Under cover of darkness, while an unsuspecting city sleeps, an alien life form begins to sow the seeds of unspeakable terror. Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum star in this shocking, "first-rate suspense thriller" (Newsday).
One by one, the residents of San Francisco are becoming drone-like shadows of their former selves. As the phenomenon spreads, two Department of Health workers, Matthew (Sutherland) and Elizabeth (Adams), uncover the horrifying truth: Mysterious pods are cloning humans — and destroying the originals! The unworldly invasion grows stronger with each passing minute, hurling Matthew and Elizabeth into a desperate race to save not only their own lives, but the future of the entire human race.
While there is much to love about Philip Kaufman's 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' one particular scene remains a long-time favorite. The late Kevin McCarthy ('Piranha,' 'Twilight Zone: The Movie') will likely be best remembered as the star of the original 1956 classic on which this movie is based on (as well as the Jack Finney novel, of course). In one very cool moment of meta and self-reference, McCarthy makes a brief cameo appearance that reminds viewers of the closing moments in the first movie. And he's even credited as Dr. Miles Bennell. It also, in its own way, gives fans a more satisfying, albeit gloomy and cynical, finish to that movie's open-endedness, a conclusion closer to what was originally intended by Don Siegel, who also does a cameo as the taxi driver.
The entire sequence brings a smile to my face every time I watch it and serves as a fine example of the sort of self-awareness that goes on with this version and makes it such a joy to watch after all these years. Phillip Kaufman's remake is a rarity in the history of remakes. It's a feature film that's just as good as its predecessor, a motion picture that's mindful of its source and adds its own unique, distinctive voice without losing that which makes the original so memorable. At the core of Finney's sci-fi story about an alien invasion where human doubles are born from giant pods is a theme on universal social fears, of a terrifying realization that everyone is being turned into a vegetable, as Pauline Kael once wrote of Siegel's film.
'The Body Snatchers (1978)' opens on a mysterious planet with gelatinous spores flying through space. They land in thick globs on plants throughout San Francisco, mingling and forming little pods with pink flowers. This bit of information is mostly hinted at previously, but Kaufman puts it to great visual use and establishes a dark, eerie atmosphere of foreboding. As chilling apprehension and dread continues to slowly and methodically grow, we see unnamed characters suddenly appear on screen, running wildly as they're chased by an unfriendly-looking mob. Large, red garbage trucks come and go, carrying heaping mounds of dust. More sinister still are the endless stares by unknown, unidentified characters — one of which includes Robert Duvall — that not only gawk at one another with threatening eyes, but they also seem to be watching us through the camera.
The main characters are completely oblivious to those blank, remorseless stares — the ones we are made aware of but helpless to do anything about. And the creepiness is made all the more real after spending some time with Mathew (Donald Sutherland), Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright). What makes it so scary is the fear of losing one's identity and individuality, of being transformed into something that lacks humanity and character. The cast, particularly Adams and Goldblum, do a splendid job in this respect, showing idiosyncratic traits that make the characters feel like genuine human beings. And so, when they run, they're not running for fear of being caught, but for fear of being assimilated. Of losing a sense of self and personal identity. And lest I forget, Leonard Nimoy is also great as the steely, detached, and skeptical Dr. David Kibner.
Kaufman, who later went on to direct 'The Right Stuff' and 'Quills,' never wastes the surrounding area of the frame, always occupying our vision with odd, peripheral action. Background activity is made just as important as everything we see in the foreground. It's brought to the attention of viewers and effectively creates a world that is gradually and systematically developing around the focal point of the film — a small group of friends and their escape. The new alien society is bit by bit encircling the protagonists. We know it's happening, but they don't. And by the time they realize it, it's too late. The horror film is already in full effect. The scary monsters have already won, even before our would-be heroes had a chance. By this point, the movie is terrifying and made ever more frightening by the bloodcurdling screams of the alien creatures. Especially that final, bleak scene of hopelessness that's just as shocking today as the first time.
'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' truly is a rarity in the movie industry. It's a remake just as good as the original and even more terrifying. It's a smartly written and well-crafted film, thanks largely to Phillip Kaufman's direction. The amazing cinematography of Michael Chapman is a brilliant addition, with the many dark, obscuring shadows generating an awful feeling of secrecy and brooding evil, creating wonderful audience engagement. Pushing this sci-fi horror feature up another notch is the avant-garde and unusual music of Denny Zeitlin, who normally worked as a clinical psychiatrist, intensifying the movie's already unnerving and unsettling sense of paranoia. The entire production simply makes for one of the best films in the horror genre, a real spooky treat full of frights as well as drama.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory beckons 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)' to Blu-ray as a Collector's Edition under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover. At startup, the disc goes to a menu screen with full-motion clips while music plays in the background.
The sci-fi horror classic invades and usurps all life for a third time on Blu-ray with a satisfying and much-improved 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, making this the best the film has ever looked on home video. Unfortunately, the 2K remaster of the interpositive isn't the significant night-and-day massive improvement over both the 2010 MGM release and the 2013 Arrow Video steelbook. Nevertheless, there are plenty of visible differences between the two worth admiring, giving this Scream Factory edition the clear edge.
Showing many of the same soft, flat spots mixed with a few poorly-resolved, reasonably troubled areas due to age, the source is in pretty great condition, displaying excellent fine object and textural details throughout. Low-lit interiors show spikes in the grain structure, but this is natural and to be expected, providing the 1.85:1 image with an attractive film-like quality. Yet, there are minor, negligible instances of noise reduction being mildly applied, which thankfully, isn't so terrible as to distract from the video's enjoyment. There is also evidence of an effort in correcting the somewhat dull and drained look of previous releases by slightly boosting the contrast, which surprisingly makes for a more pleasing presentation without any noticeable objections. And finally, it's worth noting the mild amber brownish discoloration on the left side of the frame at around the one-hour mark when Sutherland and Nimoy are talking outside on the patio, which again is related to the source.
The most pleasing improvement comes in terms of black levels, looking dark and full-bodied with deep, penetrating shadows and strong detailing in the darkest portion of the frame. Most impressive of all is a richer, bolder array of primaries throughout with reds and blues looking significantly brighter dazzling, giving the film another lease on life. Revealing facial complexions, in particular, appear more natural with a welcomed, more accurate rosy-peachiness in the cast. Overall, the high-def transfer comes with a terrific and appreciable cinematic presentation that best the previous two.
To my amazement and shock, the 70s flick also comes with an impressively excellent pair of DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. The first is the original stereo track ported over from the previous Blu-ray release, and since the film was initially recorded and presented in Dolby stereo, my preference usually goes with this option.
As before, the stereo track exhibits amazing fidelity and a terrific acoustic presence while vocals are intelligible and well-prioritized. Imaging is expansive with wonderfully balanced channel separation, providing listeners with a welcoming front soundstage and a detailed mid-range with convincing off-screen action and realistic directionality. The design lends itself nicely to the receivers upmixing function, expanding the soundfield with good rear activity, and the low-frequency effects are very mild but accurate to give the movie some depth. Even the avant-garde, nightmarish musical score of Denny Zeitlin spreads persuasively into the background and heights.
However, to my surprise, I found myself really enjoying the DTS-HD 5.1 upmix, exhibiting a more pleasing and broad imaging with excellent fidelity and full of warmth. Dynamics are crisp and detailed, reaching the upper ranges with superb clarity while low bass remained adequate and responsive and dialogue is precise and intelligible in the center. Background activity occupies the other two channels, generating a terrifically enjoyable and wide presentation. A few effects, like police sirens, city traffic and dogs barking in the distance, discretely move to the rears to create a welcomed ambient soundscape. Zeitlin's music, once again, adds to the film's suspense by spreading evenly all around, generating a satisfying soundfield for a sci-fi horror classic.
'Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)' is a very well-crafted and creepy sci-fi horror film that delivers the frights along with the drama. Phillip Kaufman's 1978 remake remains a memorable and entertaining feature with beautiful cinematography and an unconventional musical score. The Blu-ray from Scream Factory arrives with a noticeably improved picture quality though it's not a night-and-day difference while the audio presentation offers an excellently spooky atmosphere. The folks at Scream have a compiled a nice set of supplements, making the overall package a must for devoted fans.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.