“You will be born again into an untroubled world.”
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Philip Kaufman’s 1978 masterpiece of paranoia (and startling chimeras), manages to feel endlessly contemporary. Many filmmakers have adapted Jack Finney’s 1956 novel, to mostly successful results. This version, though, only feels more and more exceptional as time has passed. It’s a shocking, creepy story about the subtle invasion of Earth by a species of creatures who promise nothing but contentment at the cost of your soul.
Kaufman’s noir-like lighting and skewed camera angles make even the quietest scenes unnerving. At one point, a character mentions extraterrestrial extinction was supposed to come at the hands of flying saucers, not pod-people. If only we were so lucky. Even without aliens, societies rarely end in a big boom. It’s the quiet decay that does us in.
Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is a health inspector in San Francisco. He’s going about his daily life and flirting with Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), a scientist whom he secretly loves. One day, a series of small pink flowers float down through Earth’s atmosphere and land in the city. Elizabeth takes one home to show her boyfriend. The next day, she awakes to find him acting cold, unfeeling and strange. Matthew and Elizabeth start to notice the same behavior around town, at parties, at work — people behaving strangely. Soon, they and their friends Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum) and Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) find themselves on the run from a race of creatures that wants nothing more than to let you fall asleep and awaken in a new form.
These aliens replace sleeping humans, you see, with plant-grown duplicates who retain all memories and functions of the originals but lack the emotion that makes us human.
Kaufman’s slow-burn apocalypse is so wonderful, particularly by today’s standards of militaristic action dystopias. There’s no real fighting back. We all have to sleep sometime. The monsters don’t cause pain or harm, just bland conformity. If you stop feeling, they won’t even notice you aren’t one of them. But how can you possibly stop expressing yourself when you’re surrounded by plant-aliens who want nothing more than to assimilate you? What a conundrum. Kaufman’s film is so elegantly structured and shot for maximum discomfort, but it’s rarely scary in a visual sense. The jump-scares are few and far between, although one, involving a dog with a human head, was so upsetting I had to look away in the comfort of my own home.
The film receives a new release from Kino Lorber, the film’s first in the 4K UHD format. Kaufman approved and color-graded the new 4K scan, and it looks astounding. It’s a noir-inspired movie with the darkness to match. I was particularly taken with the climactic chase scene, as Matthew, Elizabeth and their friends find themselves pursued by duplicates through the dark streets of the city. Visually stunning, and compared to the Blu-ray included in the set, the film has never looked better.
The set also includes a previously released audio commentary by Kaufman, an audio commentary by author / film historian Steve Haberman and a number of special features and interviews from previous releases.