Invasion, The

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 08/29/07 23:34:02

"No pod people, but better than you'd expect from a much-delayed flick."
3 stars (Just Average)

Delayed for more than a year due to extensive reshoots, "The Invasion," the fourth adaptation of Jack Finney’s science fiction/horror 1955 novel, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," is, far from the worst film of the summer as the negative hype would suggest or even the worst adaptation of Finney’s novel, an “honor” that belongs to the 1993 adaptation directed by Abel Ferrara ("The Funeral," "The Addiction," "Bad Lieutenant," "King of New York"). "The Invasion" shows every indication of the Wachowski Brothers' influence (who scripted and supervised the reshoots) and James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta"), who took over for director Oliver Hirschbiegel ("Downfall") during the reshoots demanded by uber-producer Joel Silver ("The Matrix" trilogy, the "Die Hard" franchise, the "Lethal Weapon" franchise). Not surprisingly, Silver wanted less talk and more action, which is what the Wachowskis and McTeigue delivered, if only fitfully.

The Invasion opens inside a looted pharmacy somewhere in Washington, D.C. Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman), a psychiatrist, struggles desperately to stay awake. Those consequences only become clear when The Invasion flashes back to the disintegration of a space shuttle in the Earth’s atmosphere that leaves wreckage strewn from Texas to Washington, D.C. Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam), a government scientist with Centers for Disease Control and Bennell’s ex-husband, flies in to oversee recovery efforts. Mishandling a piece of wreckage, Kaufman cuts his hand. He’s been infected with an alien virus that, stimulated by REM sleep, fuses him with a “sentient” alien virus, but without the emotions that make him fully human.

The alien virus quickly spreads, but Bennell’s first contact isn’t with her ex-husband, but with a patient, Wendy Lenk (Veronica Cartwright), who claims her husband has been replaced by an imposter. Bennell prescribes anti-psychotic medication for Wendy. It isn’t until her son, Oliver (Jackson Bond), discovers an odd, translucent substance in a stash of candy after trick-or-treating on Halloween that Bennell begins to suspect something’s amiss, but still leaves her son with her ex-husband for the weekend. Bennell enlists the aid of Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), a medical doctor and potential romantic interest, to test the translucent material. Driscoll brings the substance to a molecular biologist, Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright), for his help. Galeano hypothesizes the alien virus’s means of transmission, its effects, and the potential danger it poses to humanity. As the alien virus spreads, an uncanny quiet descends over Washington, D.C. Bennell and Driscoll have to find a way out of an infected D.C., but before they can do that, Bennell has to save her son.

While Finney’s novel was set in the small California town of Santa Mira, the second adaptation directed by Philip Kaufman (Henry and June, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff) shifted the setting to a large, anonymous city, San Francisco, the third shifted the setting to an army base in the Deep South. The third and fourth adaptations gender switch the lead characters, but also marginalized the romantic angle. The third and fourth adaptations follow a similar arc for the female lead: instead of saving a lover or ex-lover, she’s trying to save a sibling or son, presumably so we’ll feel more sympathetic toward an otherwise self-centered character. By default, the male characters, in protective mode for the weaker sex, didn’t have this problem.

The first time we see the pods in action provided previous adaptations with their most memorable scenes. The aliens duplicated their human hosts while they slept, sending out willowy tendrils to map the host’s physical structure and “borrow” their memories. The dupes eventually emerged from pods, absorbing their hosts (implied in the first adaptation, shown in greater detail in subsequent adaptations). The so-called “pod people” look us, but are incapable of feeling emotions. In The Invasion, the transformation doesn’t involve a pod, but still involves absorption. As they sleep, a slimy, viscous material covers the victims’ faces and bodies. It doesn’t have quite the same visceral effect in comparison to earlier adaptations.

As important as setting, characters, and relationships are to discussing any adaptation, the subtext is where it gets interesting. Finney’s novel and the 1956 adaptation have been interpreted as critiques of social conformity, McCarthyism or even Communism. For the 1978 remake/adaptation, Philip Kaufman satirized the “Me”-decade, conspiracy theories, and the self-help movement. Shifting the setting from a small town to a big city also gave Kaufman the opportunity to emphasize the paranoid, claustrophobic elements already present in Finney’s novel. By switching the setting to an army base, Abel Ferrara added another layer of subtext, critiquing the social conformity that military discipline requires as a perfect cover for the emotionless pod people.

The Invasion mixes and matches subtext from the previous adaptations, borrowing, for example, the city setting and the digs at psychiatry from Kaufman’s adaptation. Overprescribed mood-altering medication deadens the inner lives and outer expressions, in effect making patients synonymous with the alien duplicates replacing humanity. Presumably, the anti-psychiatry subtext and the idea that what makes us human isn’t intellect (an idea present in every adaptation), but emotion appeared in Dave Kajganich’s script. The Invasion suggests that violence and war are inextricably tied to our emotional natures and, thus, what makes us human. In several scenes, television anchors breathlessly describe peace and harmony breaking out everywhere.

Subtext and themes aside, "The Invasion" is far from perfect, no thanks to the disjointed editing, an underwritten romantic subplot, non-chemistry between the leads, clumsily handled exposition, and a feel-good ending that feels false and contrived (because it is). To be fair, the ending is more in line with Finney’s novel, but it’s not as cautiously optimistic as the 1956 adaptation (a change forced on the director, Don Siegel, by his producers), as bleak as the 1978 adaptation or as illogical as the 1993 adaptation. As awkward as the ending is, it provides a fitting sense of closure while adding a touch of irony, i.e., we might lose our emotions under alien control, but we’d all live longer, healthier, more peaceful lives. That’s almost enough reason to anticipate the director’s cut (assuming we ever get one).

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