Even before Jack Finney wrote his 1955 novel, “The Body Snatchers,” aliens were replacing humans in such early-1950s science-fiction films as “It Came From Outer Space” and “Invaders from Mars.”
The idea of emotion-less “pod people” snatching bodies and erasing human souls is such a movie natural that Finney’s own story has been officially filmed four times. First it was a potent 1956 Cold War allegory, then a wry 1978 commentary on post-hippie San Francisco, then a spooky 1994 tale of a military family coming apart.
All three used “Body Snatchers” in the title, but the latest treatment is called simply “The Invasion.” Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, who made “Downfall,” the Oscar-nominated German drama about Hitler’s last days, it features a first-rate cast and a few scary moments, but it’s riddled with illogical twists and sketchily developed characters.
The most interesting touch is screenwriter David Kajganich’s attempt to present the callous pod people as capable of achieving world peace because they’re conformists and just naturally work together. The occupation of Iraq comes to an end, North Korea solves its nuclear problems and President Bush gets chummy with Hugo Chavez — all because the aliens know how to run the world better than cranky, self-centered humans.
For anyone who’s tired of “Groundhog Day” headlines about the disastrous state of the world, this is a most appealing fantasy. The movie doesn’t hold on to it for long, and it fails to suggest exactly how such resolutions could be achieved, but this idea (along with the suggestion that pod people can be cured) remains the most distinctive aspect of the remake.
This time the aliens invade Earth by taking over a space shuttle that crashes, leaving wreckage that contaminates those who come in contact with it. Among the first converts to pod status is Tucker (Jeremy Northam), the estranged husband of Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman), a Washington D.C. psychiatrist whose most vulnerable patient (Veronica Cartwright) believes that her own husband is an impostor.
Since she’s played by Cartwright, who had a similar role in the 1978 “Body Snatchers,” we’re inclined to believe her. Also adding to the creeping sense of paranoia is Tucker’s behavior, which includes his attempts to isolate his young son (Jackson Bond) and turn him into a pod child. Much of the suspense is generated by Carol’s attempts to save the boy.
What’s missing here is the sense of urgency that previous filmmakers have brought to this material. Hirschbiegel uses jump cuts and frantic editing effects to generate fear and claustrophobia, but he rarely connects with the characters, who remain as remote at film’s end as they did at the beginning.
“The Invasion” was a troubled production, and it shows. What makes it watchable is the commitment of the actors, who don’t always escape unintentional humor (every time Kidman picks up a gun, she invites laughter) but usually emerge unscathed. Watch what Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright do with their essentially silly roles, and you may have a fresh appreciation of the resourcefulness of film actors.