Director : Oliver Hirschbiegel
Screenplay : Dave Kajganich (based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Nicole Kidman (Dr. Carol Bennell), Daniel Craig (Dr. Ben Driscoll), Jeremy Northam (Tucker Kaufman), Jackson Bond (Oliver), Jeffrey Wright (Dr. Stephen Galeano), Veronica Cartwright (Wendy Lenk), Josef Sommer (Dr. Henryk Belicec), Celia Weston (Ludmilla Belicec), Roger Rees (Yorish), Eric Benjamin (Gene), Susan Floyd (Pam)
The Invasion is the fourth cinematic incarnation of Jack Finney's 1954 novella The Body Snatchers, and its tortured production history (bad test screenings, sitting on the shelf for a year, secret reshoots by The Wachowski Brothers to punch up the action) is unfortunately much more interesting that the film itself. While not as bad as some have made it out to be, it certainly ranks beneath its predecessors, which include Don Siegel's 1956 version and Philip Kaufman's 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as Abel Ferrara's vastly underrated 1993 remake-cum-sequel Body Snatchers. However, parts of it work quite well, and German director Oliver Hirschbiegel, best known for his last-days-of-Hitler drama Downfall (2004), creates an effectively moody atmosphere and maintains tension well.
First-time screenwriter Dave Kajganich has cleverly re-imagined the body snatchers as microscopic alien spores that take over your DNA, rather than large pods that recreate your body and reduce you to dust. Turning the alien mind/body takeover into a communicable disease is effectively unnerving, especially in our era of bird flu and pan epidemic fears, and it also introduces an even more personal element because it requires physical contact to be transmitted. The body snatcher idea has always been a deeply frightening concept because it spreads first through families--those closest to you become someone else and then steal your soul. It digs deep into our fears of never really knowing anyone, even as it rests on the idea that we would be able to sense something has changed if our husband, wife, son, or daughter started acting inexplicably different. It's a classic evocation of Freud's uncanny, both familiar and alien.
The body snatcher story relies heavily on character, because we have to care about the people being snatched. In this regard, The Invasion is something of a let-down because the characters are never much more than functional. Nicole Kidman stars as Dr. Carol Bennell, a psychiatrist whose ex-husband, Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam), is one of the first people to be taken over. Caught in the middle is their young son, Oliver (Jackson Bond), which adds a Spielbergian dimension of already fractured families under attack by the supernatural. As the rest of the world is quickly turned into emotionless automatons, Carol and her friend-but-more-than-a-friend, Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) race to escape infection and possibly find a cure.
Just as the previous body snatcher stories did, The Invasion takes advantage of the story's inherent allegorical potentials with political and philosophical overtones that are directly in step with our times, albeit in a sometimes clumsy and ham-handed way (Carol's dinner conversation with a Russian diplomat about the inherent violence of human nature could have been handled in a much more subtle manner and been just as effective in laying the groundwork). The alien takeover of human bodies is a scary concept, but The Invasion dares to suggest that it could have positive consequences, as well, namely the elimination of human aggression. As the film progresses, we catch snippets of news in the background informing us of peace agreements signed between Israelis and Palestinians and the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Without emotion, there is no violence, which leaves us with the question: Which is worse? Is saving humanity worth the price of violence that appears to be an unavoidable consequence of human nature? It is essentially the same philosophical conundrum raised by Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange.
When it isn't being clumsily placed in the foreground, much of this philosophical questioning is shoved out of the way in favor of more conventional action setpieces and suspense. The big car chase sequence that was the subject of the secret reshoots is so conventional it makes you wonder why they even bothered, except that it provided unnecessary noise and fury for the movie's trailer, which otherwise could have ended with the perfectly creepy image of Carol's car being overtaken by pod people (is there no sense of cliff-hanger teasing anymore?). The film also suffers from a too-abrupt ending that is both happy and tentative, but decidedly lacking in finesse. You get the sense that the filmmakers wanted to reassure us that all was well, but they do so in such a rushed manner that it makes you question how much of anything was given any real thought.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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