Friday, October 24, 2008

Invasions of the Body Snatchers: 1956 v. 1978

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1956 version, is heralded as one of the greatest B-movies of all time, mostly for the fact that the only B aspect of it was being the second picture played at a double feature. Don Seigel, the director, could have fooled anybody by claiming this was the first film played, which it ended up being. The acting is fantastic, the story enticing, and the themes explored are both creepy and subtle.

The same greatness cannot be claimed by the '78 version. While Donald Sutherland is very good in the lead role, he has nothing on Kevin McCarthy, whose cameo in the remake was one of the film's highlights. The remake takes a much less subtle approach at its creatures. While the first film viewed those who have had their bodies snatched as humans who can simply not display emotion, the remake features stony characters, whose wail is anything but chilling.

The point of the subtlety in the original film was to exemplify how emotion is taken for granted by those who do not love. Love was a resonant theme of the first film, but fear seems to take an unwarranted precedence in the remake. In the first film, only those who truly love someone can tell when they have changed. Whether it be a son or a niece, it takes someone close to the victim to understand their loss of emotion. In the remake, it's quite obvious when one is snatched. They become unrecognizable in attitude and behavior. Also, they scream like annoying banshees. I don't quite understand who thought the screaming would be a good idea, but it does little to add and much to detract.

The second major difference between the two is the setting. The first film takes place in a small town, Santa Mira, while the remake is located in San Fransisco. The earlier film takes a good chunk of time showing how Dr. Miles Bennell (McCarthy) knows most of the people in the town. This makes the later scenes more filled with desperation and a much stronger emotional punch. These are people he knows and sees every day, changed, never to return. In the later film, Bennell (Sutherland) and Driscoll (Brooke Adams) live in a big city where it already seems dirty enough that these aliens are unneeded. Sure, maybe the message is that these aliens are cleaning up the earth, but that theme doesn't have near the emotional power of the first film. When Driscoll in the remake says that her city has changed, it doesn't mean near as much as when Bennell, in the first film, notices all the people he knew and loved have changed.

The second movies goes for stark realism, while the original knows that if you have an absurd topic, you need to attack with a level of absurdity, or scenes will occur where "real" people talk about aliens and such and sound like idiots, as is what happens in the '78 version.

But I am too harsh. The '78 version does do some things right. Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum (Jack Bellicic) are both very good, especially the former. Veronica Cartwright (Nancy, Jack's wife) is excellent despite some annoying, non-body-snatched screaming in earlier scenes. Also, the film is very well shot, and the story movies along at a solid pace. Sadly, however, the good does not outweigh the bad, and the film ends up a major dud. The Invasion, last year's attempt at a remake was not supposed to be anywhere near good, and I hope that means the attempts are over. The original is a sci-fi classic, a study in psychological terror and despair. Let's leave it alone, or at least attempt to bring back the subtle creepiness dare we try again.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): A
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): C

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