Release Date(s)1978 (February 1, 2022)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor's Note: Portions of this review, specifically the film review and the majority of the video and audio review, were written by Dennis Seuling. The rest was written by Tim Salmons for his review of the 4K Ultra HD release, which you can find here.]
Invasion of the Body Snatchers started life as a serialized novel by Jack Finney in Colliers magazine and was adapted for film four times. In the era of COVID-19, the plot takes on contemporary resonance since it deals with an insidious malady that affects many, spreads rapidly, and gradually saps life out of those afflicted. The 1978 version, a major studio release featuring name actors, sets the origin of this plague in San Francisco.
Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), an inspector for San Francisco’s Department of Health, assumes that when colleague and friend Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) expresses concern about the strange behavior of her fiance (Art Hindle), a bit of counseling will solve the problem. Matthew convinces her to see his psychiatrist friend Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), who dismisses her concern as a form of temporary hysteria. Bennell begins to get worried, however, when more and more people begin insisting that friends and loved ones are not themselves. His old friends, health spa owners Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum) and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), call on Matthew in a panic, having discovered in one of their baths a half-formed body that resembles Jack. Matthew realizes that a new, frightening kind of epidemic is besieging the city and may have something to do with a previously unknown, fast-growing plant that is becoming ubiquitous throughout the city.
As Matthew, Elizabeth, Jack, and Nancy attempt to enlist help from outside agencies, they find their efforts stymied and themselves targeted by blank-faced, emotionless people who grow in numbers every day. At one point, exhausted and stressed from avoiding detection, Bennell falls asleep as one of the plant pods duplicates him, draining his life away. He awakens just in time, horrified at the sight. Becoming separated from Jack and Nancy, Bennell and Elizabeth attempt to survive while seeking a way to fight this unknown plague.
Director Philip Kaufman took on the task of remaking the 1956 film of the same name starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter—itself a science fiction classic, In Kaufman’s version, the location is a large city rather than a small town but also plays on paranoia, a device that works better in a large city. With the anonymity of a large urban environment, sudden widespread personality changes would not be noticed as quickly as in a small town where everyone knows everyone.
The pace of the 1978 version is brisk and the special effects are disturbingly creepy. The cinematography is especially notable for the way it peers around corners, drifts down dark corridors, slides behind barriers, observes conversations with characters partially concealed, and inches almost imperceptibly into closer views. These techniques create a subtle feeling of disorientation that aptly underscores the film’s theme of alienation.
One of the film’s set pieces takes place in the Bellicec’s spa. A series of curtains surround mud-bath tubs. A bearded man up to his neck in mud reads a book. The large room is oddly quiet, and occasionally a gap in a curtain offers a glimpse of what lies within. Suspense is created by what we anticipate, not what we actually see. Kaufman manipulates this scene beautifully through editing, varied camera angles, and slow tracking shots, providing a claustrophobic feel tinged with paranoia. Later scenes rely more on eerie revelations and unforeseen shifts in relationships, with tension constantly mounting.
The cast is uniformly excellent. There’s good chemistry between Sutherland and Adams, Nimoy combines Dr. Kibner’s concern for his friends and patients with a touch of arrogance, Hindle is appropriately creepy as Geoffrey, Elizabeth’s fiance-turned-pod person, and Goldblum plays Bellicec as an outspoken Everyman whose resentment of Kibner’s media attention adds some comic relief.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was shot by director of photography Michael Chapman on 35 mm photochemical film with—based upon Tim’s research—Arriflex 35BL cameras and Cooke and Zeiss B Speed (Super Speed) lenses. The resulting image was framed at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical presentation. Kino Lorber Studio Classics re-releases a Blu-ray single of the film, which was included in their previous 4K Ultra HD package. It utilizes a newly-restored master taken from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, which has been personally approved and color graded by director Philip Kaufman. This 4K restoration gives the picture a vibrant quality, with details such as texture in hair, clothing patterns, and the pods morphing into human bodies sharply delineated. Chapman uses low light levels in many compositions, which add to the film’s foreboding atmosphere. Night scenes become more prevalent as the film proceeds, increasing the sense of impending doom. In the early scenes, color is emphasized more, with the red flowers of the parasitic plant everywhere. The color palette in later scenes is dark, with browns, blacks, and grays dominating and primary colors de-saturated. Blacks are deep, rich, and velvety.
The audio comes in both English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. Ben Burtt’s sound design adds immeasurably to the film’s impact. Particularly noteworthy are the sounds that the pod people make—a combination of high-pitched scream, animal screech, and otherworldly shriek. Thumping, driving music accompanies the plant/human transformation, and footsteps break the silence as scores of silent pod people walk mechanically through the streets. There’s no distortion, hiss, or other audible imperfections on either of the tracks.
The disc sits inside a blue amaray case featuring double-sided artwork: the advance US one-sheet on the front, and one of several alternate foreign posters for the film on the reverse. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Philip Kaufman
- Audio Commentary by Steve Haberman
- Star-Crossed in the Invasion with Brooke Adams (HD – 9:07)
- Re-Creating the Invasion with W.D. Richter (HD – 15:45)
- Scoring the Invasion with Denny Zeitlin (HD – 15:35)
- Leading the Invasion with Art Hindle (HD – 25:04)
- Writing the Pod (HD – 11:16)
- Re-Visitors from Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod (Upscaled SD – 16:15)
- Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (SD – 4:39)
- The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod (SD – 12:48)
- The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (SD – 5:24)
- Radio Spots (HD – 10 in all – 4:56)
- TV Spots (SD – 2 in all – 1:02)
- Trailer (HD – 2:16)
- The Puppet Masters Trailer (SD – 1:45)
- The Wanderers Trailer (HD – 1:53)
Director Philip Kaufman provides a solo audio commentary, originally recorded for the 1998 MGM DVD release of the film. Although he goes silent a few too many times, he offers plenty of behind-the-scenes details that can’t be found in the other supplements. It’s a well-edited and entertaining track. Film historian Steve Haberman provides a second audio commentary, which was originally recorded for the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release in 2016. As is his usual fashion, he delves deeply into the background of the film, its cast, and its crew—giving rapid-fire facts about its creation, but also providing plenty of contextual information.
Star-Crossed in the Invasion features an interview with actress Brooke Adams who discusses getting the part, working with Philip Kaufman, appearing nude, various moments from the film, working with the cast, and how creepy the film still is. Re-Creating the Invasion features writer W.D. Richter who discusses getting involved with the project, working with Kaufman, thematics and changes in the script, the time and setting of the story, Kevin McCarthy’s and Don Siegel’s cameos, the special effects, writing during shooting, the cast, and the ending. Scoring the Invasion features composer Denny Zeitling who talks about approaching the score without outside influence, getting the job, using jazz music, relying on organic sounds instead of traditional instrumental sounds, Jerry Garcia playing banjo in the score, emotional moments in the score, the film’s effect on people, his process, and his feelings on the film in retrospect. Leading the Invasion features actor Art Hindle who discusses being fully aware of the original film, coming from Canada, working with Kaufman, his character, playing someone who has been “body snatched”, working with various members of the cast, Michael Chapman, and making three big horror films in a row. In Writing the Pod, author Jack Seabrook discusses the life and career of Jack Finney, who wrote the original novel of The Body Snatchers.
Next is a set of featurettes originally produced for the 2007 Collector’s Edition DVD release by MGM and 20th Century Fox. Re-Visitors from Outer Space features some of the main cast and crew, including Philip Kaufman, W.D. Richter, Michael Chapman, Donald Sutherland, and Veronica Cartwright, who speak about the film retrospectively. Practical Magic discusses the film’s special effects with Howard Preston. The Man Behind the Scream talks about the film’s sound effects and sound design with Ben Burtt and Bonnie Koehler. The Invasion Will Be Televised talks about the film’s cinematography with many of the previous contributors. The rest of the extras consist of 10 radio spots, 2 TV spots, the film’s trailer, and trailers for 2 other Kino Lorber Blu-ray releases.
A few extras from previous releases of the film are not present. Missing from the Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray release is the Time Is Just a Place episode of Science Fiction Theatre and a photo gallery. And not carried over from the Arrow Video Region B Blu-ray release are two Discussing the Pod interviews with filmmaker Norman J. Warren, director Ben Wheatley, film critic Kim Newman, and film scholar Annette Insdorf. Everything else is accounted for.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an excellent re-make of a classic. Kaufman retains the essential themes of alienation and paranoia as he unspools the plot of an insidious new threat rapidly sapping people of their humanity, turning them into automatons as they succumb to an essential need—sleep.
- Dennis Seuling and Tim Salmons