this over any of the other Body Snatcher films, from Kevin McCarthy to Abel Ferrara, to the recent one with Nicole Kidman — a woefully overlooked picture which correctly reasoned that the ultimate outcome of the Earth’s total invasion would be unconditional world peace.

    The Kaufman/Richter film also offers Donald Sutherland’s memorable explanation of Brooke Adams’s husband going all cold and unfeeling on her: “Maybe he’s become a Republican!”

    By the bye, this film would make a great co-feature with Bill Persky’s Serial (1980).

  • 3 Steve W // Jun 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Absolutely a great film, and maybe the only remake of a classic (the 1956 version) that is a classic in its own right and even surpasses the original in artfulness and resonance. Given that, as you and the other commenters pointed out, it’s also a satire on the New Age trends of the time, it’s astonishing that it hasn’t aged a bit. Your collection of gorgeous stills alone shows just how stylishly Philip Kaufman (with DP Chapman) directed this. I’d also say that it makes the best use of San Francisco ever on film.

    I do read the move not just as a satire on EST-speak as represented by the Nimoy character, but as a commentary on the impersonality and alienation of big-city living in general. It’s not that San Francisco is uniquely ripe for Pod takeover–it’s that even in a city as beautiful and idiosyncratic and quirky as SF, alienation has taken root. Part of what makes the movie so affecting that is that real, oddball human beings like Sutherland and Goldblum and Cartwright are in danger of losing their humanity. The vivid setting and characters heighten the sense of loss.

  • 4 Joe Valdez // Jun 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Monica: If Invasion of the Body Snatchers was cheaper or it wasn’t very good, you could probably classify it as “horror”. Its craftsmanship and ideas are impossible to overlook, but I’ve talked to people who were definitely freaked out, particularly by the ending. Let’s just call it a great movie. Thanks for commenting!

    Ray: Thanks so much for that first person analysis. The ’70s preoccupation with self or with New Age beliefs are all over this film, but I never took it as a critique or a warning that hippies from the Bay Area were taking over the country. I believe that Don Siegel also said that he was never trying to score any political points with the 1956 version, that people read into it what they wanted. That’s the reason why the first two Body Snatchers are so much fun. Now I’m curious to watch the Nicole Kidman 2007 version.

    Steve: I saw much the same Invasion of the Body Snatchers that you did. I think that urban alienation is what Kaufman was riffing on and that might be the biggest difference between the original version and this one. Anytime I’m around hordes of people whether in L.A. or an amusement park, I feel myself freaking out a bit like Brooke Adams does in this movie. Your individuality does feel trampled on.

    In terms of San Francisco on film, Zodiac is way up the list for me because we even get to watch the modern city being built. Thanks so much for commenting!

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