Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel. US. 2007. 100mins
The latest remake of Jack Finney's 1955 novel The Body Snatchers is a success if viewed as a slick thriller from mainstream producer Joel Silver but a disappointment as the US debut of Germany's Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, The Experiment) starring Nicole Kidman.
Completed, reportedly, with considerable input from the Wachowski Brothers and V For Vendetta director James McTiegue, the film is curiously short on menace and paranoia, two elements which are so present in Hirschbiegel's German films and the three previous movie versions, not to mention in today's United States for which the story could have been a clever allegory.
Nevertheless, nobody comes out embarrassed from the final version of this troubled production which features some interesting ideas about the nature of being human, even if they are ultimately overwhelmed by Silver-style gun action and car chases. Warner Bros should expect solid theatrical business worldwide from the film, along the lines of other female-led thrillers like Flight Plan, Panic Room and The Forgotten.
Its late summer release slot in the US (Aug 17) should benefit from the grand success of The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 3 which have helped the traditionally unfashionable month of August become a prime opening period for high-octane action movies. Sept and Oct dates in the rest of the world will give The Invasion a healthy shot at big autumn returns especially since Kidman and her newly minted co-star Daniel Craig have such international value.
The film begins with the unscheduled return into the earth's atmosphere of the latest Space Shuttle mission ('Patriot') which explodes on re-entry and leaves a trail of debris across continental North America. Scientists, among them CDC official Tucker Kaufman (Northam), quickly discover that the wreckage is covered in an alien spore and that those who come into contact with the substance are subject to mysterious changes.
Meanwhile Washington DC psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Kidman, rarely off screen and as compelling as ever) is noticing the strange changes in the population around her, including the fact that her ex-husband, Tucker, now infected with the virus, has contacted her asking for visitation rights to their son Oliver (Bond). One of her patients (Cartwright) describes changes in her volatile husband who is now unfeeling and inhuman, a dog attacks one of her son's friends on Halloween and the boy is also rendered lifeless and compliant.
She and her best friend, a doctor called Ben Driscoll (Craig, English accent intact) and his scientist friend Stephen Galeano (Wright), are baffled that the government is attributing the behaviour to a new strain of flu. She drops off her son with Tucker in Baltimore for the weekend, and the three adults set out to investigate the substance, discovering that the spore is an alien lifeform which attacks the DNA host while it sleeps and takes over the existing body shell. As the city and country around them is rapidly transformed into inhumanity, she races to Baltimore to retrieve her son, fending off sleep in the knowledge that once she nods off, she will lose herself for good.
What is clever about writer Dave Kajganich's vision of the story is the absence of giant pods or overt alien lifeforms. The bodysnatchers here are subtle and barely visible, and there are hints at mass manipulation by the government, pressure to conform and control by fear which could have been put to much more sinister use here, not to mention parallels with AIDS or bird flu pandemics. But unlike the Philip Kaufman or Abel Ferrara remakes of this story, the ending is unambiguously upbeat. The authorities have been working to eradicate the virus, Kidman's character is cured and all is well with America again.
Hirshbiegel opts for a flat, sterile visual palette to the film appropriate to a world drained of humanity, but a little dreary for the shoot 'em up Joel Silver product which is what has ended up in this final cut.
Warner Bros Pictures
Village Roadshow Pictures
Warner Bros/Village Roadshow
Ronald G Smith
based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Director of photography