Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Invasion

There have been so many remakes of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers that perhaps we should declare a new genre: body snatcher remakes. This new one, The Invasion (2007), features Nicole Kidman as Carol Bennell, a psychiatrist who becomes suspicious when patients start claiming that their husbands or wives aren't who they used to be. She enlists the aid of a friend, Ben Driscoll, played by Daniel Craige, and of some scientists who are investigating the phenomenon of people who believe their loved ones have been replaced by cold and emotionless simulacra.

Of the various remakes I've seen, this is the weakest. It borrows from the other versions, especially the 1956 and 1978 models, and these borrowings are really the only reasons why this movie works much at all. It offers nothing new, except for a different kind of conclusion, one that hardly improves on any of the predecessors.

This "invasion" is an infection by intelligent microorganisms brought back to earth by a space shuttle that disintegrates during reentry—for reasons never entirely clear we're told that those aboard intentionally caused the shuttle to crash. The scenes of the shuttle disaster are uncomfortably close to those of the 2003 Columbia tragedy. (I am not one to complain about bad taste, especially in the cause of a good film or book, but in this case I have no such defense.) The disaster leaves a 300-mile swatch of contagion across the continent, and the infection spreads.

In the earlier films, alien forces infected the bodies of humans and caused pods to begin growing that gradually came to maturity and replaced the bodies of the poor souls infected. The mechanism here isn't so clear. Infected people chase down the uninfected and vomit contagion on them. The intelligent germs take hold and begin growing. The agent takes over when the infected person goes to sleep. But whether pods or alternative bodies are involved is hard to tell. At one point Kidman's character finds some bodies growing in a closet, but whether they belong to people already infected, or whether they will replace the victims' bodies, isn't clear.

There are some astounding logical leaps in this film. Number one among them is the declaration by one of the scientists, fairly early in the film, that, based on scanty evidence, he's convinced that intelligent alien microorganisms are taking over the world. And the ease with which the scientists find a cure for the alien pestilence is equally hard to swallow. Most astounding and fortuitous of all is the source of the serum used to develop the cure.

Everything in this film is predictable. We have scenes of paranoia and of frightened people and of menace and horror. But these scenes come straight from the earlier films—they're updated here, but without any freshness. It's convenient that everyone concerned about the invasion succeeds (or nearly so) in escaping infection. By the end of the film they've discovered an antidote that not only immunizes the uninfected but reverses the infection in those who already have it. This is a feel-good body snatcher film!

In the other films, the endings were dark and pessimistic—with a few survivors lost amongst the multitudes of those whose bodies have been untimely snatched away. There was a wondrous and dismal pessimism to these endings. The best among them, the 1956 version, ends with the main character screaming hysterically about the alien takeover, but no one believes him. In this film, we have a happy ending. It made me want to vomit—no, not that way.

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