STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright, Veronica Cartwright

2007, 99 Minutes, Directed by:
Oliver Hirschbiegel

Not quite the train smash some critics made it out to be, this fourth version of the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Nicole Kidman and James Bond Daniel Craig is nonetheless depressing proof of how Hollywood movies have just grown shittier since the 1970’s . . .

In the original 1955 novel by Jack Finney and previous versions of the story, Earth is slowly taken over by “pod people” aliens that are exact duplicates of humans grown out of huge vegetable-like pods. Of course this leaves the messy issue of what to do with the original bodies, a major plot point in previous versions namely Don Siegel’s in 1956, Philip Kaufman’s in 1978 and Abel Ferrara’s 1994 Body Snatchers. This latest version directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the noted German director of Downfall fame, solves this issue by making the alien invaders a virus that is somehow transported to Earth when a space shuttle crashes for unknown reasons.

The virus “takes over” humans, leaving them soulless and emotionless husks of their former selves. The aliens spread the virus by puking (ewww!) over their victims or in one scene at a press conference hosted by the U.S. government throwing up into their coffee. When the infected humans go to sleep, they are transformed into pod people. If you’re politically-minded then you can perhaps read this particular scene of journalists being turned into unquestioning drones during a press conference as a metaphor for how the U.S. government duped their press into believing that invading Iraq was indeed a good idea.

"Depressing proof of how Hollywood movies have just grown shittier since the 1970’s . . ."

The war in Iraq is of course constantly in the background as it is in many Hollywood movies nowadays. If you can argue that all the previous Body Snatcher movies were political metaphors (the original ‘Fifties version being a veiled “red menace” story, the 1970’s one set in San Francisco a lament for the end of the hippie era, etc.) then maybe this version can be read as a metaphor for the political conformity that swept America in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq invasion.

Liberal types who remembered America’s previous disastrous Imperial entanglement in Vietnam and were opposed to the invasion no doubt felt very alone in the wave of jingoism that swept that country shortly following the invasion before it of course became apparent that were no “weapons of mass destruction” and Iraq was in fact a quagmire from which there would no easy retreat.

Then again, maybe not. It is easy to read too much into The Invasion as the film itself is as vacuous as its alien invaders. Ostensibly the film wants to make a point of human aggression, of how aggression is part of human nature and that we have to take the good with the bad: for every Beethoven or Mozart, there has to be a Hitler or Pol Pot. It is part and parcel of the same package.

In the movie’s one clever point that differentiates it from previous versions, world peace ironically slowly starts breaking out as the alien invasion spreads over the globe. Finally there is peace in the Middel East and Darfur. America withdraws from Iraq. Unfortunately the movie so endlessly hammers away at this point by endless repeating it, that one feels like being trapped in a classroom in which the condescending teacher want to make sure that the little retards get the point this time. “Enough already,” you’ll be groaning at the umpteenth time characters repeat the same dialogue. “We got the point several scenes back already!”

SPOILERS! Making the alien invasion a virus solves another problem for the screenwriters: a virus can be cured, which means that the alien invasion can be stopped. Which is exactly what happens in The Invasion. In the ‘Seventies version (still the best of the bunch) the aliens win. The 1950’s original ended the same way until nervous studio suits insisted on an upbeat ending in which it is implied that the U.S. government will look into the invasion, and by implication, beat it. Of course having the aliens win is edgier (and is, when one thinks about it, the logical conclusion to events), but having a Hollywood movie nowadays with a downbeat ending is a definite no-no.

The Invasion has a chequered production history. The movie actually was finished before Craig went on to work in Casino Royale and was only released months after Royale’s DVD release! Test audiences complained that the film was “dull” and the producers brought in the Wachowski Bros and V for Vendetta director James McTeague to re-edit the film and increase the film’s action quotient by adding an extended car chase scene towards the end.

The end result is a movie which is uneven in tone part action flick, part paranoid thriller. The best bits are at the start as the film’s heroine played by Nicole Kidman (who has a spectacular gift for outrunning hordes of people whilst wearing some very high heel shoes) slowly becomes aware of the changes sweeping her city, of how it is slowly being taken over. If the film had continued in this vein we would have had . . . well, the 1970s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Instead we get an action scene that feels senselessly tacked on, as if the makers decided “what the - ? we can’t have the aliens actually winning! we have to do something!”

What they do is is insert some muddled scenes that skip over key action in which a deux ex machina U.S. government group uninfiltrated by the aliens actually stops the invasion by inventing a cure that is conveniently airborne. Uneven in tone, if The Invasion is a metaphor for anything it is how mind-numbingly conformist a Hollywood dominated by test audiences have grown since the 1970’s. Maybe one day we’ll get to see director Hirschbiegel original cut. Maybe they can have it as an extra disc with the DVD release, who knows?

Ultimately The Invasion isn't all that bad there are some pretty effective moments in it it is just a case of a great opportunity missed, of Hollywood choosing to follow the advice of test audiences instead of trusting its own source material. Why bother filming a story in the first place if you’re going to change it this much? Back in the 1970’s Hollywood movies weren’t always that mindful of how they ended and the end result is that the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains the best version of Finney’s story . . .



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