Monday, 25 November 2013

Blu-ray Review: Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers

Philip Kaufman's 1978 take on Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers is more a re-imagining than a remake, moving the action from small town America to the big, bustling city of San Francisco where public health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) teams up with Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) to fight an invasion from outer space. Driscoll is certain her husband has experienced a massive overnight change, emerging as a completely different person and Bennell encounters the same story when he visits a drycleaners to be told by the owner that his wife is not the person she was hours earlier. The whole city appears to have changed overnight, with bus loads of commuters and normally store-hungry commuters ensnared by pods that create an exact likeness of their bodies, which when fully formed, leave the originals crumbling away. Kaufman is well served by a stellar cast here, which includes Leonard Nimoy as the shadowy Dr Kibner, and Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright who were cast as the husband and wife team running a mud bath spa which plays host to some fiendish transformations. There are cameos for Don Siegel (director of the original film) as a taxi driver, and Kevin McCarthy who appears to have been transported from Siegel's film to warn San Francisco of the escalating menace. These are wonderful touches from Kaufman, which serve to remind us of a fine slice of Sci-Fi which is actually bettered by this late '70s version.
The idea of alien manipulation on a massive scale is beautifully executed, with the chilling message 'Trust no-one' creating more than one surprise along the way. On a technical level, Kaufman's film scores highly in several departments: DOP Michael Chapman (who also has a cameo as a janitor) adds much to the sense of paranoia and mistrust, with imaginative lighting and ingenious camera angles, while Ben Burtt's sound design works so very well in tandem with Denny Zeitlins' score which turned out to be his only work as a composer. Full marks, also, to Kaufman for his decision not to let the audience off the hook with an ending that came as a big surprise to at least one member of the cast.
Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers is just as relevant today as it was in 1978, and makes a great addition to Arrow Video's increasingly impressive catalogue.

Picture quality on this Region B Blu-ray will delight fans of the film, with strong fleshtones and a retention of the grain which has not been tampered with. All in all, this seems to be an accurate representation.
Kicking off a generous selection of extras is 'Discussing The Pod'; a 50 minute roundtable where Kim Newman, Norman J. Warren and Ben Wheatley all have plenty to say about the success of Kaufman's film, sharing memories of their first viewing, and pinpointing exactly why this film has garnered so much praise.Newman in particular makes some excellent observations, declaring that the characters would be interesting even if there were no alien invasion, and that the conspiracy theme could involve whoever/whatever you're worried about.

Dissecting The Pod (17 min)
Writer and critic Annette Insdorf - who has studied Kaufman's work for over 20 years - discusses the multiple layers of Bodysnatchers, comparing the style to other Kaufman films, and succeeds in enriching our understanding and appreciation of the onscreen and offscreen contributions.

Writing The Pod (11 min)
Jack Seabrook, author of a book on Jack Finney, discusses the man's career and his most famous novel, offering a solid appreciation of Finney's talents.

Re-Visitors From Outer Space (16 min)
A featurette with appearances from WD Richter (who penned the screenplay), Kaufman, Michael Chapman, Donald Sutherland and Veronica Cartwright who explain what the film meant to them. Kaufman recalls how he approached Don Siegel with a view to making this film, and there's a hilarious story involving Don driving without his glasses through the streets of San Francisco.

The Man Behind The Scream (12 min)
Sound designer Ben Burtt reveals how some of the other-wordly sounds were created.

The Invasion Will Be Televised (5 min)
A short piece that discusses the Hitchcockian elements of Invasion, how they filmed the city at work and a demonstration of Chapman's considerable skills.

Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (4 min)
Here, the famous opening sequence comes under the spotlight, together with the challenges involved with design and effects.

There's also a valuable director's commentary track where Philip Kaufman acknowledges Robert Duvall's cameo, labelling him "the first pod" and speaks warmly about Donald Sutherland's extraordinary acting ability, together with the fact that Sutherland did all his own stunt work despite being "one of the clumsiest men alive". It's a thoroughly engaging track that takes us on a scene-by-scene ride through the film, greatly adding to our appreciation of just what was accomplished.

Arrow's Blu-ray is out now, and is a top-notch, value for money package for fans of '70s paranoiac cinema.

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