Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Body Snatchers

For all of those who say remakes never work, I give you the movie versions of Jack Finney’s classic novel The Body Snatchers. It has been filmed four times, and the only time the story has really disappointed was in 2007’s The Invasion. The only time the original title was used was in 1993’s Body Snatchers, which is well done in a B-movie way. By the way, to address one ongoing controversy at the beginning, despite the subtitle tacked on when it went to DVD (The Invasion Continues), this is not a sequel, but a remake, and it was said so at the time of production.

(On an irrelevant note, this movie was filmed at Selma, Alabama’s defunct Craig Air Force base, and I watched filming from afar on several occasions. Which doesn’t mean anything, but it gives me a false sense of connection to the film.)

Steve Malone (Terry Kinney) has taken his family south as part of his job with the EPA to inspect Southern military bases. He has a wife, played to ditzy effect by Meg Tilly (her performance grated on my nerves at first, but later I understood it), a son Andy, and a daughter Marti (Gabrielle Anwar), from his first wife. Predictably, Marti doesn’t get along that well with her stepmother.

The family stops for gas, Marti goes to the restroom, and is assaulted by a crazed soldier. Welcome to Alabama! He tells her “They get you when you sleep” and then disappears. Marti’s trauma is eased when she meets a dreamy helicopter pilot (Billy Wirth) at the base. But something’s wrong at the base. People are losing their emotions, staring strangely, and voting Republican. Soon, Marti will learn the truth about the now-familiar pods, and will need her new boyfriend to escape.

No sense overly rehashing the plot, since chances are if you’re here you’ve seen at least one of the first three movies and know the score. One of the smart things done in this movie, I think, was to realize that everyone knew about the pod people, thus negating any suspense from wondering what is going on. Here, the audience knows what is going on a lot sooner than the characters in the movie, and it doesn’t waste time getting to the action. This is more reminiscent of the old B-movies, and knows where its bread is buttered. It is also a good thing that the movie is only 87 minutes long. This lean approach keeps the story moving at a good pace.

It was directed by Abel Ferrara, a talented guy who has generally been relegated to lower-budget realms. He does a good job in setting up the eerie shots of soldiers harvesting pods in the swamp, people being taken over, and so on.

After years of seeing mostly CGI films, the practical effects used here seem quaint yet effective. The cast is mostly good in their roles, although I wish Forrest Whitaker’s doomed doctor was given more screen time. Maybe they only had him for a couple of days, but if you have an actor that good, it’s a shame not to feature him more. [SPOILER] Something I thought would be a negative turned out to be a positive. It had been so long since I had seen the movie, I forgot the ending. Marti and the pilot are forced to leave without her brother Andy. Just as they are taking off, Andy comes running up and is hauled into the helicopter. I thought, “Great, the focus groups wouldn’t let them kill the kid.” But Andy turns out to have been changed into a pod person, and his sister is forced to throw him out of the helicopter at a high altitude. As always, kudos to a movie not afraid to kill a child. (I’m mean, I know).

There are a couple of bad things about the movie. Christine Elise’s rebel character is okay, but she dresses about ten years out of date even at the time of the film.

There is a general rule that voice-overs are a bad idea, usually resulting from weaknesses in the script that have to be explained, or meddling by people who think they’re a good idea. Anwar narrates the beginning and end of the movie, and it is a spike to the brain, imparting no useful information.

On a trivial note, it is widely acknowledged the body double for Meg Tilly’s nude scene was her sister Jennifer (the credits say “Meg Body Double – Jennifer). This is probably the only time that an actress has been body doubled by her sister.


Neil Sarver said...

This is probably the only time that an actress has been body doubled by her sister.


The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane.

KentAllard said...

I'll be. You're right of course. Good catch.

Craig Clarke said...

I'm not sure why exactly, but this was always my favorite version of this story.