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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Invasion of the Body Snatchers  (1978)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
4 Stars
(Release Date: August 2, 2016) – Is there any more terrifying notion than being confronted by a loved one who has somehow changed from the person he or she once was, and being helpless to do anything about it? Sure, they may look the same on the outside, but the very things that make them who they are—their personality, their emotions, their capacity for empathy—have suddenly flickered out like a lightbulb that has gone black. This is the very situation with which Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) is suddenly faced, and it is so crazy and unimaginable she can barely comprehend it herself. One day, she and her fun-loving doctor boyfriend, Geoffrey (Art Hinde), are going about their lives like any other. The next morning, Elizabeth wakes up to a different man, one who sounds and looks like Geoffrey, but who in all other ways has seemingly become a compassionless blank shell. At first, Elizabeth questions if he is angry with her for some reason, but no, that's not it. Geoffrey is not Geoffrey, and the longer she moves around the streets of San Francisco the more she notices other people aren't themselves either. Something is definitely wrong, and it is sweeping across the city like a dirty, conspiratorial secret of which she is not a part.

Jack Finney's 1955 science-fiction novel had previously been successfully adapted for the screen in 1956 by director Don Siegel, but Philip Kaufman's 1978 version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is that rare superior remake that manages to explore its subject matter on a deeper, more provocative level while heightening its psychological complexity and jittery disquiet. Director Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter have made a virtually perfect film, a masterpiece of paranoid terror that continues to be, nearly forty years later, a watermark of the sci-fi and horror genres. Impeccably natural writing and richly observant performances led by Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland, as health inspector friend and colleague Matthew Bennell, plant the viewer in the lives of its believable, identifiable characters, then watches as everything around them contorts into a world they scarcely recognize.

Human emotion and inhuman detachment are at the heart of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," these diametric opposites driven apart by the opening catalyst—the arrival of a gelatinous alien species to Earth that pollinates plant leaves with pink flowers born from unusual small pods. When Elizabeth finds one of these in her yard, she excitedly believes she has stumbled upon a new breed of flower. She has no way of guessing it is the very first step in a planetary takeover aiming to replace the population with alien drones. Kaufman and Richter spend enough time developing their achingly real characters that the gravity of what they stand to lose—their identities, yes, but also their abilities to love and fear and feel anything at all—means all the more. It is a desperately unsettling premise, one its filmmakers explore with an increasingly manic intensity. Intoxicatingly lensed by cinematographer Michael Chapman, the film builds a practically unparalleled sense of claustrophobia while paying attention to the minutia of everyday life turned unnervingly on its head. When Elizabeth's suspicions are met with a more logic-driven explanation by psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), she starts to wonder if her overactive imagination has gotten the best of her—that is, until married friends Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) back her up after having a similar hair-raising experience at the spa they own.

Every frame of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is fastidiously captured without accident, sumptuously alive with details large and small, some which may not be noticed on first viewing but that all coalesce both consciously and subconsciously into a mesmerizingly portentous whole. Elizabeth and Matthew are the sympathetic anchors, flirtatious work friends who are unable to admit the love they have for each other until it is almost too late. In better circumstances, they could easily be the stars of a straight drama, one that does not involve monstrous replicas seeking to take their place in life. As a mournfully eerie bagpipe-infused version of "Amazing Grace" floats into these characters' paths the closer they approach an inescapable fate, the picture nears the completion of its witchy spell—but not before an unshakable final scene that never fails to send a shiver down one's spine. Emotionally stirring, visually striking and having not aged a day, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" cries out for individuality in a skewed, nightmarish totalitarian reality. The results are as squirmily potent in 2016 as they no doubt were in 1978.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" has been previously released on Blu-ray, but not like this! This lavish Scream Factory Collector's Edition includes a 1080p transfer (from a new 2K scan of the interpositive) that brings its every aesthetic intention to life. In comparison to the previous MGM and Arrow releases, the Scream Factory edition boasts a sturdier, more consistent image with a subtle but apparent uptick in fine details, added clarity reaching into the backgrounds of shots, a warmer color palette, and a healthy grain field. Occasional nighttime shots feature some noticeable noise and a loss of detail, but this is a result of the era-specific film stock used and no fault of the transfer. There appears to have been no DNR applied to the image, which will most certainly satisfy videophile purists. Occasional age-related specks pop up, but are minor. All things considered, this is an excellent transfer, and very likely the best the film has looked since its original 1978 theatrical exhibition.

The disc includes two audio options: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, and a 2.0 DTS-HD one. I watched the Blu-ray's 5.1 soundtrack, and it impresses throughout with the evenness of its components, from dialogue to sound effects to Denny Zeitlin's tremendous music score. While front-heavy overall, the low-key use of surrounds gives a nice, well-rounded ambience to the proceedings. As for the two instrumental versions of "Amazing Grace" that play during the film, they have never sounded more haunting and forlorn.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director Philip Kaufman
  • NEW Audio Commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman
  • NEW "Star-Crossed in the Invasion" Featurette (9:06, HD) – an interview with actress Brooke Adams
  • NEW "Leading the Invasion" Featurette (25:04, HD) – an interview with actor Art Hindle
  • NEW "Re-Creating the Invasion" Featurette (15:43, HD) – an interview with screenwriter W.D. Richter
  • NEW "Scoring the Invasion" Featurette (15:34, HD) – an interview with composer Denny Zeitlin
  • "Re-Visitors From Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod" Featurette (16:14, HD) – includes interviews with director Philip Kaufman, screenwriter W.D. Richter, director of photography Michael Chapman, and actors Donald Sutherland and Veronica Cartwright
  • "Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod" Featurette (4:38, HD)
  • "The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod" Featurette (12:47, HD) – an interview with sound designer Ben Burtt and sound editor Bonnie Koehler
  • "The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod" Featurette (5:24, HD) – an interview with cinematographer Michael Chapman
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:13, HD)
  • TV Spots (1:02, HD)
  • Radio Spots (4:46, HD)
  • Photo Gallery (6:17, HD)
  • Science Fiction Theater: "Time is Just a Place" (25:53, HD) – an episode based on Jack Finney's short story, directed by Jack Arnold
Bottom Line
Scream Factory's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" Collector's Edition is a comprehensive stunner overflowing with invaluable bonus content and a new 2K scan of the interpositive that safely makes this the ultimate Blu-ray release of this title on the market, even surpassing the previous UK Arrow disc. A timeless classic of its genre, the film has lost none of its chilling effectiveness in the decades since it was made. This is a must-buy for fans and worthy of an instant purchase even for consumers who have never before seen the film. Scream Factory's Collector's Edition of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is one of the year's best Blu-ray releases, and receives my highest recommendation.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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