Saturday, February 28, 2015

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Holds Up Surprisingly Well!

The Good: Engaging plot, Decent direction, Interesting characters
The Bad: Obviously dated and derivative, Somewhat overbearing soundtrack elements
The Basics: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is appropriately creepy and holds up surprisingly well, despite being a fairly formulaic science fiction horror film!

Like so much of the world, yesterday, I was saddened to learn of the death of Leonard Nimoy. I was saddened, but not surprised that Nimoy died given his health problems. Leonard Nimoy was a childhood hero of mine for his portrayal of Spock in Star Trek (reviewed here!) and the first (of several) times that I met him, it was such a big deal for me that I wrote a short story about it. Given my appreciation of the works of Leonard Nimoy (and liking how very cool he was in real life!), there were remarkably few works of his for me to watch and review in order to pay tribute to him. But, today I discovered that he was in the 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

I remember seeing the original 1950s version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers back when I was a kid (my father started getting out all manner of classic science fiction films from the local library when the family got a VCR and the 1956 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was one of them!). The 1978 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers has a virtually identical plot, but is updated with characters and a sense of style, location, and period that is VERY 1970s. This version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers might not be the most original conceptual work, but it still has a high creep-out factor and has a cast that is suitably impressive. In addition to one of the most unsettling and obscure cameos by Robert Duvall, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers features Leonard Nimoy, Donald Sutherland, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum and a time-travelling Sir Ian McKellen (at the party scene where Kibner is introduced, a post-X-Men Sir Ian McKellen can be clearly seen wearing at hat similar to the one he wore in X-Men).

San Francisco has experienced an influx of extraterrestrial pollen, which has begun developing on plants throughout the city into colorful red flowers. The Department of Health inspector, Matthew Bennell, is methodical and precise (and fairly dispassionate) and is going around the city doing his usual work inspecting local restaurants when his friend and co-worker, Elizabeth Driscoll, comes to him very concerned about her husband. Elizabeth insists that Geoffrey is not actually her husband and Bennell fears that she is simply paranoid. Driscoll follows her husband around town one day and sees him meeting with a wide variety of people who have no apparent connection to him, passing packages between them. The two, along with Jack Bellicec, meet with Bennell’s friend, prominent psychologist Dr. Kibner, who insists Driscoll is overreacting.

But soon, it becomes apparent to the logical Bennell that there is, in fact, something going on. Bellicec and his wife, Nancy, find a strange body at the baths at which she works. Bennell witnesses a similar mysterious, under-developed body at Driscoll’s home and realizes that these things are growing into people. Believing that people are being duplicated and replaced, Bennell and his friends try to alert the proper authorities, but those around them seem to be universally affected by the strange plants. With the bulk of the city succumbing to alien vegetable replication, Bennell and his friends race to escape the city and the parasites!

In addition to seeing Leonard Nimoy as the creepy, 1970’s self-help dialogue-spewing Dr. Kebner, there was a high degree of excitement for me in seeing Donald Sutherland in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Sutherland has virtually the same role in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers as he had in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (reviewed here!), which I grew up on! Despite the dated qualities, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is very successful at what it sets out to do.

First, the characters tend to react like very real people. Bennell wants to help Driscoll, so he takes her to a psychiatrist friend of his. Dr. Kebner is instantly skeptical of Driscoll’s claims that people aren’t who they say they are. The scientists in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers do not instantly have all the answers, but people like Driscoll and Bennell approach the problem with a scientific and methodical methodology. That makes all the characters, despite the fantastic circumstances, pop with a sense of realism that most contemporary films lack.

On the acting front, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is good. Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy and Art Hindle are all wonderful. Veronica Cartwright does a decent job of playing Nancy, though there is little differentiation between her character in this and in Alien (reviewed here!). Jeff Goldblum, who appears in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers as Jack, clearly grew into looking good (he’s scrawny in this).

Even the pod people in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers have some development and philosophy, which makes them better-than-average invader adversaries. It is worth noting that this version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a pre-PG-13 PG. In other words, it has some more graphic elements that parents might not want their children exposed to (most notably a skull being beaten in like a pumpkin).

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers might be a remake, but it is creepy and well-executed and it is easy to see why someone like Leonard Nimoy would take a role in it!

For other tributes, please check out my reviews of:
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Bob Hoskins)
The Fisher King (Robin Williams)
A Late Quartet (Philip Seymour Hoffman)


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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