Directed By: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jeffrey Wright, Veronica Cartwright, Jackson Bond
Hollywood has once more turned to the durable story by Jack Finney to offer up another cinematic spin on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". The film opens with a bang as we see psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Kidman) frantically raiding the shelves of a seemingly abandoned pharmacy for medication that will prevent her from falling asleep. We then flash back a few days to a meteor crashing to Earth. Carried within its core is an alien virus that begins to infect humans, turning them in their sleep into placid unemotional shells of themselves who retain their appearance and memories, lose their personalities, and develop a compulsion to spread the virus further. Unfortunately for Carol, her ex-husband Tucker Kaufman (Northam) is a high-ranking government employee who was one of the first humans infected by the virus while working at the crash site. Carol observes the increasingly strange behavior of those around her, and begins to sense that something is not right. By the time she pieces together the nature of the threat with the help of her doctor beau, Ben (Craig), and his colleague, Stephen (Wright), it may be too late to save her son, Oliver (Bond), let alone the rest of humanity, but that does not stop her and Ben from trying.
Did the world really need another take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Probably not after the Don Siegel classic from the 1950s, the surprisingly effective Philip Kaufman remake in the 1970s, and the lesser but somewhat underrated Abel Ferrara version from the 1990s. To the filmmakers' credit, they at least tried to spin the story in a new direction and tie it to modern anxieties surrounding the potential for a global viral pandemic. Unfortunately, while the resulting film may not be quite like any "Body Snatchers" film you have seen before, it is composed largely of clichés from a million or so other zombie and action films you most definitely have seen before. It's not a good sign when the early scenes of Kidman moving through a world of strange-behaving infected individuals, and the later scenes of characters pretending to be infected in order to pass through city streets remind one more of the spoof "Shaun of the Dead" than any of the film's serious-minded predecessors in the "Body Snatcher" or "Living Dead" genres.
The first two "Body Snatchers" films and most post-Romero zombie films successfully plumbed the potential for sub textual social commentary inherent in their premises. The filmmakers behind The Invasion, however never allow any theme to remain in the film's subtext that could otherwise be used to sledgehammer audience members over the head with expository dialog, preferably multiple times.
On the positive side, the film benefits from a decent lead performance from Kidman and some interesting cinematography from Hirschbiegel and Rainer Klausmann. No other character besides Kidman is really developed to any level, and she must carry the audience's interest for the entirety of the film. It is to her credit that she almost succeeds despite the aforementioned plot contrivances and clichés. Hirschbiegel and Klausman collaborate for some interesting lighting set-ups and compositions, exploiting several Washington D.C. locations to interesting effect.
The film had a fairly troubled post-production history involving uncredited re-writes and extensive re-shoots with an uncredited director that pushed its release back more than a year from its original schedule. The resulting film is too derivative to distinguish itself as an action film, and too least common denominator to be an appealing psychological thriller.
The transfer for The Invasion fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. The cinematography is one of the highlights of the film, and it is fairly well served by this DVD presentation. Film grain is prevalent throughout and rendered with some minor compression artifacts. Considering the compression issues present in other recent Warner new release theatrical titles on DVD, I was very pleased to see a film with this much natural film grain look this good. There are a handful of shots that exhibit some high contrast edge ringing and a couple of insert shots of Jeffrey Wright's computer screen have some weird artifacts around the on-screen text, but overall it is a solid presentation of the films highly stylized cinematography.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very active. The sound design of the film is about as subtle as a jackhammer, but I cannot complain about the way it is presented on disc. Surround effects are most noticeable during the (all too) frequent make-you-jump "stingers" and the frequent whooshing virus through bloodstream special effects shots. Alternate French and Spanish 5.1 surround tracks are also available.
When the disc is first spun-up, the viewer is greeted with the trailer for Blade Runner - The Final Cut (1:02), the trailer for the DTV release Return to House on Haunted Hill, the teaser for the DTV release Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane, the theatrical teaser for 10,000 BC, an ad for the Gametap online video game service, and a DVD release trailer for Shoot 'em Up. All of the promos are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The spots for Return to House on Haunted Hill and Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (Question: How could they not call this film Zombies on a Plane?) are enhanced for 16:9 displays, all others are in 4:3 video and letterboxed when appropriate.
The proper extras are a group of featurettes, all of which are presented in 4:3 video letterboxed to a 16:9 ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.
First and most substantial is We've Been Snatched Before: Invasion in Media History. It runs eighteen minutes and 50 seconds. This featurette focuses on the real-world fears the filmmakers tried to tap into for Invasion, particularly the threat of a global pandemic. There is also much discussion of the media's role in both providing a valuable public service useful in containing potential epidemics (e.g. SARS) and hyperbolically stoking the flames of anxiety by overstating risks. On-screen comments are provided by Jeremy Northam, Executive Producer Joel Silver, USC Homeland Security Researcher Terry O'Sullivan, Professsor and Author of Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film Vivian Sobchak, Author of The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu Mike Davis, Screen Writer David Kajganich, Author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear Dr. Marc Siegel, Author of The Secret Life of Germs: What They Are, Why We Need Them, and How We Can Protect Ourselves Against Them Philip M. Tierno, Jr., Veronica Cartwright, and Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Assistant Professor of Pharmacology & Physiology Randy S. Wymore.
The balance of the extra features consists of three very brief featurettes. They are far from comprehensive, but they do offer a few behind the scenes glimpses of the production. First up is The Invasion: A New Story which runs three minutes and focuses on what the film is about from a story and thematic perspective. On-camera interview comments are heard from Craig, Kajganich, Northam, Kidman, and Silver. Additional comments from Hirschbiegel and Silver are excerpted from a press conference interview.
The Invasion: On the Set runs three minutes and 21 seconds. This featurette focuses on the actual shooting of the film and its use of real Washington DC locations. Film clips and behind the scenes production footage are interspersed with on-camera interviews with Silver, Executive Producer Ron Smith, Key Location Manager Rodd Christensen, Craig, Kidman, Production Designer Jack Fisk, Location manager John Latenser, Stunt Coordinator Keith Adams. Additional comments from Hirschbiegel are excerpted from a press conference interview.
The Invasion: Snatched runs three minutes and thirteen seconds. This featurette focuses on the ooey gooey effects used for the alien infections and transformations in the film including some behind the scenes footage of the effects technicians in action. On-camera interview participants include Kajganich, Craig, Silver, Cartwright, Northam, Kidman, and Special Effects Make-Up Artist Michael O'Brien with more press conference excerpts from Hirschbiegel.
The film is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with cover art blending the standard "big star head" and "background zombie crowd" promotional art philosophies with a red tint.
While fans of previous "Body Snatcher" films may be curious about this new spin on an old concept, the film neither captures the sense of paranoia and dread of its predecessors nor succeeds in re-inventing them in an action-horror context. It effectively wastes a decent anchoring performance from Nicole Kidman. Attempts to inject modern relevance are so heavy handed that they are more intelligence insulting than thought provoking. The DVD is presented with very good audio and video quality. The most substantial extra is a nineteen minute featurette addressing the film's themes of viral paranoia as well or better than the film itself. The balance of the extras consists of three brief featurettes that provide some behind the scenes filmmaking information but little depth.
[PG]The Invasion DVD[/PG]