The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a bonafide classic, featuring strong performances, a creepy storyline and a nice balancing act between horror and science fiction genre conventions. The 1978 remake from director Philip Kaufman somehow matches the excellence of the original. The two are completely different monsters, and that makes their coinciding existence that much more exciting. Whereas the 1950s version is more methodical and paranoiac, the remake amps up the horror factor and takes the pod people approach to a larger landscape.
Donald Sutherland plays Matthew Bennell, an employee of the New York City Department of Health. He and his co-worker, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), stumble upon strange occurrences that scientifically become difficult to explain. Jeff Goldblum turns up as Jack Bellicec, Elizabeth’s friend and a researcher who likes to think outside the box. Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy provide stellar supporting work.
The discovery by Matthew and Elizabeth: an alien species is growing duplicate versions of human beings, essentially taking over host bodies and becoming walking-talking carbon copies.
Once the body snatching occurs (much more gruesome than the original), Matthew and Elizabeth become the scientists who cry wolf. The problem is not that people don’t believe them; it’s that most of the people have turned into these empty-vessel aliens.
Kaufman, working off a script from W.D. Richter, achieves a similar level of paranoia as the 1950s version. However, Sutherland and company have much more space to run around. The action is not tied to a specific town. They are essentially citizens on the run from everyone, so they use New York City and its surroundings as hideouts. There are some scenes that feel close to the original; however, Kaufman smartly moves away from the inspiration and finds his own originality.
The acting from Sutherland, Adams, Nimoy and Goldblum is enjoyable. Sutherland, in particular, has a nice way of finding the inner pragmatist in Matthew. He’s not prone to outbursts (think Dana Scully from The X Files), but the world around him is changing. If he doesn’t change his thinking, he will be forced to become like all the rest.
Goldblum, who has made a career out of the smarmy sidekick, perfects the stock character in this Invasion of the Body Snatchers. His unconventional theorizing, much like his role in Jurassic Park, begins sounding less crazy as the movie progresses.
Adams is the hopeful innocent, a woman who personally finds the invasion enter her own household. The character of Elizabeth goes through perhaps the largest transformation. We see how she’s almost “turned” into a pod person, and this allows Kaufman’s team to flex its creative muscles. The special effects are skillful and appropriately used throughout the feature.
There’s a dedication to the smaller characters as well, with Nimoy and Cartwright offering solid performances. Cartwright’s Nancy Bellicec, wife of Goldblum’s Jack, is not a throwaway character. Everyone is given a self-worth, and that makes the pod people’s ultimate goal that much more terrorizing.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1978 achieves the near-impossible: It’s a remake worthy of existence.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Written by W.D. Richter; based on the book by Jack Finney
Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Carthwright and Leonard Nimoy
Running time: 115 minutes