The Test of Time: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Philip Kaufman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Leonard Nimoy

Stories of paranoia always fascinate me. It’s interesting watching folks go all nutty as they slowly lose their marbles unable to decide what's real or fantasy, what's truth or fiction, or what's in the head or what in front of them. Obviously, spy/espionage films do it the best with people losing faith of everyone they once trusted.

In science fiction, however, paranoia plays a little differently. It can be a real bitch keeping things in perspective when things really get out of control. Take the 1956's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where paranoia gets amplified on a global scale. That film is an undoubted classic, a tale mirroring the fear of communism that swept through the country at the time.

What about the 1978 remake? Does it hold up as a classic too, (especially in the shadow of the original) or is it just gooey pod garbage? 

Under the examination: Invasion of the Body Snatchers ‘78.

He lives to point out your flaws.

THE STORY: A health inspector (Sutherland) and his female buddy (Adams) experience all kinds of weird shit when an alien plant lands on Earth. After a quick cameo by Robert Duvall dressed as a priest (don’t ask), people start to change, becoming…different, which is a hard thing to tell other people, because how they change isn’t easily definable. They just are. The longer the film goes on, the more the population is replaced. But can the good inspector save the day in time? Or is the human race shit outta luck?

Original movie cameo fun!

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: I've said it before but 70's movies are my jam (as the kids might or might not say…I can’t keep up). The pacing, the style, the clothes, the camera work, the minimalistic music, it all adds up to feeling like movies done right.

For this Invasion remake, the picture feels more epic in scope, more global in nature even though we don’t leave the San Francisco bay. It gives that fear, the crushing paranoia, the loneliness, the desperation to survive when it looks like you’re shit out of luck. The 1956 flick obviously captured all of the above perfectly. Given the time in American culture, it did what sci-fi should do…comment on social issues. Now in 1978 communism didn’t hold the same kind of fear, but that’s fine. Alien takeovers can still scare the shit out of anyone.

I think a lot of the film's success is owed to two folks. One director Philip Kaufman (who co-wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark people), who keeps the movie dark and brooding while also creating a rhythm that's never in a hurry but never bores. He gives the newly born pod people more of a zombie feel, and I love that finger point scream that they do. It’s terrifying. 

Goldblum finds more Goldblum. 

The second is Jack Bauer’s pop Donald Sutherland. My in-depth research on IMDB concludes that he’s had 177 acting roles in Hollywood. That’s a lot. But Invasion remains one of his best. He’s plays the everyman well, a guy in love with a girl who won’t admit to it, a honest dude who believes in the structure of government. So when things go bad and he still hopes to maintain that trust, it's a crushing loss in everything he believed in and it hurts that much more. Sutherland coveys that pain.

The rest of the cast is great, too. Veronica Cartwright (from Alien and the freakin’ The Birds!) is the disheveled girlfriend of the very skinny and very Goldblumish Jeff Goldblum. Both are good as that other couple running for their lives. But more so, as I wrote in his passing last week, Invasion sports a great performance by the late, great Leonard Nimoy. Sure, he’s playing yet another scientist, but he’s effectively smarmy and creepy. Check out that article here

Nimoy gets a great final scene. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: My biggest compliant is the runtime, it all goes on a bit too long. Trim off 20 minutes and I think that effective tension could’ve been preserved better. As it stands, the third act drags as the story ventures into more familiar territory. What I dig about this version comes from it striking its own path without being another lazy remake. This film avoids that…until the third act. Then we get the street chase. Then we get the unloading of the pods on old fashioned trucks. Somehow it all feels unnecessary in the remake. We already have the paranoia and the fear, no reason to over-explain things.

THE VERDICT: The original film is a classic. Can’t deny that. But that’s what I like about this version. It realizes it can’t compete and smartly goes down it own path. Sure, some things are the same, but Invasion of the Body Snatchers doesn’t play like a retread. In fact, I think it stands as its own film, a classic in its own right.    





Goldblum is pitching that they need more Goldblum.



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