Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
One of the great classic cinematic storylines is that of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Especially in light of all the recent invading-alien movies (wasteful Battleship and Skyline come to mind), and the related spate of superhero movies (the recent Avengers for example was a yawner), the body snatcher concept shines as a refreshing novelty. The aliens here are much more clever — they don’t want to blow up the White House or generally kill all human beings; rather, they see fit to exploit our resources by taking over each person one by one.
As it turns out, and contrary to the Hollywood tradition, there are three tellings of this story which I have seen, and all three are excellent. And watching one in no way should preclude watching the other two. Each of the three are strong and unique enough to hold up on their own and be undiminished by a prior viewing of the others.
A while back I had the pleasure of seeing the original 1956 black & white film. This is such a strong thriller of its era that it could be mistaken for a Hitchcock production. If you haven’t seen it, do so. It’s not just the original take, but a great, even masterful film. We would be so lucky if the average big-budget movie of our current era could hold a candle to this exciting classic.
Nicole Kidman starred in a remake called The Invasion (2007, also with Daniel Craig). This telling of the story features something of a variant in that Nicole Kidman is the central character, as opposed to the duo-on-the run of 1956. As such, she takes on a more heroic position than the woman in the original: she is a psychiatrist with a doctor friend (Craig) who together can use scientific methods to track down the invading species, all while dodging alien-invaded humanoids and protecting her young son.
There’s a certain something about Nicole Kidman in her movies of the past decade that can be off-putting. I’m not sure why, because I love her earlier performances in Dead Calm and Eyes Wide Shut. I think sometimes I sense an artifice about her. Probably I’m just remembering the debacle Australia (2008), as she is a very good actress when called upon to be so. In any case she’s great in this Invasion, a very good and sophisticated personal thriller.
The third take on this story is The Faculty (1998), where the invasion is centered at a high school. In this case, a group of young and temperamental students including super-hot Jordana Brewster discover things are amiss with certain people around them, especially their teachers. A highly entertaining take on the Invasion theme, with the added dynamic of growing distrust among the protaganist-group’s members, akin to The Mist (previous post). Boosted by deliciously evil “faculty” and staff performances by Piper Laurie (Twin Peaks), Salma Hayek (who I like here, for a change), Jon Stewart (from the Daily Show and another ensemble piece of 1998, Playing By Heart), and Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers/Frasier) as the principal. A lot of fun.
* * *
When I think of movies, I think of other movies. That’s how my mind works and I can’t help it. So what comes to mind now? The Matrix, of course. Just a brief plug here. I think I’ll have a future post on the highlights of 1999, and a terrible atrocity called the 72nd Academy Awards.
If you haven’t seen The Matrix, I am a little surprised. It’s constantly being shown on TV, but it deserves to be watched start-to-finish uninterrupted. It is a great sci-fi tale and completely essential viewing for movies of the last 15 years. More later on this one. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you watch the original 1999 version. I don’t know that the 2 sequels were poor; in fact they might be quite good. But they cannot match the original ground-breaking Matrix.
And finally, some whimsy.
The farce Mars Attacks! (1996) by Tim Burton is an absolute delight. Besides poking good fun at the alien-invasion concept (this time an overt invasion, not the subtle type of the Body Snatcher movies), this movie also succeeds on a dramatic level à la Men In Black I & II, that is, enough of a plot to keep it interesting without getting in the way of the comedy. With a great, all-star cast headlined by Jack Nicholson playing the U.S. President.