When film buffs the world over butt heads over horror movie remakes (a far more common occurrence than you'd probably imagine!), the two that are always mentioned as examples of 'good remakes' are Carpenter's The Thing and Cronenberg's The Fly (time may place the Dawn Of The Dead remake and Jackson's King Kong in the upper echelon but it's too soon for that yet...). Why so little love for Philip Kaufman's take on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers? Good question, as it really holds up well even now, almost three decades since it was made and in some ways it's considerably more successful than Don Siegel's 1956 take on Jack Finney's original story.
When the movie begins, bizarre spores leave their home planet and float through the outer reaches of space until they land in California. Once they've touched down on Earth, they begin to grow, fairly quickly, into strange plants. While all of this is going on, a health board field investigator named Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) receives multiple reports where people are acting rather bizarre. The more attention he pays to these reports, the move he notices that they're not made up - people are definitely starting to act differently, even possibly including a doctor named David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy).
Matthew and his assistant, Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) team up with some friends of their, a married couple named Jack and Nancy Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright) head out to try and uncover what's really going on and soon they find out that these plants that have sprung up in the area are creating clones of people and using them to create workers in a massive hive bent on taking over the city and then quite possibly the world.
This wonderfully paranoid film starts off with an eerie set piece in which the pods come to Earth and it really doesn't let up from there. It's paced exceptionally well and shot with a careful eye towards creating an aura of tension and dread. The dark color scheme suits the material very well and as Bennell's investigation becomes more in-depth the more the shadows and the darkness seem to creep into the frame. Sutherland excels n the lead role, playing the part with enough initial skepticism that we can accept him as a man of science and in turn making his voyage of discovery all the more frightening as he's ultimately shocked with the reality of the situation. The supporting cast surrounding him also turn in excellent performances, with a young Goldblum standing out a bit from the rest.
For a film with a simple PG rating, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers remains fairly strong stuff. Granted, it isn't gory or bloody as so many horror films tend to be but there is no shortage of eerie and disturbing moments scattered throughout the film. The scene in which Bennell's car is accosted by a deranged man in the street is rather unsettling and when the bodies Bennell finds turn up covered in a plant like fur, it's fairly creepy and certainly plenty weird! Any time the pod people are on screen the movie is chilling. Add to that the skillfully layered atmosphere of impending doom and the ever growing paranoia that those around us are no longer who we thought they were and you can see how this film remains as effective and frightening now as it was in 1978.
MGM's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen on this disc doesn't look much different at all than the one that was on their previous single disc release (that disc, however, was not 16x9) though there is noticeably more detail here. The film, by nature, is quite dark with a lot of night scenes and as such you can't really expect much from the color reproduction. That said, detail levels are fine and if there's a bit of grain here and there, it isn't ever a real problem. Flesh tones look good and there aren't any edge enhancement or mpeg compression problems to complain about. Some obvious line shimmering pops up in a few scenes but it's minor and the picture always looks quite sharp and is of quite good quality throughout.
Audio options are supplied in English language Dolby Digital Surround, Spanish Dolby Digital Stereo and French Dolby Digital Mono with optional subtitles available in English and Spanish and with closed captioning available in English only. While the audio is perfectly clear, there's very little surround activity present on the English track and what we have here doesn't sound too far off from plain old Mono. That said, it's never a problem understanding anyone, the levels are properly balanced, and there are no problems to report with hiss or distortion at all. Every once in a while you'll hear the odd directional effect but they're few and far between.
The only supplement on the first disc (aside from trailers for The Great Escape and The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly) is a feature length commentary track from director Philip Kaufman, the first few minutes of which are, well, dull. He doesn't have much to say initially. Thankfully, that changes once the movie starts to pick up a bit and that slow start soon turns into an interesting discussion of the director's intent and motivation and how he really hoped to rely as much on the characters as on the set pieces to carry the film's impact. Along with that he talks about casting and location work, speaks about some of the effects work, tells a few fun stories about some of the stars like Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy, and his thoughts on the film's rather bleak ending.
The second disc is where the bulk of the supplements can be found, starting with a fifteen minute featurette entitled Re-Visitors From Outer Space, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Pod (15:45). Included here are interviews with Kaufman, screenwriter Richter, and actors Sutherland and Veronica Cartwright (but not Goldblum or Nimoy). A second featurette takes a look at the special effects used in the movie. Entitled Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (4:36), it's an interesting examination of how the famous pods from the movie were created and how they were used so effectively in the opening scene. Also lending insight into how the effects were handled and manipulated is The Man Behind The Scream: The Sound Effects (12:47) which takes a look at how sound was used for specific effects in the picture by Ben Burtt and the important role those sound effects play in the picture. The last featurette is The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography (5:24) which obviously examines the tense camera work that Michael Chapman (yep, the same Michael Chapman who shot Taxi Driver) utilized in the movie. Rounding out the extra features on the second disc is the original theatrical trailer and some nifty animated menus.
The two DVDs are housed inside a keepcase, which in turn has an embossed slipcase that fits overtop. Inside the keepcase are six pages of liner notes that talk about the history of the film.
One of the best remakes ever, Kaufman's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers looks and sounds fine on this release but the real reason to upgrade is for the wealth of extra features that MGM has included this time around. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.