Release Date(s)1978 (August 2, 2016)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
The 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is often noted as one of the three films mentioned amongst genre fans when the concept of “great remakes” is brought up, with the others being John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly. While the original 1958 film was subtextually about McCarthyism and communistic paranoia, Phillip Kaufman’s reimagining toys with the basic plot elements of the original film, but modernizes them. Writer W.D. Richter, who would go on to direct the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, was chosen to adapt a new screenplay about a group of spores from outer space that make their way to Earth, mingling themselves with the local plant life, and later, the human beings around it. When a lucky few begin to understand what’s happening, they run for their lives, not knowing where to go or who to trust. A success upon its initial release, even going over well with critics, it has all but eclipsed the original film in popularity, a rare feat for a remake.
Once the people of San Francisco in the film start to fall asleep at night, they begin to change one by one on the inside, no longer resembling their former selves. A constant sense of unease and paranoia about who is really who is what constantly drives the story. It also keeps the viewer alert at all times, going from moment to moment with a feeling of genuine tension and dread towards the inevitable. As opposed to the original film, the remake brings about more modern concepts, including New Age ideas about changes in people, as well as the effects of infidelity. Even before the pods begin taking the people over, they are already focusing on either changing themselves or identifying the changes in the ones that they love in both spiritual and psychoanalytical ways. Little do they know though that real changes are about to happen to all of them, which pinpoints why the screenplay for the film is so clever.
There’s also the wonderful cinematography from Michael Chapman, who gave many of the scenes a noir-ish feel. Considering how dark the film is, it’s easy to see what he was going for: a black and white movie, but in color. The sound design, created by Star Wars veteran Ben Burtt and later mixed by Mark Berger, is also a part of the film’s effectiveness. The sounds of the pod people screaming, as well as the transformation process, inherently make one’s skin crawl, never mind actually seeing the transformations. The special make-up and mechanical effects during those scenes are still impressive and hold up remarkably well. The rest of the soundtrack is encapsulated with the terrific score, composed by jazz pianist Denny Zeitlin who, interestingly, only ever composed this one film score throughout his entire career. But one of the most unforgettable aspects of the film was its ending, which technically, was not scripted. Only Donald Sutherland, Phillip Kaufman, and W.D. Richter knew how it all was going to end, and when cameras rolled on Veronica Cartwright as she approached Sutherland, her reaction was genuine. Funnily enough, almost the same technique was used on her for Alien nearly a year later. The “chest-burster” scene was filmed with her having no prior knowledge as to just how gory it was going to be. Yet again, a look of genuine shock and terror on her face sold that moment as well.
Besides the main members of the cast (Sutherland, Adams, Goldblum, Cartwright, and Nimoy), Kaufman also littered the movie with cameos, including a brief shot of Robert Duvall, whom Kaufman had worked with previously on The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. Kaufman himself also cameos in a couple of scenes, as well as cinematographer Michael Chapman. Not to be outdone, Kevin McCarthy, more or less, cameos as his character from the original film, and Don Siegel, who had directed the original film, also pops up as a cab driver. Interestingly, it was also a time when Leonard Nimoy was attempting to get different kinds of work as an actor. Because of the impact that he had had in the role of Spock on Star Trek, other less sci-fi related projects didn’t come down the pipeline for him very often. Despite the fact that the persona of the character Dr. Kibner shares many of the same traits as Spock, it was still a change of both scenery and genre for Nimoy.
While the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956 was a B movie classic, many film fans consider the remake to be superior. And although Phillip Kaufman had made four films prior, and later made the well-regarded films The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Right Stuff, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is probably his most well-known and more respected work, which is something of an anomaly for a filmmaker. The only real problem with the film today is how dated it is in its look, but regardless, it’s still a movie that can manage to get under one’s skin quite easily. It’s easily one of the most well-put together movies of its era, top to bottom.
Scream Factory’s new Collector’s Edition of the film features a brand-new 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element, and the results are very rewarding. It’s a beautiful, organic transfer that soaks up Michael Chapman’s beautiful cinematography, particularly the darkness of it. The movie has always been quite dark by design with a lot of crush built into it, and the black levels therein enhance it with a richness. It’s also a very grainy presentation, although not completely even from scene to scene, as expected. There’s plenty of fine detail and strong colors on display as well, although it has a bit of a bluer tint than MGM’s previous Blu-ray release, which gives off cooler skin tones. Contrast and brightness levels are excellent, and the overall image is quite stable. There’s also very little damage leftover, except for some very mild speckling and a line or two here and there. There are more prominently some print weakness fluctuations at the left and bottom of the frame that begin around the 1:00:03 mark and end at the 1:01:17 mark. For obvious reasons, these couldn’t be removed as there were no frames to borrow from. Otherwise, it’s a very clean and satisfying visual presentation. For the audio, there are two options, English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD. Although a lot of the sound work still sounds a bit on the vintage side, Ben Burtt’s amazing sound design remains very much intact. Dialogue is always clear and discernible, and both sound effects and score have lots of room to breathe in the surrounding channels with plenty of speaker to speaker movement. There’s also an abundance of ambient activity, as well as some occasional low end moments to be had. To my eyes and ears, it’s the best presentation of the film on home video, by far. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
The supplemental material on this release is also quite extensive and well-worth digging into, starting with a new audio commentary with author and film historian Steve Haberman, as well as the previously available audio commentary with director Philip Kaufman. There are also four new interview segments: Star-Crossed in the Invasion with Brooke Adams, Leading the Invasion with Art Hindle, Re-Creating the Invasion with W.D. Richter, and Scoring the Invasion with Denny Zeitlin. All of the previously-released material has also been carried over, including the Re-Visitors from Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod featurette, which talks to various cast and crew members; three featurettes (Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod, The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod, The Invasion Will be Televised: The Cinematography Pod); the original theatrical trailer; a set of 2 TV spots and 10 radio spots; a photo gallery; and, as an added bonus, an episode of the TV show Science Fiction Theatre entitled Time is Just a Place, which is based upon Jack Finney’s original short story.
Unsurprisingly, Scream Factory knocks another one out of the park with Invasion of the Body Snatchers on Blu-ray. Besides being an impeccably-made film, the transfer and the extras on this release are absolutely terrific, and any self-respecting genre fan should be picking it up. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons