I don’t particularly care how many times filmmakers recycle old tales, so long as they produce enjoyable films. The Invasion revisits sci-fi scribe Jack Finney’s “The Body Snatchers” for the fourth time on film, following in the steps of the original 1956 film and the ’78 and ’93 remakes. Dave Kajganich wrote the screenplay, and Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Downfall) directed. Then Warner hired the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) to rewrite some scenes and inject more action into the film, and James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) to direct the re-shoots.
So is The Invasion a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, or just the right creative balance to bring Finney’s classic horror tale to life in the new millennium?
First, the plot. A NASA shuttle mysteriously explodes during an unplanned landing, spreading debris across a large swath of the United States. Investigating authorities discover an alien virus in the wreckage, but it’s too late to prevent lots of people from becoming infected. A psychiatrist from Washington, D.C., Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman, The Hours), and her doctor boyfriend, Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale), discover the infection only takes hold when victims fall into REM sleep, when a transformation turns them into emotionless drones bent on eradicating the humanity from humanity. The infection spreads like wildfire, and fewer and fewer people can be trusted. Carol, infected in a most disgusting fashion, must stay awake at all costs while she looks for her son, whose medical history may hold the key to defeating the alien virus. Ben will do anything to help, but two against everyone doesn’t make for very good odds.
I don’t know what’s changed from the other iterations of this story, but I’m surprised how well the main premise fits with the post-9/11, post-SARS world. The film feeds off societal fears of superbug viruses and security threats, juxtaposed with mistrust of the authorities we hope will protect us. When the police, military and major health organizations fall under the control of the alien virus, the general public’s trust in those authorities becomes our protagonists’ greatest source of danger.
That said, the film carries its relation to our current sociopolitical world too far, as we see news reports about alien-induced peace in the middle east and the Bush administration creating a national health insurance program. What’s the message here – a worldwide lobotomy will solve all our problems? Or that we’ll never be free of war, poverty and pestilence so long as we’re human? I suppose the Iraq war just a result of human nature?
While I appreciate the premise, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The film is uneven, torn between Hirschbiegel’s subtle, quiet terror and the Wachowski’s high-adrenaline action sequences and MTV-esque fast editing. There’s also a really pronounced lull about midway through, when Carol and her son are stuck waiting in a pharmacy for hours on end. It’s enough to make you reach for the ‘stop’ button, or at least ‘pause’ to get up and grab a snack. That should never happen with a film like this.
The best parts of The Invasion are Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, who turned in fine performances despite the relative mess of a film surrounding them. Kidman is very convincing, and Craig is so far from James Bond I barely recognized him – that puts him a notch above Pierce Brosnan, who’ll never shake the Bond persona.
So The Invasion doesn’t rise above its predecessors or its roller-coaster production history. How’s the DVD?
The Invasion is presented on a single disc, in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format. No disappointments here, as the film looks quite good overall, with sharp picture, consistent colours and contrast levels, with no noticeable compression artifacts. The Washington, D.C., setting provides a relatively subdued colour palette, with greys being the most pronounced. This creates the effect of a sterile, somewhat futuristic environment, which fits nicely with the film’s themes.
The main audio presentation is Dolby Digital 5.1. Audio quality is right up there with the picture, with a well-balanced surround mix that puts you right in the middle of the car chases and sucks you into the claustrophobic situations. John Ottman’s orchestral score sets an atmospheric mood that works best for the quiet-but-tense scenes, but doesn’t lose all of its effect when the action ratchets up. In those sequences, directional effects abound, but dialogue is always clear.
The Invasion doesn’t have a lot to offer in the bonus materials department. There’s a 20-minute featurette, We’ve Been Snatched Before, which presents a cursory examination of the sociopolitical connections between the various film incarnations and their time periods, and a trio of ultra-short featurettes offering cast and crew blurbs. Noticeably absent is a director’s commentary, which would have been interesting – throw Hirschbiegel, the Wachowskis and McTeigue in a room and let ‘em duke it out.
The Invasion is not a terrible movie, it’s just too uneven to really work. And while it has the A-list cast and big budget its predecessors never had, it also suffers from the greater expectations that result. As for the DVD, it’s about average, but certainly good enough to buy for fans of the film. And they’re out there.