‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Review: Rise of the Pod People

Posted in Screening Room by - February 07, 2015

Today in our sci-fi marathon we had planned to review 2001: A Space Odyssey and while it is a true science fiction classic, I wanted to watch something new that I had never seen before. Thanks to the suggestion of one of our staff writers, I was put onto 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and I’m glad that I was. I’m surprised that I hadn’t seen this movie yet as it features some of my favorite actors, it has a pretty well executed story, and an interesting commentary on humanity.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers follows Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), who works for the San Francisco department of health, as he investigates why people all over the city are beginning to act suspiciously. Bennell is joined by Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy),  Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), and Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum) in his search for answers. They soon discover that the reason behind the erratic behavior is due to the intrusion of a gelatinous alien from another world that has landed in San Francisco. The alien takes the form of a pod that duplicates humans when they sleep, replacing them with an identical clone that is devoid of any emotion. The plot of the film has been used and reused in the last three decades but the film works so well because of the performances in the film. 

Donald Sutherland hit his stride as an actor in the 1970s, starring in a wide array of films, most notably in my mind, Don’t Look Now and Animal House along with rocking a killer mustache. His performance in this film is the right mix of reserved paranoia and self-righteousness defiance in response to the oncoming invasion. Sutherland has a way of emoting that I feel has become lost in Hollywood as he uses his whole face to emote, allowing true horror to be shown across his face. Jeff Goldblum also kills it in this film, acting as the true paranoid skeptic even before the invasion begins, but bringing the intangible quality that only Goldblum can. While Leonard Nimoy isn’t in the film for as long as Goldblum or Sutherland, he is a welcome sight away from his tenor on Star Trek as it’s good to see him in a serious role. His time on screen is brief but memorable as the psychiatrist who thinks that he knows everything. Keep an eye out for Kevin McCarthy from the original Invasion; it links the two films and it’s a smart nod for fans of the original. 

The effects in the film also hold up surprisingly well despite the fact the film was made in the late 70s. The pods are disgusting but in a reserved, mature way, focusing more on the horror of the process rather than the gore. When the humans are copied, they start out as featureless pink blobs yet they mature quickly, becoming fully formed within minutes of the start of the process. Towards the end of the film, the finale of the process is seen, with the former human becoming hollow and brittle. Along with the pods, the other effect is a startling human/dog that Bennell runs into on the street while attempting to disguise himself as a pod person. The dog has the face of a human and the body of a dog; while it’s meant to be unsettling it’s more laughable than terrifying. 

The film is an interesting commentary on human society, as it makes the argument that a society without free will and emotion is better off than one with. Towards the end of the film, when San Francisco is in the midst of full conversion, there is no unrest or any strife in the city. The aliens have created a perfect society without hunger, fear, or violence, yet the human race has lost its humanity. The loss of free will has created the perfect society at the cost of everything that makes us human: free will, love, compassion, hate. The unturned humans fight the conversion with violence, further reinforcing the alien’s need to convert them. Peace is unattainable while we are still human, yet to attain peace we can longer be human; a truly paradoxical situation.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not just a great science-fiction film but a great film. Sutherland and Goldblum knock it out of the park with Nimoy rounding out the cast as a welcome surprise. I’m glad that I chose to watch this film over 2001 as it is a true standout in the sci-fi genre. 

Final Say: Watch It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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