“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”…. Er, “The Invasion”, the second remake of the popular, iconic Science Fiction film, is not a bad film. It is just a very familiar film. It does manage to create some good thrills and it sets the story against the backdrop of our current political climate in an unusual way, giving it a little more interest than the tired material has any right to generate.
A shuttle burns up upon reentry causing debris to land across a wide swath of the United States. Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam), a member of the CDC, visits one of the crash sites and gets a cut on his hand. Dr. Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) notices people starting to act strange and turns to her best friend, Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig). He takes a small sample of the material to a friend of his, Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright) and they soon learn the substance is not of this Earth. Carol’s son, Oliver (Jackson Bond) is also having nightmares and Carol thinks it is because he is about to start spending time with his father, Tucker, who has recently returned from Atlanta. But Tucker is one of the first infected and starts acting weird, showing little emotion. One of Carol’s patients (Veronica Cartwright, who appeared in the 1978 version of the film) complains that her husband is acting differently; they no longer fight and she claims he is no longer her husband. As she begins to voice these concerns, Carol begins to notice other strange things; people are staring at her as she walks by, no one shows any emotion when a car hits a woman. Carol soon realizes she must stay awake, find her son, and join her two friends as they try to get to Fort Dix and work on an antidote.
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (“Downfall”), with an apparent assist from the Wachowski Brothers (“The Matrix” trilogy, more on that later), “The Invasion” does a fairly good job of setting up the story; the shuttle explosion allows the wreckage to land in a wide area covering approximately 200 miles, exposing millions to the infection. The alien material is on the pieces of the shuttle and as soon as someone touches a piece of the wreckage, they become infected. Naturally, they then infect others. And so on and so forth. As these infected people become more prominent, they become bolder and take less precaution in the next stages of their plans. When they become more prominent, become the majority, they have no reason to try to cover up and simply start grabbing people off the street.
The director does a good job of setting up Carol’s universe and using that as an indicator of the state of the Invasion. One day, as Carol walks into her office building, she notices certain things, the next day, they are different. But we get the idea that she is used to the things she noticed in the first way, so when they are different, even though they don’t appear that different, she notices. And they seem strange to her, startling her, causing her to start to look at everything with new, critical eyes.
“The Invasion” borrows many of the key elements that made the first two films so successful. And they continue to work in this new version. In order to move among the infected undetected, Carol learns she must show no emotion. So, as she walks through large crowds, and they watch a couple commit suicide, a woman standing near Carol screams at the sight. As Carol moves away, the infected round up the emotional woman and prepare to convert her.
There are nice touches included throughout. As Carol learns specific things about the invasion, these elements are used to create little moments of suspense only the audience knows about. Because we are in on the information, when the character in question is not, we feel a bigger part of the action. It is an old idea that Hitchcock perfected. Hirschbegel is no Hitchcock, but he gives it a game try.
“The Invasion” is a film that should not have been released in the summer. Expectations are too high during this period and if any release doesn’t make at least $50 million in its opening weekend, it is a flop, which is a crazy illustration of how excessive this industry has become. Apparently, someone decided the film was a little too low key for their liking and producer Joel Silver called in the Wachowski Brothers to do a rewrite and reshoot some scenes. From what I understand, they redid the car chases in the film. And they are impressively shot, but they don’t really need to be that impressive for this film. “The Invasion” would be a much more successful film if it stuck to the task of building tension rather than orchestrating car chases. If “The Invasion” were released in the fall, it would probably have been able to maintain the original feel and tone. It might have been a much better film for it.
Nicole Kidman plays the Kevin McCarthy/ Donald Sutherland role. As psychiatrist Dr. Carol Bennell, she is a bit aloof and emotionally unattached to the rest of the characters. She is the type of mother who, because of her job, tries to interpret her son’s nightmares. She also can’t get too attached to Ben, because she can’t lose her best friend. Really, she doesn’t want to have the emotional attachment, and deal with the possibility of losing that. As she becomes enmeshed in the crisis, she makes smart decisions and stays just slightly ahead of the infected.
I find it odd that Nicole Kidman has almost made a career of playing emotionally unattached women. Every role she plays, with a few exceptions, is emotionally aloof, manipulative or conniving, or simply crazy and can’t show any genuine emotion. In some of her films, this type of thing works. In others, it doesn’t. This type of performance doesn’t serve her particularly well in “The Invasion”; it would be nice to see her show some emotion to offset those moments when she is unable to do so, trying to fly under the radar of the aliens.
Daniel Craig is a bit one-dimensional, little more than a sidekick to Carol. When she needs muscle, he provides it. When she needs something, he is there to provide it. He is even unable to provide her with the medical information she needs; he has to take that to a friend of his, for analysis. It seems strange that they didn’t make him a different type of doctor and allow him to provide this important piece of the puzzle. As it is, he is simply Carol’s frustrated boy toy.
Jeffrey Wright plays the doctor with the information about the infectious agent and Jeremy Northam plays Carol’s ex-husband and the man who is largely responsible for spreading the invasion throughout the United States. And then the world. Both are good, but unspectacular and not very memorable.
Set in “Present Day”, “The Invasion” shows the effect of the aliens taking over our minds and bodies giving the story a unique, timely slant. It is a nice touch, giving the film just a touch of political conscience and giving us just a bit of a political message.
“The Invasion” has enough going for it that it would definitely make a suitable DVD rental. But it is such a familiar story and executed in a familiar way that you will not have enough surprises to warrant the time and money of a trip to the local multiplex.