' ' Cinema Romantico: The Invasion vs. Body Snatchers

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Invasion vs. Body Snatchers

Recently, late at night, I started watching, on AMC, "The Invasion", with icicle queen Nicole Kidman in the lead, the 2007 film that was an update on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" from 1956, from Jack Finney's novel. It wasn't very good. Yet, I soldiered on. Why? I guess I just felt a sense of duty. What I began, I must finish. I wished I hadn't. Anyway, when I pulled up the esteemed Roger Ebert's review of it the following morning I found that 1.) He didn't like it either and 2.) Referenced the third remake of Finney's novel, 1993's "Body Snatchers", directed by Abel Ferrara, as being "by far the best of the films." You don't say? I had never seen it (nor have I seen Phillip Kaufman's second remake from 1978). To the Netflix queue I dashed! It was time for a comparison!

And what a comparison it is! You can see the difference between the glossed-up Hollywood-ization of "The Invasion" and the far more lo-fi suspense of "Body Snatchers". Dare I say which one I preferred?

At the outset of "The Invasion" we see Nicole Kidman, harried, not looking well, downing Ritalin as she gulps Mountain Dew and all you can think is, "Nicole Kidman drinks Mountain Dew?" But seriously, folks....the film then flashes back to its real beginning. A ha! The classic jump-ahead-in-time-to-disorient-the-audience opening, usually an indicator of desperation in the editing room. The real beginning shows us the body snatching alien lifeform clinging to a space shuttle as it crashes into earth, sending debris far and wide, which people gather up, tastelessly referencing the real life Columbia disaster. This causes multitudes to be infected with this mysterious alien disease. Quickly on the scene to investigate is Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam) who, before we have even the scantest of seconds to get emotionally invested in him or even know who the heck he is, gets infected with the disease, too. Blimey! In a twist of fate, he is the ex husband of Carol Bennell (Kidman), a therapist and our main character.

It's important to note how fast the previous paragraph moves. Like lightning, baby. If it is a jitterbug, the opening to "Body Snatchers" is an ominous waltz. Seventeen year old Marti Malone (Gabrielle Anwar, and whatever happened to her?) and her family is moving to a southern military base where her father (Terry Kinney, who you might recollect as being the one, the only John Cameron), with the EPA, has come to run some tests in the wake of people there starting to act a bit out of whack - referenced in a wonderfully mad monologue by Forest Whitaker as a potentially deranged Major.

On the way to the base they stop at a gas station and Marti takes a detour to the restroom where a soldier emerges from the darkness, grabs her and declares, "They're out there." Later, on the base, in voiceover, Marti declares, simply, "We didn't know it was coming. If we did, we would've run." I love, love, love that. I love movies that tell us something bad is going to happen and then sit back and let us wait. "Body Snatchers", unlike "The Invasion", establishes a real rhythm.

Marti is presented as an authentic teenager. She is wary of her stepmother (Meg Tilly). She loves her little brother (Reilly Murphy) but also harbors resentment as to the attention he receives. There is a great moment where she has broken curfew with a handsome young helicopter pilot but is still portrayed as being responsible enough to comfort her brother after he has begun to grow suspicious that not all in their new home is as it seems. (In fact, the scene where his suspicion intially sets in is small, simple, probably could have been shot for twelve bucks, but is infinitely more creepy than any sequence of a car chase with zombie-ish bodies clinging to the hood.)

"Body Snatchers" delicately builds tension for a full 50 minutes before unleashing hell whereas "The Invasion" constantly stops and re-starts so it can bang us over the head with a few pots and pans of forced action, probably because it doesn't trust that anyone in the audience has - or even knows how to spell - attention span. What an insult. Sure, the effects in "The Invasion" are much better but so what? There is a god-awful effect at the very end of "Body Snatchers" that still terrified me to my core because of its emotional resonance.

And nothing could make the differences between these two worlds more pointed than the respective conclusions. In "The Invasion" you can sense producers smoking cigars and shouting into phones, "People go to the movies to escape!" In "Body Snatchers".....eh, not so much. Not so much at all. You can understand why, according to "trustworthy" wikipedia, it was only released in 12 theaters.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect, though, between the two is The Message. "The Invasion" is adamant that you are aware of its allusions to the war in Iraq. So adamant, in fact, there is a scene in which Carol and a Russian Ambassador have a debate so heavy handed the Ambassador actually says the following words: "Can you give me a pill to make me see the world the way you Americans see the world? Can a pill help me understand Iraq, or Darfur, or even New Orleans?" Please bash me over the head with your mallet some more! Please, sir, please!!!

Ebert indicates "Body Snatchers" may have been an allusion to the AIDS epidemic but I thought it was far more primal. Kids always fear that adults won't listen, right? And by telling "Body Snatchers" from the kids' point of view it becomes an examination of this without ever doing it explicitly. More subtle in filmmaking, more subtle in storytelling, it's no surprise "Body Snatchers" is the remake to see.


DRickard said...

Gabrielle Anwar, and whatever happened to her?
I assume you know she's been in USA's "Burn Notice" since 2007...

Nick Prigge said...

I did not. I don't think I even know what "Burn Notice" is. You have to understand, if the TV show isn't reruns of "Seinfeld" I more than likely am unaware of its existence.

Wretched Genius said...

You should definitely check out Kaufman's version, as well. All of the "Body Snatcher" movies up until The Invasion were pretty damn good.

And, in total fairness, the movie based on Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (partially filmed in your humble home state) is hugely underrated, especially considering its story came first, and Finney essentially ripped off Heinlein's concept, complete with the allusions to communism.