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Post-WWII, the American public was wracked by the fear that the Cold War brewing between them and the Soviet Union would heat up and the consequences would be nothing short of the end of the world. The threat of nuclear annihilation gave rise to a series of escapist films that still very obviously dealt in allegories that lay beneath the fear. These films acted as a catharsis for theatrical patrons and the messages were often cloaked in innocuous Science Fiction tropes. Monsters, like the giant ants of Gordon Douglas’ Them, became stand-ins for the bomb and alien invaders became stand-ins for Communist aggressors. Key films of the era included Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, remade for the 21st century by Scott Derrickson in 2008) and Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). As post-Vietnam malaise set in and political content moved from allegory to content, outer space became a warm and welcoming place, thanks to George Lucas’ pulp adventure-inspired Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, and 1983) and two kid-friendly, touchy-feely alien blockbusters from Steven Spielberg – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982). But the wicked appeal of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and the lingering paranoia fed a handful of the era’s most terrifying movies.

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Scream Factory

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: MGM/Fox
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (based on the novel by Jack Finney, originally serialized in Colliers Magazine in 1954) became a keystone of allegorical sci-fi and was remade every few decades with minor tweaks to the formula. Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version started the tradition and it remains the superior version of the story. Along with George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, it became the ultimate post-Vietnam War “Me Generation” horror story – one where the perils of the post-counterculture hippie generation came home to roost. Kaufman’s alien body snatchers were an upper-class, white American extension of Romero’s working-class rural and urban victims of the zombie apocalypse. A series of childless, ex-hippie adults – health department inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), his colleague and would-be love interest Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), and their New Wave spa/bathhouse-owning friends, Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) – have settled into a bland existence in a peaceful San Francisco that exhibits none of the signs of violent crime seen in Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971) or Peter Yates’ Bullitt (1968).

As the film begins, Kaufman portrays emotional outbursts as a social danger that should be avoided. Matthew avoids confrontation, even after the angry employees of a restaurant he has just shut down shatter his car’s windshield. He and Elizabeth, who is married to another man, use levity to avoid discussing their strong feelings for each other. Everyone is dubious of their mutual psychiatrist friend Dr. David Kibner’s (Leonard Nimoy, cast against type) confrontational theories on emotional expression. However, as the film proceeds and the threat is established, a lack of emotion begins to signify an alien influence, as normal humans are slowly replaced by unfeeling pod people. The invasion is one of mundanity, not bombast, a fact that helps Invasion of the Body Snatchers remain relevant, while effects and action-driven alien invasion stories tend to remain products of their eras. In addition, the film hides a coy, ironically-stated environmental slant, wherein the people that care the most about plants are the ones most liable to be victimized by the alien spores. Given the rest of the film’s deadly serious tone (the characters make jokes, but their attempts at levity are unsuccessful in deflecting dread) and the fact that it remains one of the scariest movies ever made, it’s good to acknowledge that Kaufman and screenwriter W. D. Richter (who went on to direct The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, 1984, and script doctor on John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, 1986) also intended their remake to be a veiled satire of liberal culture as America was about to enter the Reagan era.

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Scream Factory

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: MGM/Fox

Video


Invasion of the Body Snatchers was first released on Blu-ray in 2010 by MGM/Fox, then in 2013 by Arrow for UK distribution. Both discs utilized the same decent 1.85:1 HD transfer. Initially, Scream Factory’s re-release seemed moot, outside of some new extras, then the company announced that they were re-scanning the film in 2K from the original interpositive and my interest was piqued. As you can probably see from the comparison screen-caps on this page (Scream Factory on the top, MGM/Fox on the bottom – I apologize that I was unable to get perfect matches in some cases), it turns out that there was quite a bit of room for improvement. This isn’t a massive upgrade, but it certainly is an upgrade. The most obvious upgrades are in sharpness and contrast/gamma. Details are cleaner than their somewhat fuzzy 2010 counterparts and edges are harder without any uptick in edge enhancement. Some viewers may think that Scream Factory’s transfer appears too dark, but I didn’t notice any crush issues and prefer the solid blacks. These serve cinematographer Michael Chapman’s bleak photography better than the slightly brighter and softer MGM/Fox transfer. Grain structure appears natural and tighter when compared to the old disc, which was a bit blotchy in neutral lighting and snowy during dark scenes. The colour-timing has also been notably altered and, similar the contrast change, I suspect there will be objections to the cooler tint. I personally think that the slightly more blue/lavender image serves the material and even boosts the greens without doing damage the neutral tones. MGM/Fox transfer leans a bit too brown, as well. Again, the differences are relatively subtle, but fans should be satisfied that the extras aren’t the only reason to rebuy this particular movie.

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Scream Factory

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: MGM/Fox

Audio


Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes fitted with the same 2.0 original stereo and 5.1 mixes that accompanied both the MGM/Fox and Arrow discs, each in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. This is actually an upgrade for North American viewers, who only had a lossy Dolby Digital track to chose from if they wanted to hear the original audio. I’d normally opt for the original track, but have to admit that the 5.1 remix is very tastefully done. I suppose it helps that the stereo-surround track was already a particularly potent mix of eerie sci-fi effects and simple real-world ambience. The 2.0 track has a slight volume edge, while the 5.1 track has the advantage of a discrete center channel, which ensures that the dialogue and incidental effects are cleaner. Jazz pianist and composer Denny Zeitlin’s score blends traditional theatrical/jazz motifs with moody dissonance that occasionally sounds indiscernible from Ben Burtt’s more frightening sound effects.

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Scream Factory

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: MGM/Fox

Extras


  • Commentary with director Philip Kaufman – This director-only track has accompanied just about every DVD and Blu-ray release of the film available (for some reason, it was only available on the DVD copy included with the MGM/Fox release, rather than on the Blu-ray itself). Kaufman stays on-point throughout, while discussing special effects processes, developing the story, choosing the locations, the cast, and the greater meanings behind the horror.
  • Commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman – This new expert track, recorded specifically for this release, is typically fantastic work from Haberman (author of Silent Screams: The History of the Silent Horror Film and the guy that shows up on many of the Universal Monsters DVD/BD tracks). It is a very good breakdown of the film’s history, its hidden and implicit meanings, the larger careers of a number of the actors, and the various other versions of the story. There’s a lot of information here, which makes it a bit hard to completely absorb, but that’s hardly a complaint.
  • New Scream Factory exclusive featurettes:
    • Star-Crossed in the Invasion (9:06, HD) – The first of the new featurettes is an interview with actress Brooke Adams, who talks about her lasting relationship with Kaufman, acting in her first nude scenes, her relationship with Sutherland (and her character’s relationship with his), and the fine touches that make Invasion of the Body Snatchers an enduringly scary movie. And, yes, she can still ‘do that thing with her eyes.’
    • Leading The Invasion (25:04, HD) – Art Hindle discusses his affection for the original movie, the film’s humour, Kaufman’s collaborative direction, his personal interpretations of his character, and working with the other actors.
    • Re-Creating The Invasion (15:43, HD) – Writer W.D. Richter discusses re-adapting Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the late ‘70s. Again, Kaufman’s sense of collaboration is at the center of the conversation, along with the challenges of setting the story in San Francisco on a smaller budget, the long-term applicability of the story’s social messages, and keeping the final moments secret from the cast.
    • Scoring The Invasion (15:34, HD) – The final Scream Factory exclusive is an interview with composer Denny Zeitlin, who has a lot to say about the melodic and not so melodic motifs of his very first film score.
  • Archive and MGM/Fox-produced extras:
    • Re-Visitors From Outer Space, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Pod (16:14, SD)– This featurette includes retrospective interviews with Kaufman, Richter, director of photography Michael Chapman, and actors Donald Sutherland and Veronica Cartwright.
    • Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (4:38, SD) – A look at the film’s creative special effects with Kaufman and FX supervisor Howard Preston.
    • The Man Behind The Scream: The Sound Effects Pod (12:47, SD) – Sound designer Ben Burtt and sound editor Bonnie Koehler talk about the movie’s surrealistic, non-musical audio.
    • The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (5:24, SD) – A final look at the film’s moody photography with the cast & crew.
    • Time is Just a Place (25:53, SD) – This classic episode of Science Fiction Theater is based a short story from The Body Snatchers writer Jack Finney and was directed by Jack Arnold ( Creature from the Black Lagoon).
    • Trailer, TV spots, and radio spots
    • Photo gallery


 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Scream Factory

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: MGM/Fox

Overall


Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers sits high among the best remakes and ‘70s horror films of all time. It remains relevant and frightening to this day. That said, many readers likely already own the MGM/Fox Blu-ray release and will be rightfully dubious of this collector’s edition. I can verify that the new 2K transfer is an improvement and, to my eyes, the best version currently on the market. The new extras are decent as well, especially the new fact-filled Steve Haberman commentary track. I recommend the upgrade, but can’t guarantee that these advantages are enough to warrant another purchase.

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Scream Factory

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: MGM/Fox

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Scream Factory

 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: MGM/Fox

* Note: The above images are taken from the Scream Factory (top) and MGM (bottom) Blu-ray releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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