The story is one of the most famous in science-fiction filmdom: jellyfish-like spores from outer space come to earth, clone humans into emotionless drones, then dispose of the bodies. It’s a story that works best in an era when pupils are locked in the back of your head. Kaufman knows this—while Siegel’s movie was inspired by paranoia induced by McCarthyism, his remake fixates on post-Nixon conspiracy, governmental phone-tapping and all.
Donald Sutherland takes the lead role as San Francisco health inspector Matthew Bennell, inhabiting an unstable presence we saw him with in Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now just a few years earlier. With Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum included (Brooke Adams dumbs down the cast), the ’78 Invasion boasts something the original couldn’t dream of: great performances.
Kaufman also sidesteps a number of other flaws with the original, such as nixing the flashback narrative and asylum nonsense. And though we finally witness the aftermath of the human bodies, a linty dust material isn’t quite what we’d hoped for…either is a dog with a human’s face.
I can’t help but think Invasion of the Body Snatchers lacked a certain edge. Yes, it perfectly utilized a wonderful (yet somehow forgotten) Roger Kellaway-conducted score and a devastating rendition of “Amazing Grace” but the connect-the-dots plot and dialogue are lifted straight from a 1950s sci-fi film. Like the pod-people, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is devoid of any true emotion or reason.
I can recommend Kaufman’s Invasion for its technical brilliance (special effects, sound, personified camerawork), mostly fine performances, and overall creepiness (the horrifying “birth” is about as heart-pounding as it gets), but could also go west and wave my finger for not reaching its full potential with a smarter script and more subtle approach.
Cameo notes for fans of the original Invasion: director Don Siegel as a suspicious cab driver and star Kevin McCarthy once again immortalizing the line, “They’re here! You’re next!” Keep an eye and ear out for Robert Duvall and Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia.
Re-Visitors from Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod (16:14): Cast and crew offer a deep look into the making of Invasion—why a remake was needed, the clever cameos, a Leonard Nimoy tribute, and how the story related to the era. Worth a watch after the feature.
Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (4:39): Director Kaufman and Special Effects wizard Howard Preston discuss the opening sequence in which the pods come to Earth. Fascinating (if short) watch.
The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod (12:48): Ben Burtt, sound designer for the film (and who won a Special Achievement Oscar for his work on Star Wars), discusses how the brilliant SFX came about. Burtt is a knowledgeable man, which makes this piece a great lesson for anybody interested in the topic.
The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (5:25): Crew members discuss how Michael Chapman’s cinematography enhances the overall experience of the film.
And the Original Theatrical Trailer.