Body Snatchers

Rating:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 3.0 Is Not An Improvement

Main Cast: Gabrielle Anwar

Director: Abel Ferrara

While the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers–adapted from the novel by Jack Finney–has long been a favorite of mine, I didn’t realize until today, watching the 1993 remake, Body Snatchers, just how big an effect that movie had on my development.

If you think about it, the traits the humans are forced to adopt–surviving on little sleep and showing no outward emotion to people on the street–has shaped my entire adult life. Even now, people at work ask why I never smile, and I’ve been living on 5-6 hours of sleep a night for longer than I can remember. I don’t have a dog with a human face, though, so I’m still working on getting one of those.

As for the ‘93 remake, starring Meg Tilley and Gabrielle Anwar, I first saw this movie on TV probably a year or so after it was released, and I remember being totally under whelmed, but not being able to figure out why. Having just watched it again this morning, I understand now. It’s the ending. The ending totally drops the ball.

The story is much the same as all other versions of this story (which has, so far, been filmed 4 different times) with only the setting changing. This time it takes place on a military base, which is supposed to provide tons of symbolism in the military’s need for conformity vs. the humans’ free will. Aliens are taking over the people of earth, waiting until they fall asleep and replacing them with emotionless pod people. As they explain in this version, once everyone is the same, there’s no more conflict. So the pod people are doing their part in bringing together the people of earth. But naturally you gotta figure there’s those one or two upstarts who think they know best and want to stop the alien invasion and keep humanity’s differences intact.

Marti Malone (Anwar, “Burn Notice”) has moved to the base with her father (Terry Kinney, Sleepers), step mother (Meg Tilly, Psycho II), and half brother (Reilly Murphy, “Getting By”) while her father, who works for the EPA, investigates the base’s SOP for disposal or storage of toxic chemicals. Unbeknownst to the Malones, the base is also the jumping off point for an alien invasion. Little brother Andy suspects something is amiss when he sees the dehydrated corpse of his mother crumble to dust on her bed, and a new, more naked version of his mother steps out of the closet. He tries to warn his father and sister, but no one believes him until both dad and sis wake up in mid-takeover to find the half-formed versions of themselves.

By then it’s damn near too late as almost the entire base has been taken over, save one cocky young chopper pilot, with whom Marti had made out earlier (Billy Wirth, The Lost Boys).

Body Snatchers isn’t a terrible movie, and as I watched it this second time, I kept wondering why I hated it so much the first time. It’s not a GREAT movie, but it works. The plot feels pretty tight, the paranoia seeps deep into your subconscious until you suspect EVERYONE of being a pod person, even Marti in the few shots where you know she’s not. Yet.

R. Lee Ermey and Forrest Whitaker both make appearances and, even though their collective screen time probably amounts to no more than 10 minutes, they’re both excellent here. Billy Wirth finally gets a role where he’s not set dressing and actually has more than a line or two. And there’s 23-year-old Gabrielle Anwar playing a 17- or 18-year-old teen. I totally bought her in this movie. I bought her character, I bought her dialogue, everything. I was even fooled into thinking she really was that young when she made this movie until I looked it up and saw she had been much older than I thought.

Hell, all told I should have really dug this movie all along. But there’s that ending. What a waste of film the ending to this movie was. You could lay blame for writing it on any of the guys who came up with the story, Raymond Cistheri or Larry Cohen, or you can blame one of the actual screenwriters, Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli, or Nicholas St. John. Or you can blame director Abel Ferrara for filming it in the first place and not recognizing how terrible it was. Wherever it falls, it’s a simple fact that for as interesting and watchable as the bulk of Body Snatchers was, that ending tanked hard and left nothing but a bad taste and fond memories of the ‘78 version’s terrific ending.

I still love the idea of this story, and I will, for a change, be able to look back on this movie and not recall it as the terrible suckfest I thought it was for 20 years. It’s still not a fantastic movie, but it’s got some great things going for it and other than those last few minutes, I have no problem recommending it.

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