Note: In the following joint review both John and Jason take a look at the movie, with John also providing the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.
The Movie According to John:
In the beginning there was "Invasion of the Body Snatcher," director Don Siegel's creepy 1956 adaptation of Jack Finney's 1955 novel, which played on the McCarthy era paranoia of the day. (OK, if you're really finicky, there were also the classic Robert Wise-Val Lewton "The Body Snatcher" from 1945 and Gerry Levy's "The Invasion of the Body Stealers" from 1969, but they had nothing to do with Finney's story.) Next came Philip Kaufman's 1978 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," which was just as creepy as Siegel's version and maybe a little scarier but dumped the overtly political angle for a more general comment on mass conformity. And after that came Abel Ferrara's 1992 "The Body Snatchers," which continued the tale on an army base where people were already in lockstep, thus rather losing some of its effectiveness.
Which brings us to the subject of our discussion today, 2007's "The Invasion," directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a screenplay by Dave Kajganich, producing a rough cut the studio reportedly didn't entirely like, so they brought in director James McTeigue (uncredited) and filmmaker-writers Andy and Larry Wachowski (also uncredited) to do some touch-up work. "The Invasion" stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, who, coincidentally, also starred together in 2007's "The Golden Compass." Interesting history, no? Actually, "The Invasion" isn't a bad picture taken on its own; it's just unfortunate for the movie that at least two other good films beat it to the punch and did it better. Of course, if you haven't seen the previous pictures, then maybe you'd like this one a little more.
"The Invasion" tries to be somewhat different from its forerunners, which is a blessing, and at least the first half of the movie works fairly well. Then it sort of melts down into a standard thriller by the end. This time out a space shuttle accident brings an extraterrestrial spore to Earth, where it secretly takes over people's minds while they sleep. People keep their memories but become new people. The problem here: no pods! Remember in the old films, the spores formed flowers that formed pods that formed people who looked exactly like real people and stole their minds, while the real people shrunk up and were carted away in the trash. Not here. This time it's just a kind of virus, and the victims are infected. It's probably the single element in the new film I missed most. How can we call the victims "pod people" if there aren't any pods! Bah.
The new movie keeps the last names of the main characters, Bennell and Driscoll, but this time out the filmmakers reverse the genders. Nicole Kidman plays Carol Bennell, a psychiatrist who begins hearing weird stories from her patients about people they know not being the same people anymore. Naturally, Bennell at first attributes it to delusion or paranoia or what have you, but soon enough she catches on. Daniel Craig plays Ben Driscoll, a doctor who is Bennell's best friend but not quite romantic interest. Also along are Jeremy Northam as Tucker Kaufman, Bennell's ex-husband, who is among the first people to become infected; Jackson Bond as Oliver, Bennell and Kaufman's young son; and Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Stephen Galeano, Driscoll's research colleague. Veronica Cartwright, who was in the 1978 film, is in this picture, too, playing one of Bennell's patients, Wendy Lenk.
What I liked most about this new version was Kidman's assured presence, at least until a moment of panic when she starts to behave irrationally for a while. Kidman, as usual, displays a strong mind and a decisive attitude, which go a long way toward making us root for her. She's sort of like Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" series--a staunch, positive female force. I also liked John Ottman's musical score, with its echoes of the 1978 version while creating an unearthly atmosphere of its own. And I liked the movie's buildup of suspense in the opening half, where we see people slowly being taken over by this alien power as nobody around them seems to know or notice what's happening. In the best tradition of the series, it's spooky.
What I didn't like as much, besides the absence of the pods, was the film's rather muddled themes. In the 1956 version, the allegory was clearly two-pronged: the pod people were like Communists, mindlessly working together for the good of the whole while losing all sense of individuality; and at the same time the pod people represented those misguided citizens who followed anything their government leaders like Senator Joe McCarthy told them, turning on their friends and neighbors in the process. Then in the 1978 version, we got a more general but still clear and important message about the pod people symbolizing the nonthinking, conformist masses who work and dress and act alike because of social or governmental directives. But in this new version, it's hard to tell just what the allegory is all about. There is talk about world events and world leaders, but the references are so fleeting and vague, they make little impact. There is talk about the differences in how we see the world and what the world is really like, but that doesn't go anywhere, either. There's a suggestion that we all live in a pill-popping, tranquilized nation, a fantasy world where we are unable to tell what is really going on around us, and where we're content simply to remain uninvolved. Yet the Russian ambassador says "In the right situation, we're all capable of the most terrible crimes." Yes, and how does that relate to the rest of the film's ideas? Perhaps if the movie had been a little clearer about its message or left out any message at, it would have been more effective. I mean, isn't just creeping us out enough?
Another thing that bothered me is that in this new version the infected folk seem to be more emotional, more aggressive, more violent than their old movie predecessors. Now, if the filmmakers intended us to interpret the old pod people as symbols of nonthinking nonentities, what are we to make of these new infected people? It seems to defeat the objective if they aren't totally unthinking and unfeeling. The extraterrestrial spores tell us we can only find happiness by forsaking distinctions like "good" and "bad" and instead accepting all things as equal. Yet these newly infected persons seem as animated, as mindful, as thoughtful as any normal people. What's the point?
Some final things I didn't like were the gimmick of putting a child in danger unnecessarily, a complication that cheapens the suspense; the fact that some segments of the movie slow down too much, like a dinner-table discussion that only confuses the movie's issues; the detail that some people are immune to the spore's effects, which diminishes the story's tension; and the reality that the whole movie becomes too hectic in the second half. Lastly, and not to give anything away, I hated the cop-out ending. The 1956 and 1978 movies left us with lasting images, iconic images. This one is just a big Hollywood let-down.
"The Invasion" moves in too many conventional directions, its unwillingness to take chances proving its ultimate downfall. Or maybe it just can't make up its mind what it wants to be: a psychological thriller or a straight-out action thriller, after all. If the filmmakers couldn't make up their minds, how did they expect viewers to do so? Still and all, and in spite of all this, the movie is fun in enough important areas to keep one's attention for most of its running time. It's just that if the filmmakers were determined that the movie had to be made at all, they could have made it so much more.
John's film rating: 6/10
The Movie According to Jason:
So, a remake (2007) of a remake (1993) of a remake (1978) of a film (1956) based on a piece of literature (1954). Not too shabby, I must say, especially considering that the aspect of the original--film, at least--most people remember is the laughably cheese-tastic term "pod people." Seriously, how many other works have been through this many permutations without delving into idiocy? Maybe Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World?" Some of the superheroes we all know? But to survive over fifty years and spawn four movies? That's something to be proud of.
The space shuttle Patriot falls from the sky in an unscheduled trip back to Earth. With pieces of the vessel strewn from Washington, D.C., to Dallas, Texas, investigators scramble to figure out what happened. For Washington psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman), it's just another day of dealing with abusive spouses and her own fractured family. But when reports start coming in from around the world of a disease affecting people everywhere, she and a small group of unaffected people deduce something more than the flu is happening. In order to find a cure, Bennell must find the one person she knows who has a possible immunization.
Like the Spielberg remake of "War of the Worlds" from a few years ago, "The Invasion" has one massive negative against it before the first reel unspools: It is being compared to earlier versions and to general public perception. How can it not be? The same problems faced the reimagined versions of "Battlestar Galactica" and "Flash Gordon." The trick is to adhere close enough to the source material without being slavishly devoted to it. Give the situation a unique spin, look at it from a new perspective. Anything to get the audience interested again.
And what "The Invasion" has come up with is using the current political landscape of the world as a road map for the film. Throughout the picture, references to Iraq and Darfur, Venezuelan President Chavez, AIDS, and anything else we can find in a newspaper today is thrown in. The idea--and this is where the movie will lose most of the potential audience--is that civilization crumbles when we need it the most. That humans are capable of truly horrible things. And just how worried about "status" Americans are when compared to others around the world.
It's not enough to have a Russian ambassador joke that Russian boots are no longer made in Russia (they're made in China, in case you're wondering). No, Bennell must engage the man in conversation about the role of people in a society and what that society owes to its members. We hear and, for the most part, understand the words being uttered even though they feel like just that: only words. For as many roles as Nicole Kidman can play persuasively, there are some she can't. She can do Virginia Wolff or an English mother stuck in a haunted home-- hell, even a maiden during the Civil War. But she continually strikes out as a doctor of any kind (see "The Peacekeeper"). There's something in her delivery of weighty subjects we just don't believe. Postmodern feminist that she is, the good doctor allows a patient who is terrified of her husband to go back to him. And there's no way in the world we can buy Kidman as an action star.
To make matters even worse, she can't stay in her Southern accent for any prolonged period of time. It comes and goes from scene to scene--sometimes inside the same scene. There is no logical reason for her to talk like she's from "Cold Mountain" and then switch to "Days of Thunder." Except, of course, if no one was paying attention.
The actual body of the film--the quest tale, essentially--works just fine. It doesn't try to make too much sense either in the context of the movie or in any real-world situation. There's some medical babble between Kidman and on-screen paramour Daniel Craig (playing one of the most unconvincing medical doctors committed to film) about who can be immune to the virus. Chicken pox comes up somewhere in the conversation, a list of drugs, some acronym which stands for something the government of the United States can't pin down, yet James Bond and the ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise can put together in three minutes. Yeah, okay. And that's one of the reasons it works: from the crash of Patriot, we're told to sit back, be quiet and don't ask any questions.
Like how do the people on the metro know to tell Carol what to do? (They can't possibly all see she is sweating.) Why doesn't she stock up on weapons at any opportunity? Why break up a group of four survivors, allowing Ben (Craig) to go off on his own little adventure we never get to see? Why make the US government out to be a bunch of idiots? And why, for the love of good storytelling, lurch into an epilogue without filling in the rest of the story?
I've done little else but rail against "The Invasion" from the very beginning of this review. I may be painting the wrong picture. It's not blowing anyone's socks off nor is it reinventing the genre. What it turns out to be is enjoyable. A diversion that wants us to think--just not too hard because we'd out-think the plot, I suspect. The premise seems psychologically sound on the surface: take away human emotions and we will live as one, without wars and hate, anger and bigotry. The aliens, for lack of a better word, aren't necessarily evil; they want to help. But they do it in the complete wrong way.
Much has been made about "The Invasion" being delayed for a year, re-shoots, new writers and director and on-set accidents. If there is another version out there (and I strongly suspect there is), it should be seen (much like the two versions of "Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist"). This is the action-oriented story; where is the more cerebral one in which there are lengthy discussions about the nature of emotions? Some of the pieces of that film are evident--Carol's profession, the relatively minor role her ex-husband plays, scenes at a military base and mentions of the President, for example.
"The Invasion" isn't a rock 'em, sock 'em action spectacle like typical summer blockbusters. It dares us, on some level, to think. Again, not too hard or too deeply . . . just enough to scratch the surface, to get our own problem-solving juices flowing. If we take emotion out of the equation, what kind of world would we live in? The film is certainly not a disaster, but it's ultimately disappointing because there is a more meaningful plot just under the surface. No one knew how to find it.
Jason's film rating: 6/10
The video quality is mostly pretty good. The screen size is 1.85:1, which surprises me somewhat. I had thought that with a relatively big-budget film like this one, Warner Bros. would have exhibited it in a wider ratio, but it was not the case. The high bit rate and the anamorphic transfer help to bring out the colors nicely, and definition is adequate for an SD release. However, be aware that object delineation is still soft even by SD standards, despite Warners' best intentions in bringing the picture to the small screen. There is only a small degree of natural film grain present, yet the image seems slightly gritty, so even though the video looks good, it's not the best you'll see.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does much to bring the movie's suspense to the fore, especially in its use of the surrounds for the eerie transformation noises. In fact, in the movie's beginning, there are surround effects all over the place; however, for whatever reason they tend to diminish as the film goes on and then pick up again toward the end. There is also a terrific dynamic impact, again diminishing as the film goes on; a deep, clean bass response; and a smooth, realistic midrange. In all, it's a good but not an outstanding soundtrack.
I can't say I liked much in the extras department here. All of the items seemed alike to me, and WB could have easily combined them into one, long documentary. First up, there's an eighteen-minute segment called "We've Been Snatched Before," which covers some behind-the-scenes stuff and the original movie version of Jack Finney's novel. Then, there is a trio of three-minute featurettes, "The Invasion: A New Story," "The Invasion: On the Set," and "The Invasion: Snatched," none of them much more than glorified promos. Things conclude with twenty-seven scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
This new "Invasion" has the distinction of becoming more tedious, rather than more exciting, as it moves along. That's just one of its major shortcomings compared to the two older film versions (1956 and 1978) of the same story. Although "The Invasion" is not a bad movie by any means, it doesn't stand the inevitable comparisons to the earlier films, which were far more gripping than this one all the way through. I suppose the smart thing to do, then, if you haven't seen the two older films is to watch them first. After that, venture out into the new territory of "The Invasion."