Invasion of the Body Snatchers (UK - BD RB)
Chris checks out this superior remake of the 1950s classic in high-definition...
When health official Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) notices that her lover has become strangely distant, this sets in train a series of shocking discoveries that sees both her and colleague Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) fleeing for their lives to the sound of ear-piercing alien screams.
Remakes of great films are usually on a hiding to nothing, but Philip Kaufman’s brilliant update of the 1956 classic is a rare and memorable exception. Transposing the action to the heart of San Francisco allows Kaufman to retain all the suspense of Jack Finney’s original story while adding caustic social commentary about the selfishness of the 1970s “me generation” that remains all too relevant today.
But it’s a paranoid thriller first and foremost, based on one of the most psychologically terrifying of all premises – what happens when you can no longer trust not just the authorities but even your nearest and dearest? (Taken from the PR.)
From what I can tell this disc utilises the same 1.85:1 transfer as the 2010 US release of the film, but I don't own that one so a direct comparison is not possible. In any case the encode (1080/24p AVC) is very nice, preserving plenty of natural film grain and with no particularly obvious compression issues to speak of. While it's truthful to say that there are numerous 'soft' shots to be found throughout, there is still ample detail when considering the source limitations. The colour palette tends towards a muted, realistic appearance rather than a bright, vibrant one, but this is an accurate representation of the original photography (at least as best I can tell from previous viewings and comments in the bonus material), while blacks are never really truly black, instead appearing as more of a muddy brown or dark grey. Again this is all part of the original intent, or at least the style. There are no particularly distracting artefacts to report, be that dirt and scratches or noise reduction and sharpening, which is a relief after the disappointment of The People Under the Stairs (of course that one wasn't really down to Arrow as like Body Snatchers, Stairs was also transferred by a third party). Potential buyers should be aware that grain is extremely heavy though, particularly in the darker scenes. While this is not strictly a 'flaw' I can see it putting some people off so thought it worth mentioning.
On balance this is a competent transfer of a film that wasn't very 'pretty' to begin with. It obviously doesn't make for demo material, but I'd rather have something that remains faithful to the source than an image scrubbed of grain and detail. I think Arrow's recent in-house efforts are slightly better than this MGM-sourced transfer, but that's more of a compliment to Arrow than a slight against MGM.
The disc offers a choice between LPCM 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. Given the choice I opted for the multi-channel track on this occasion, mainly because I'd heard great things about the sound design and this was my first opportunity to listen in anything other than stereo. It's certainly an interesting track, although like the visuals it's extremely understated. Ambient effects such as the sounds of cars, pedestrians and general city life are present for much of the running time, but I found that I was aware of them on more of a subconscious level than anything else. I mean this as a compliment, because remixes of older films can have a tendency to sound a little forced or artificial. As events unfold the effects become more aggressive, with some decidedly unsettling, organic sounds accompanying the on-screen action (raspy breathing, squishy pods and the like). It is from these effects that much of the tension is derived, particularly towards the end of the film. There's not a lot of activity at the low end, even during the few scenes when I expected the sub to spring to life, but I guess that's to be expected given the film's heritage. There are no problems with the prioritisation of dialogue though and the inventive, experimental score is also well-represented.
Although never in danger of being mistaken for a modern soundtrack, I'll wager that a good few of you will be more than surprised by just how impressive this low-budget seventies feature does sound. I know I was.
As is usual for the UK's pre-eminent independent label, Arrow has delivered all of the content from the US release and then some. A brief list of bonus material can be found below, followed by more in-depth discussion of the individual features.
- Audio Commentary with Director Philip Kaufman
- Pod Discussion
- Dissecting the Pod: A new interview with Kaufman biographer Annette Insdorf
- Pod Novel
- Re-Visitors from Outer Space: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod
- The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod
- The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod
- Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic David Cairns, as well as re-prints of classic articles including contemporary interviews with Philip Kaufman and W.D. Richter, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
As previously stated, a number of the above features are not included on the US Blu-ray. Among them is Philip Kaufman's commentary track, which was to be found only on the DVD Stateside. The track is a strong one, with Kaufman providing plenty of information on the creative process and narrative decisions. 'Pod Discussion' is a fifty-something minute panel conversation with filmmakers Ben Wheatley and Norman J. Warren, hosted by critic Kim Newman. It covers a wide variety of subjects, including analysis of central themes, comparisons to other genre pictures and much more.
Moving on we come to 'Dissecting the Pod', which is a new interview with Kaufman biographer Annette Insdorf in which she discusses her love of the director's work and Invasion of the Body Snatchers in particular. Next up we have 'Pod Novel' in which Jack Seabrook, author of 'Stealing through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney', discusses Finney’s original novel ‘The Body Snatchers’ and its cinematic incarnations.
'Re-Visitors from Outer Space' is a decent enough retrospective featurette that explores the genesis of the remake and includes interview footage with Kaufman, Donald Sutherland, W.D. Richter and others. In 'The Man Behind the Screams' Ben Burtt (of Star Wars fame) discusses the sound design and in particular the film's innovative use of Dolby Surround, while 'The Invasion Will Be Televised' focuses on DP Michael Chapmin's cinematography. The final featurette, 'Practical Magic', is an interesting overview of the creation of the spores seen in the opening sequence. The last of the traditional bonus material is the film's original theatrical trailer (as is usual, we did not receive the booklet with our review copy).
It's not up there with my favourite remake ( The Thing), but as far as such things go Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a superior slice of sci-fi horror. Not only is it well-acted, it also features some wonderfully creative effects work and extremely innovative sound design. Visually it's not the prettiest film you'll ever lay eyes upon, but the transfer is generally very solid. Audio is even better, while the extras are a solid accompaniment to the main feature. If you've never seen this version of the story you owe it to yourself to check it out. If you're a fan then this release becomes a must-have. Either way, it's a great Blu-ray release and one that comes highly recommended.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release 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.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 18th November 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, LPCM 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Featurettes, Trailer, Booklet
Easter Egg: No
Director: Philip Kaufman
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy
Genre: Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 115 minutes
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