Similar to the release of Godard's 'Breathless,' 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)' comes to Blu-ray on the heels of the death of a veteran stage and screen actor. 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 here 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
20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment bring Phillip Kaufman's 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)' to Blu-ray as a two-disc set. The BD50, Region A locked disc comes in a blue eco-case with a flipper DVD, which contains both widescreen and pan-and-scan versions of the movie, on an opposing panel. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu.
The 'Body Snatchers' invades Blu-ray with a picture that is pretty much what we'd expect from a 32-year-old film. But despite a few, reasonably troubled spots due to age, the disc sports a mostly good-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that fans can enjoy.
Fine object and textural details are generally strong, with crisp contrast levels. Facial complexions appear healthy and revealing in several close-ups, although a small number of soft, poorly-resolved scenes tend to intrude upon the transfer's better parts. Dark, low-lit interiors look worse than outdoor daylight sequences, especially with noticeable spikes in the grain structure. But much of this is forgivable as the natural result of the source elements, since the majority of the video retains a nice cinematic quality. Blacks aren't always consistent, yet they're passable and deep in spite of the murky shadows. Colors are quite bold, particularly greens and reds, but accurate with fine saturations in the other hues.
All things considered, 'Body Snatchers' offers a pleasing step-up on Blu-ray.
The 70s flick also comes with a surprisingly good DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Originally recorded and presented in Dolby stereo, the lossless mix exhibits amazing fidelity detail and a terrific acoustic presence, while vocals are intelligible and well-prioritized. The mid-range is expansive and cleanly sharp, with wonderfully balanced channel separation, providing listeners with a full-bodied and welcoming front soundstage. Imaging is highly enjoyable and entertaining with convincing off-screen action and realistic directionality. The track also impresses with excellent rear activity that thankfully doesn't sound forced or artificial, and low-frequency effects are very mild but accurate in order to give the movie some depth. Even the avant-garde, nightmarish musical score of Denny Zeitlin spreads persuasively into the background, generating a satisfying and engaging soundfield for a classic sci-fi horror feature.
This Blu-ray edition of 'Body Snatchers' comes with the same assortment of supplements as the Collector's Edition from a few years back, except that one bonus is found only on the DVD copy of the movie.
'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 arrives with a good picture quality, an impressive audio presentation, and the same collection of bonus features as the DVD. The only odd thing about the package is having to pop in the DVD to enjoy the audio commentary. Overall, fans will be satisfied with the purchase, and it comes recommended for anyone in the mood for a classic scary movie.