Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2007

. . . From Jack Finney's cold dead hands

The fourth time around, 'The Invasion' doesn't seem so scary anymore

The Invasion
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Screenplay: Dave Kajganich, based on the novel The Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright, Veronica Cartwright and Celia Weston
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 33 minutes
Opened August 17, 2007
(out of four)

Maybe the problem isn't necessarily in the idea of another Body Snatchers incarnation. Sure, I've railed against the Remake Generation long and hard, but I can keep an open mind. So let's say, for the sake of open-mindedness, that the story - first brought to screen in Don Siegel's legendary Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956 - is perfectly ripe for another modernized update.

But if the flaw isn't in the thinking behind Oliver Hirschbiegel's The Invasion, it's certainly in the execution. I can only hypothesize as to what could potentially have been done with the film to justify its existence. I'm left only with what has been done. The "modern twists," if you will, are as simple as a Bush-targeted political allegory and CSI-type science to provide a convenient out. And the film's "modern" approach is only to map the story onto a painfully hackneyed structural form.

Surely people must have been questioning themselves when this is all they could come up with for a modern update. After all, when the original has been re-made as recently as 1993, one has to wonder how many directions and visions one premise can actually have. The Invasion shows the wear and tear of an overly rehashed idea.

But we're being open-minded. The story itself is known for its "bone-chilling suspense" (a favorite term among reviewers) and even its satirical bite, and that story is still in place: society gets overrun with alien beings who take over our bodies, turning you, me and our neighbors into soulless, emotionless, dehumanized versions of ourselves. As we saw in the first two cinematic versions - the original and Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake - such a premise lends itself to a movie adversary far different from the norm. The very blandness of these snatched bodies, the unassuming calm we see in their eyes, makes for a completely disarming villain. The threat is in the almost-convincing appearance of a non-threat.

But in this Invasion, where is that mystery? Where is that chilling disquiet? It shows up in fits and starts during the film's opening passages (which are too awkwardly cobbled together to make for a coherent set-up, but provide a few arresting moments nonetheless), but disappears in favor of the unwanted intrusion of plot mechanics. Once the wheels are set in motion, the film never builds on the eeriness of the premise. Instead, the script puts the characters on auto-pilot, behaving exactly as if they are in a Movie Plot.

So after the exposition gets out of the way, the actual body snatchers, these "new and improved" humans, are no longer actually important. They're just another standard-fare Movie Monster, and the whole thing turns into just another Conflict, with a standard-fare Heroine (Save son! Get safely to military base! Collect 200 dollars!) and a standard-fare resolution. I relate it to the recent American remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse - the mystery, meaning and substance are pulled out simply because it's easier to run through easy-to-identify character motivations and convenient answers. As I wrote in my review of that film, the originally potent idea gets turned into just another Problem that needs to be solved, another Villain that needs to be stopped. Obviously, it is a problem, and obviously we want to solve it - but do we really have to get there that quickly and that easily?

Nicole Kidman better hope her upcoming The Golden Compass is good, because after her recent string of flops, The Invasion isn't helping things. She does what she can as our protagonist, Dr. Carol Bennell, a psychiatrist trying to rescue her son from her "ex-husband" and trying, along with trusty friend Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), to get to a military base where anonymous government scientists are working on a vaccine. (Really? That's the best idea they could think up?)

But never did anyone behind this movie come up with any real reason why it was worth the time, money and effort to bring this story back to the screen. And as much as I'm wary of our growing reliance on remakes, it could be done. We could relate this to the impersonalized digital age. Or to the facelessness of globalism. Or to the powerful effects of dehumanization in general. (Admittedly, it's not my job to determine what a film should have done, only to judge what it did do - all I'm saying is it should have done something.)

To be fair, the film tries, weakly, to examine some points about human nature and what makes us human - with an effective visual representation of the "body snatchers" staring coldly our way - but that never really gets off the ground. It's never underlined in any way that makes it essential to the story or characters.

Though I never saw Abel Ferrara's '93 version of the film (I will soon), the first two definitely leave a deep impression. Admittedly, I haven't seen them in several years and now look forward to revisiting them. I can't say these movies didn't have some problems of their own. But what is clear is that they had clear identities, separate of one another, both effectively suspenseful and interesting in their own rights. The Invasion - even with an $80 million budget and re-shoots reportedly overseen by the Wachowskis - can't ever seem to find its own reason for being.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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