Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 ★★½

Watched Oct 192020

joshmatthews’s review published on Letterboxd:

I hate going against the common consensus sometimes, as is the case here, but this sequel to the 1956 original has too many defects to rate as more than average.

Consider that first half, which meanders endlessly, the characters are trying to discover what’s happening. Well of course the audience already knows what’s happening, via a few shots and musical cues, plus most probably know what’s going on in this movie because of prior knowledge of the original film. So, why must we wait wait wait on these characters to think about and talk about what’s going on? A good rewrite would move the plot along more quickly, with the invasion discovered by the main characters within 30 minutes, or the first act. As is, it takes well over an hour, or over half of the movie.

Next, the movie predicates itself on a general notion of disgust, without focusing on any particular aspect of that. You’ve got the now-dated opening shots of the aliens, the public-health inspector picking rat crap out of a French restaurant’s dish, the mud baths, and the garbage trucks, and the infected body-doubles. 

So what are we talking about in particular with this invasion? That Nature is gross? 

Now of course “public health” is a thing now, actually a profession and a subject to study in universities, so perhaps this movie is cutting-edge — the flowers are poisonous, they alter DNA, the food is poisoned maybe, the mud baths are a way to “cleanse,” etc. If I were to study and write about the movie, I’d choose this angle. Why else is a public-health inspector the featured character of this movie? (It is funny, unintentionally, that he’s taken to be a doctor in the movie and sometimes even acts like one! Yet today, public-health officials are mistaken as experts on medicine.)

The score is as eclectic as it gets: symphonic pieces, synth effects, atonal pieces, a banjo folk-song, Chinese folk music, synth pieces. That goes along with director Kaufman’s energetic camera-work, featuring a wide-variety of shots and compositions, perhaps the best part of the movie in general.

As a work of cultural commentary, this movie pails in comparison to two others that came out at the same time: “Alien” and “Dawn of the Dead.” Both push their premise, although Alien’s first half is slow by today’s standards, and they generate much excitement in their last half. Meanwhile, with this “Invasion”, we wait and wait and wait for something to happen, hoping that the characters will figure out what we’ve known since the beginning. Then in the last 40 minutes, they run around a lot. 

Last, what is the movie doing with the Velikovsky book “Worlds in Collision,” featured prominently and mentioned overtly in one scene? Around the mid-1970s, people like Sagan were actively debunking that book’s nonsense. Yet I get the sense the movie is promoting the book’s crazy notions of catasrophism via some kind of alien conspiracy. Now maybe in the movie, the aliens are the ones promoting the book, which would be an amusing criticism of the book’s readers. Nevertheless, whenever you pause in the movie to hold up a book, say its title, and mention how great it is, you are by default recommending it.

The Veronica Cartwright character is right: read Olaf Stapledon’s “Star Maker” instead!

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