Author Jack Finney's 1955 novel "The Body Snatchers" has been put through more Hollywood adaptations than most similar pieces of literary bubblegum. The odd thing is, a majority of these incarnations turn out to be terrific movies, from the 1956 classic starring Kevin McCarthy ("Invasion of the Body Snatchers") to a 1978 creeper from director Philip Kaufman to Abel Ferrara's lost cult beauty from 1993 ("Body Snatchers"). "The Invasion" picks up the baton for a new generation of moviegoers, but it's a bumpy ride, testing the narrow possibilities of what this story has to offer.
When an American space shuttle disintegrates upon reentry, fragments of the ship are scattered across the country, each one coated with unidentified spores that contaminate anyone it comes in contact with. Carol (Nicole Kidman) is an icy psychiatrist who starts to question the altered mentality of her fellow citizens, clinging to her son and a best friend (Daniel Craig) for answers. Isolated in an alien pandemic, Carol fights to survive the night as thousands of zombie-like, emotionally blank infected start to take over the city, spreading their disease. Trying to protect her child, while staving off the effects of the aliens by staying awake, Carol battles her way to find a safe haven, if there's one still left.
Crafty Hollywood insiders report that "Invasion" suffered from an unpopular initial cut, thus necessitating the introduction of the Wachowski Brothers to write, oversee a re-edit, and film a new ending over a year after production concluded. Even if one wasn't armed with that knowledge, it's obvious that something happened to "Invasion" as it wiggled through the post-production process. To be blunt: the film is one hot mess, filled with crazy editing leaps and narrative holes, with renewed focused placed on hustling through the story as rapidly as possible.
Apparently, original director Oliver Hirschbiegel ("Downfall") didn't spike the genre punch as much as the producers would've liked. His take on the "Body Snatchers" world, as seen in the film's first 70 minutes, is a methodically paced suspense piece, resting uncomfortably on ideas of social conformity and parental paranoia. It's also heavily steeped in medical gobbledygook, with portions of the film lost to a hyper scientific banter that is entirely unnecessary.
Hirschbiegel's aim seems to be a slowly creeping sense of community loss, using Carol's drowsy struggle to locate her son as a way to explore the transformation of the innocent without using apocalyptic means, playing directly into dead-eyed indie film mentality. The director wants the audience to feel dread instead of panic, and the leisurely way he goes about his business, paralleling the fight to stay awake, isn't without its appeal. But it's slow, and slow is bad for business.
Kidman's breathless performance, along with her fantastic chemistry with Craig, helps "Invasion" find an entertaining pulse as Carol tours the city, avoiding danger by removing her emotions and slipping through danger. However, the cutting of the film begins to lose its sense of location and the story quickly jumps all over the map in a fashion that screams too many hands in the editing room. "Invasion" soon resembles a greatest hits reel from Hirschbiegel's original creation, leaving the narrative in a shambles, but, again, still rich with compelling body snatchery goodness. I especially loved the method of infection, which emanates from a vomit the aliens spray on their victims. Is it too much to ask for 90 minutes of just that?
While previous "Invasions" were more covert in their political subtext, "Invasion" lays it all out there, hypothesizing that the world might be better off with everyone's impulses in check. Using media images of alien-manipulated world peace and global unification to backdrop this intimate tale of survival, the film is both a fascinating political statement and a goofy misfire of intention. It's an uneasy feeling that sums up "Invasion" very accurately.
However, once the Wachowskis take over, "Invasion" rockets off into an action spectacle for the closing 20 minutes. They make excellent use of flaming cars, hyper cutting, and shattered glass to goose the film into submission, leaving audiences a more primal film to snack on instead of the cerebral creeper Hirschbiegel was attempting to mount. The change is jarring but it plays snugly into what this cut of the film is all about: to find the fastest way to the end credits.
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