Director: Philip Kaufman
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright
Length: 115 min
Rating: BBFC 15
Label: Arrow Films
Release Date: 18 November 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio commentary with director Philip Kaufman
- Discussing the Pod: A new panel conversation about Invasion of the Body Snatchers and invasion cinema featuring critic Kim Newman and filmmakers Ben Wheatley and Norman J. Warren
- Dissecting the Pod: A new interview with Kaufman biographer Annette Insdorf
- Writing the Pod: A new interview with Jack Seabrook, author of “Stealing through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney” about Finney’s original novel ‘The Body Snatchers’
- Re-Visitors from Outer Space: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod – a documentary on the making of the film featuring Philip Kaufman, Donald Sutherland, writer W.D. Richter and more
- The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod – a look at the film’s pioneering sound effects
- The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod – cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) discusses the look of and influences on the visual style of the film
- Practical Magic: The Special Effect Pod – A look at the creation of the special effects from the opening space sequence
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh
- 52 page collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic David Cairns, as well as re-prints of classic articles including contemporary interviews with Philip Kaufman and W.D. Richter, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
Director Philip Kaufman’s 1978 re-imagining of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (first filmed by Don Siegel in 1956) is completely different from the original, using only the title and basic premise to propel the viewer into an urban setting of soul-crushing isolation and escalating paranoia where it is difficult to differentiate between pod people from outer space and alienated city dwellers before they are duplicated.
Kaufman and his director of photography Michael Chapman have created a world of “neon-realism.” (Chapman was the director of photography on Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver in 1976, remembered for its greasy night-time imagery of steam, city lights and fog). Both films were to influence the look of horror movies for years to come. However, Kaufman’s versatility and eclecticism as a director have denied him auteur status and his reputation as a top-flight director has suffered, although he was championed recently by Annette Insdorf, director of undergraduate film studies at Columbia University and author of Philip Kaufman (she speaks enthusiastically of Kaufman’s body of work in an extra feature).
Kaufman’s brilliant re-conceptualization of Body Snatchers is not so much a remake as a belated sequel. The link is Kevin McCarthy (who played pod-fighter Dr. Miles J. Bennell in the 1956 film) running along the streets of San Francisco 22 years later and (remarkably energetic and youthful in appearance for a man of 64) waving his arms to warn the citizens that “something terrible” is heading to their city. McCarthy collides with a car driven by health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland)—a long-lost relative, perhaps? McCarthy has stepped out of the final scene of Siegel’s original edit of Body Snatchers, away from small-town America to post-Haight-Ashbury-pre-dotcom-invasion of San Francisco.
W. D. Richter has written a very clever screenplay in which the lead characters are extremely sympathetic—even the trendy analyst with all the answers essayed by Leonard Nimoy has his charms. This core group of good friends is eventually beaten down by the tiny organisms from outer space. We are so emotionally invested in these quirky characters that their eventual transformation into soulless pod people, joining an omniscient alien mass intelligence, is heartbreaking to behold. The star-crossed love affair between Matthew Bennell and public health department worker Elizabeth Driscoll (the striking Brooke Adams, a neglected actress) is the main plot element that drives the film as the emotionless pod people take over San Francisco.
The generous 115-minute running time gives Kaufman a little breathing room in which to examine the takeover process in more graphic detail: this is very well rendered by a crack special effects team. When individuals fall asleep, they wither and crumple, to be replaced by human duplicates that grow out of watermelon-like pods. The process of duplication is analyzed almost scientifically by Kaufman in a brilliant series of close-ups amplified by chilling sound design.
This is my personal favorite of the four films based on Jack Finney’s classic 1954 novel The Body Snatchers. The two other remakes—Abel Ferrara’s disappointing Body Snatchers (1993) [set on a military base] and The Invasion (2007), co-directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and James McTeigue (after much studio interference) and set in Washington, D.C.—are duds when compared to Kaufman’s masterpiece. (What is it about the concept of pod people that so appeals to filmmakers)?
The 35mm interpositive print, from which this release was mastered is in excellent shape, with barely a few specs here and there. The image overall is very filmic-looking, with natural film grain allowed to come through, but never to a distracting degree. There are no signs of DNR filtering, or edge sharpening. Colors look strong and appropriately grungy, never oversaturated. All in all, an excellent HD transfer and restoration. Another feather in Arrow’s technical cap.
The sophisticated sound design of Body Snatchers comes through with crystal clarity in both tracks (LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1). All the eerie ambient subtleties enhance the atmosphere enormously, and this release lets you enjoy every nuance. Dialog is also crystal clear.
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ UK Blu-ray release is chock full of extra features: Dissecting the Pod: A Conversation with Annette Insdorf, director of undergraduate film studies at Columbia University and author of Philip Kaufman (Contemporary Film Directors Series, University of Illinois Press), who stresses the importance of this somewhat neglected filmmaker (2013); Discussing the Pod: a 2013 round table with novelist and critic Kim Newman and filmmakers Norman J. Warren (Terror, Prey) and Ben Wheatley (Kill List, The ABCs of Death [segment U Is for Unearthed]); How ‘The Body Snatchers’ Came into Being: Jack Seabrook on The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (Seabrook is the author of Stealing Through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney) (recorded in 2013); Space Sequence: a 2007 interview with Philip Kaufman and Howard Preston, Special Effects, Space Sequence; Sound Design: a 2007 interview with Ben Burtt, Special Sound Effects, and Bonnie Koehler, Supervising Sound Editor; an untitled sequence of 2007 interviews with W.D. Richter, Screenwriter, Philip Kaufman, Donald Sutherland (Matthew Bennell), actress Veronica Cartwright (Nancy Bellicec), Michael Chapman, Director of Photography, and Christopher Vogler, Author: The Writer’s Journey; and a 2007 interview with Michael Chapman, Director of Photography, emphasizing the creation of visual paranoia; and a Trailer for the movie.
Kaufman’s take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers may be the best science-fiction film to come out of the seventies. Who cares if the pods are an allegory of feared political archetypes? I personally don’t buy that academic conceit. The enjoyment of the film lies in its startling film-noir-in-color modernism (like a painting by Edward Hopper on acid), its evocation of a dying San Francisco, becoming less bohemian and “part of a flatter reality, a more consumer-happy one but not a more fulfilled one” (as Insdorf describes it), great acting by all the lead players, and sure-handed direction by a master filmmaker who never misses a beat and, without being didactic, warns us that we are losing our humanity in a vast consumerist distraction, and that we mustn’t allow ourselves to sleep through some very dangerous societal transformations.