Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oliver Hirschbiegel's "The Invasion"

The timing couldn't be more, well, timely for Oliver Hirschbiegel's bizarrely maligned "The Invasion," the latest incarnation of novelist Jack Finney's great (and obviously endurable) story, "The Body Snatchers."

From where I sit, Finney's material is surefire because I've enjoyed and admired all four film versions of his story - Don Siegel's 1956 classic, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (shot in glorious black-&-white), Philip Kaufman's new-age 1978 version (making the most of an atmospheric San Francisco and the Bay Area in general) and Abel Ferrara's game 1993 film, "Body Snatchers" (with its surprisingly effect teen twist).

The new version stars Nicole Kidman, in fine form (and looking great again) as a psychoanalyst intend on making sure that she and her son (Jackson Bond) evade the vague, conformity-inspired terror that's overtaking America. Hirschbiegel's take on the material is subtly political, commenting ever so slyly on the apathy and indifference - and the lack of empathy and compassion - that have taken over since 9/11, as well as the sense of entitlement and complacency of the zombies who have fallen in line.

The new film's exposition is brilliant and its use of a child as a major player, which could have been a disaster, manages to work in its favor, adding to the suspense. A middle stretch, set in an abandoned pharmacy, runs on longer than it should, and the happy ending seems like a cop-out.

But wait... Wikipedia reports: "Although the 1956 film version is faithful to much of the story, the novel includes several episodes and scenes that have never been filmed. Finney also clarifies details of the duplicate's life cycle: they live only five years, and they cannot sexually reproduce; consequently, if unstopped, they will turn Earth into a dead planet and move on to the next world ... Unlike the first three film adaptations, the novel contained the optimistic ending." So, the relatively happy ending of the new film, an ending which seems a little off-putting because it contrasts with the others, is truer to Finney's vision.

The reviews of "The Invasion" have been annnoying, given that they seem distracted by what allegedly went on behind the scenes while it was being made.

In The New York Times, Manohla Dargis writes:

"The producer Joel Silver has said that 'The Invasion' was partly redone by the Wachowski brothers (the credited screenwriter is David Kajganich) and that, at some point during production, the directing chores were handed over to their sometime collaborator, James McTeigue, who performed the same duties on the almost equally moribund 'V for Vendetta.' (The original director here, Oliver Hirschbiegel, retains credit.)"

So we're not really certain who is responsible for what. Still, the thing works.

Finney original serialized "The Body Snatchers" for Colliers Magazine in 1954, before turning it into a novel in 1955. His 1963 novel, "Good Neighbor Sam," was the basis for the charming 1964 Jack Lemmon comedy of the same title, directed by David Swift.

(Artwork: Nicole Kidman, embracing Dsniel Craig, in "The Invasion")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


chris schneider said...

Forgive me if I seem self-promoting, Joe, but I thought I'd tell you that my "Lascar370" site has some stuff about the latest "Invasion" -- which I saw and liked.

I read the Finney novel decades ago, and have a blurry memory of the "happy" ending -- basically something about the pods being defeated and the locals continuing as one little town filled with people *slightly* different from the rest of humanity.

My sense, which I'll believe until shown otherwise, is that the reshooting mostly involved the final-reel chase footage and other such "action" highlights. (Yawn! Not that it was incompetent, but ... final-reel car-chases seem such a predictable sort of "excitement"! Not since Richard Quine's "Sex and the Single Girl" ...)

For me, what distinguises this version is: 1) the central protag is a woman, Kidman more-or-less in the McCarthy role; and 2) how the material is played for HIV-era fear of infection and of domestic abuse (cf. the state of the Kidman and Cartwright marriages)

joe baltake said...

Chris, I'll check it out pronto. This new version has really gotten a raw deal. Nothing can bury a movie quicker than an indifferent studio.

Dave said...

I love Siegel's version the most. I think it would be perfect if the narration was cut out, the give-away beginning was removed, and it ended with him running by all the cars on the highway. Ah if only.