At one point, Hollywood gave Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers the same treatment it did to other popular literature such as Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, and anything written by William Shakespeare. Originally published in 1955, the book was first adapted into a movie in 1956. It then was adapted again in 1978 with this movie, in 1993 with Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers, and in 2007 with The Invasion starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. That’s not to mention the several TV shows and other movies that have used the original story as a basis for its premise.
Along with the Don Siegel 1956 version, the 1978 film, directed by Philip Kaufman, are the two best-received adaptations of Finney’s novel. Kaufman’s film perfectly captures the fear and paranoia of the ’70s. The Vietnam War had ended, President Nixon had resigned, and – a month before the film’s original release – it was revealed that a cult known as Jonestown had 900+ people participate in a ritual suicide via cyanide.
Despite being released in 1978, Kaufman’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is still relevant and timely no matter which year it is viewed. This is an alien invasion movie without the giant spaceship and weird-looking creatures with space lasers. These aliens could be exact replicas of the people we love, but they are emotionally indifferent. One could say that this could mirror the events of today with the COVID pandemic. It is an event that has changed a lot of people, and they are not who they once were. A conspiracy theorist could question if those people have become what is known as “pod people,” thanks to this movie.
Taking place in San Francisco, the film follows a health inspector (Donald Sutherland) and his colleague (Brooke Adams) as they come to the realization that those they love are not who they used to be. They look the same but are emotionally stilted. The film’s opening shows the creatures, arriving in the form of a gelatinous shape, taking over the plants on Earth and forming into a pod with beautiful flowers. But then, as people sleep, these pods latch onto them and replicate their every look.
It’s amazing to revisit a film like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and see that a movie like this received a PG rating. Nowadays, it would either be a strong PG-13 or R. The imagery is haunting and sometimes shockingly violent. But it’s not gratuitous, nor does it need to be. The practical effects are still excellent and don’t seem one bit dated.
Michael Chapman’s cinematography captures the fear and paranoia of each of its characters by acting like a character itself. It zooms into each person in extreme close-ups and whips around with a feeling of confusion. It’s dizzying, but not nauseating. Chapman handles it with expert care.
In addition to Sutherland, the film also features a young Jeff Goldblum. Even back then, Goldblum’s quirkiness was present and welcoming to whichever role he fulfilled. Leonard Nimoy plays Dr. David Kibner, a psychiatrist who is beloved by many but turns out to be a fraud and arrogant. It’s a great turn by Nimoy, who had mostly been known for playing Spock in Star Trek. It shows his range was beyond what mainstream audiences had come to know him for.
Kino Lorber has done a great job of remastering Invasion of the Body Snatchers for a new Blu-ray release. Kaufman, himself, approved of it. The special features come jam-packed with a bunch of older features that were on previous releases but are still welcome here. There are several theatrical trailers for this film, Kaufman’s The Wanderers, and The Puppet Masters, which also starred Sutherland. There’s a collection of radio spots for the film, which sound great when heard through a big sound system. There are also a plethora of interviews with Kaufman, screenwriter W.D. Richter, and cast from the film. It’s a movie lover’s dream to have all of these old features in one collection. The only downfall to note is that the optional closed-captioning features a lot of grammatical errors. The most notable is the use of “it’s” when it should have been the possessive “its.”
It’s great to revisit a film like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and see how well it holds up. It’s a terrifying, well-crafted science fiction masterpiece. It’s one that will never age and should be introduced to film students, sci-fi lovers, and horror lovers alike. It’s also proof that, in some cases, remakes can be as great or even better than the original.
Kino Lorber will release Invasion of the Body Snatchers on Blu-ray on February 1, 2022.