INVASION (AKA THE VISITING)
The artsy European director of Downfall and Das Experiment made an alien
invasion flick starring Nicole Kidman. Who could have thought it?
best horror movies deals with everyday fears and phobias we have.
The Exorcist for instance may be a movie about
little girl possessed by an evil demon, but the film’s most telling
sequence is a scene in which medical doctors examine the girl for what
could be ailing her. (The tests themselves are almost more excruciating to
watch than any of the horror scenes that later follow.) Obviously they
find nothing wrong
the girl should be fine. But she isn’t. In this way The Exorcist
effectively plays upon our very modern fear of being diagnosed with some
disease or ailment for which modern medical science has no cure. After
all, in this day and age how many people are genuinely afraid of being
possessed by Satan? But cancer? That’s very real. . .
There are loads of other examples. Christine, based on the Stephen
King novel, for instance isn’t about our fear of buying a possessed car
that’s going to drive over your friends at night. No, it is actually about
our modern-day fears that come with buying something as financially
draining as a car: what if the car ends up giving you problems and costs
you a fortune in mechanic’s fees? And so on.
One story which plays on an even more primeval fear is Jack Finney’s 1955
science fiction novel The Body Snatchers, which describes Earth
being invaded by seeds which have drifted to Earth from space. The seeds
take over human bodies and replace them with simulations grown from
plant-like pods, perfect physical duplicates that kill and dispose of
their human victims.
Finney’s story plays upon the subconscious fear we have, not of people
mysteriously changing but discovering that perhaps we never knew them at
all. Ever found yourself looking at a loved one or colleague in surprise
when you discover an aspect of that person’s personality which you never
thought existed at all? Sure, the person may be angry or in a crisis
situation or perhaps inebriated, but their behavior is unexpected. Of
course you have, and Finney’s novel taps into our suspicion that we may
not know certain people in our lives at all.
So it is no wonder that Finney’s novel has been made into movies several
times, each movie in turn tapping into the era in which it was mode’s
zeitgeist or spirit. The first adaptation was in 1956 (see, Hollywood
wasted no time in bringing this story to the big screen
— the film was made
within a year of the story’s publication!). In this Black & White version
of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed
by Don Siegel, actor Kevin McCarthy starts noticing strange behavior in
his fellow American small town (replete with white picket fences)
residents. The movie ends hopefully with the authorities promising to look
into the alien invasion, reflecting Americans from that era’s trust in
authority and government.
"Won’t be the first time that Hollywood would coerce some poor
European director into selling out . . ."
By the 1970s that trust in government has eroded as is
witnessed in same Don Siegel’s 1971 Dirty Harry in which a hardened cop
played by Clint Eastwood finds the system no longer works and takes the
law into his own hands. By post-Watergate 1978 when the first
Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake hit the screen, the aliens were
in government. In this version Donald Sutherland watches on helplessly as
the alien pods not only “take over” friends, colleagues and loved ones but
also every level of government. The movie, directed by Philip Kaufman
(Unbearable Lightness of Being, The The Right Stuff)
is a paranoid Kafkaesque affair in which no one can be trusted. The ending
is suitably bleak and downbeat. The hippie dream was over and dead it
seemed to say. All that lay ahead for America was the stultifying
conformism of the conservative Ronald Reagan years.
The third version of the story appeared in 1994 as
Body Snatchers. Directed by Abel Ferrara and
starring Meg Tilly, Gabrielle Anwar and Forest Whitaker, it was set in a
U.S. military base which sort of negated what the point of the story was
in the first case: the military is about conformism in the first place. If
a group of soldiers start acting similarly and as a whole, well, it
probably just means that they’re acting like they’re supposed to.
Each version of the story reflected the concerns and
issues of the era in which they were made. The 1950s version shows either
a fear of the encroaching communist threat (“red menace”) or dread of
McCarthyism (during which the crusade of a right-wing U.S. politician led
several people to denounce their friends and colleagues as so-called
— back then you never knew who you could trust). The 1970s version
was a lament for the end of the “Flower Power” 1960s hippie era and its
ideals and hopes. Tellingly the 1970s remake was set in San Francisco (“if
you’re going to San Francisco”/”Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”
as the song goes). By the time the 1990s version set in a military base
rolled around, it was a post-Gulf War America in which a newly
conservative U.S.A. thought it had made up for the mental wounds inflicted
by the Vietnam War. America was ready to be the world’s GloboCop again –
thanks to its renewed trust in its military following their victory over
Iraq in Gulf War I.
in 2007 there is another version of Finney’s tale heading our way.
Unfortunately the film has a history as chequered as that of all the
various Body Snatcher films put together. Eventually titled The
Visiting, it was soon renamed The Invasion as the film
underwent several re-edits and release delays. How long ago was this made?
Actor Daniel Craig heard that he got the role of James Bond while he was
working on The Invasion!
In the meantime Casino Royale not only got made,
but has made its way to the cinemas and DVD while a release date for The
Invasion is still being shuffled around endlessly. In this version a
mysterious epidemic is thought to be altering the behavior of human
beings. When a Washington D.C. psychiatrist (Nicole Kidman) discovers the
epidemic's origins are extraterrestrial, she must fight to protect her
son, “who may hold the key to stopping an imminent invasion” according to
the official plot synopsis. Willing to bet that the aliens in this version
will be stopped? An edgier ending would be one in which the aliens win of
course (like in the 1970s) version. So will this latest version take the
Hollywood route and sell out?
One positive sign that it won’t is that The Invasion
is the Hollywood debut of respected German director Oliver Hirschbiegel.
Hirschbiegel is perhaps best-known for his
uncompromising Downfall (criticized for sketching an almost
sympathetic Adolf Hitler during his last days in the bunker) and Das
Experiment. Has Hirschbiegel been bullied into making a standard
cookie cutter Hollywood product? Who knows? It wouldn’t be the first time
that Hollywood would have coerced some poor European director into making
the sort of movie that would never have gotten them hired in the first
place. In 1994 for instance Dutch director George Sluizer tagged on a
typical Hollywood happy ending to The Vanishing (starring Jeff
Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland), a remake of his much superior 1988
Spoorloos thriller (also known as The Vanishing). After all, The
Visiting is a major studio (Warners) production starring an A-list
cast (Nicole Kidman and the now famous Daniel Craig). The pressure on
Hirschbiegel must have been huge and one can only hope that he stood up
against any such pressure and deliver the sort of movie one expects of
this respected film director.
(Note: Latest news reports indicate that several scenes
were added to The Invasion under the auspices of the Wachowski
Brothers and V for Vendetta director James
McTeigue after principal shooting had finished on the film. Insiders claim
that apparently the scenes were added to crank up the film’s action
quotient after preview audiences found the film to be too “dull”. Director Hirschbiegel and Warner execs have
apparently denied these reports, but it would
appear that The Invasion was in fact taken out of the famed German
director’s hand to undergo a major overhaul.)