Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Written by W.D. Richter
Based on the novel by Jack Finney
Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy
Available to stream on Netflix
My taste for science fiction typically leans toward the contemplative, the prognostic, or the reflective. I like stories that make me think. But sometimes a story is so fun and energetic that philosophical musings can be thrown out the window. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that kind of story. Originally a novel, the tale has been adapted to screen three times. This 1978 version is the best.
The story opens with a hypnotic montage of mysterious alien beings in deep space. They are small wispy things, floating around, almost dancing. They make their way to Earth and spread themselves in plant form. The effects used to show this process are impressive. Even by today’s standards I find them very convincing. There is a creepy disquiet that builds at seeing them stretch their tendrils and grow. The feeling does what good alien sci-fi should–provides us with something completely unrecognizable and haunting.
Eventually these pods begin taking over human bodies and making alien clones. When I say eventually, I mean almost immediately. There is no drawn out first act in this movie. It gets right to the issue at hand. Within the first half-hour or so we know the key players and what they’re up against. Everything happens very fast and that’s the point. It’s a surprise alien invasion, not a cosmic chess match. There is a frantic feeling to everything. The actors’ performances exhibit panic with every line and every glance. They know that the existence of the human race is on the line. The cinematography and editing also add to the frenzied feeling of the narrative. Quick jerky camera movements with half-seen shadows and flashes of danger. Before we can realize what danger we’re seeing, the movie cuts to a new shot. There is a genuine sense of unease throughout the whole thing.
But despite this effect, the movie cannot be described as terrifying. It maintains its urgency, but never tries to frighten us. It’s a horror of situation more than anything else–the sensation of a spreading, inevitable dread.