Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Second Age Review Backlog 2: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

It's hard to be entirely positive where certain genres end and where a new one begins in certain movies. In some movies this can be an amazing boon, combining one genre flawlessly with another to create a one-of-a-kind whole, like The Shining or Brotherhood of the Wolf. More often the result can have trouble nailing down a tone or style. This 1978 remake of a 50's classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is closer to the second, trying to juggle psychological horror, sci-fi alien invasion and zombie movie techniques into a final product that leaves something to be desired.

Entering speed plot mode, a pair of Department of Health Officials (points for originality, or rather for not making them cops) played by Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams begin suspecting that certain people are being killed and replaced with emotionless lookalikes. With much of the cities population being rapidly assimilated, they enlist the help of a spa-owner turned pretentious weirdo (a young Jeff Goldblum) and a psychologist (Leonard Nemoy) to try and fight off the invasion. It's also notable that it's only one of 2 films showing at my indie theatre this summer (the second being Creature From the Black Lagoon) that I haven't already seen, so I'm going in fresh.

Most of the technical work mirrors the production as a whole: Interesting but inconsistent. The camera work in particular is either excellent or shoddy, with very little in between, but there is rather excellent work with effective zooms and lighting in making the whole thing effective, so we'll forgive the occasional stupid camera angle or unnecessary zoom in. The sound guy gives it his all, and mostly succeeds using simply background noises like bubbling liquid and a busy tone to add tension and atmosphere to scenes that would be otherwise boring, but the creature scream from late film mostly falls flat and some of the alien noises kill the tension. The special effects guy deserves special mention, working his ass off to keep his creations creepy and disturbing to look at, and he at least succeeds with flying colors.

The writing averages out to fine. Dialogue is mostly good, if a bit clunky at times, and with the exception of a massive leap in logic mid-film to keep the plot running, the story flows for the most part. In terms of acting, Leonard Nemoy is the standout, doing a solid character, with a midpoint plot twist that most of the audience is going to see coming way before they're supposed to. The rest of the actors do what they can, but despite being fairly well characterized, very little seems to be done with their characters.

Of course now here comes the big elephant in the room in that the movie is very poorly paced. The first half is the best part of the film, consisting mostly of atmosphere building in the form of slow shots of large groups of what amounts to possessed people which end up being way more creepy than it has any right to be. Unfortunately, with the exception of throwing down some alien malarky early on, the psychological business and the alien business are mostly kept away from each other, and the transition between slow paced psychological business and alien/zombie horror occurs with an almost audible noise which sucks a lot of the tension out of the room.

Of course, since we've taken away the psychology from the alien business, it's left for that to handle itself on it's own, which amounts to the films other major problem. The alien business, mostly consisting of mutating corpses, rises to being creepy and occasionally disturbing, but never manage to really scare. Most of the scares are telegraphed from a mile off, and even if they weren't with the exception of a single random creature near the end, there's nothing really capable of jumping out and scaring you. The possessed humans spend most of their time acting like zombies, but since they talk, are fully intact and never once pull open someone's skull to eat their brains, they have difficulty being truly threatening either.
A quick mention goes to the movie's ending. Without wishing to spoil anything, I'm not sure whether I like it or not, but I am sure that the ending they ended up going with took a lot of balls, and I imagine it pissed a lot of viewers off. Again, not sure if I like it, but I can give a lot of points for being gutsy.

In terms of alien-invasion-horror films scale of 1-10, 1 being Plan 9 From Outer Space, 10 being The Thing the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 5, 5.5 if I'm feeling exceptionally generous. It's not a bad movie, but it's not a good one either. Perhaps because it's a remake of a film that set so many trends in motion and is remade so very often, but it doesn't seem to have any real interesting ideas of it's own. The good ideas it does have it does painfully little with. I can't really recommend that if it's on TV you should instantly change the channel, but I can't honestly say that you should seek it out either. I can only really recommend it if you're a huge fan of old B-Movies, or if you have some hatred of Jeff Goldblum and are really eager to see him stabbed in the back of the neck with a fistful of darts.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Escape From New York

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan-born Cinephile and he is STILL convinced that the shot of the main character's face peering out of the closet is the creepiest thing in this film.

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