the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Invasion

The virus strikes with blinding speed. During the onset of infection, it attacks the host with an almost unbelievable ferocity. It immediately sets to work obliterating all shreds of individuality and personality, replacing it with its own matrix. When the disease is done, only a shell of the former host remains. In its place is something new, revolting and nearly devoid of intelligence.

Now, while you, dear reader, may assume that the above description is an account of what happens when one of the alien body snatchers in the film, The Invasion takes over a host and replaces it with an extra-terrestrial parasite, you would be mistaken. What I am describing is the production debacle behind the film.

More on that in a moment…

The Invasion is a science fiction movie that opens in outer space…naturally. There, the ridiculously named space shuttle Patriot explodes on reentry into the earth’s atmosphere and breaks up, scattering its metallic flotsam and jetsam across half of the American landscape. (That the film appears to have used the actual footage from the disintegration of the all-too-real shuttle Columbia over Texas in 2003 is almost too distasteful to mention).

The government swoops in to wrangle the wreckage and reconstruct what happened. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head-honcho Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Nortam) and his team discover some sort of organic material coating the shuttle debris, something which survived both the icy cold of space and the searing heat of reentry. Before they can even comprehend the enormity of the situation, the spore like material infects them all. During the night, while they sleep, it re-animates their bodies and minds. They awake the next morning looking exactly the same, but definitely no longer human.

D.C. psychologist Carol Bennell’s (Nicole Kidman) first clue that something is wrong is when one of her patients comes to her terrified that her husband has been replaced by a stranger. Carol prescribes some medications and sends her patient on her way. But over the next several days, more and more people voice similar complaints. The government insists that a flu virus is on the loose and the CDC insists on inoculations for everyone.

But Carol’s doctor friends Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) and Stephen Galeano (Jeffery Wright) have a different hypothesis — nothing short of an alien invasion. As the planet is subsumed by alien clones, Carol and her miraculously immune son Oliver (Jackson Bond) try to avoid detection and pass for one of the assimilated. But when Carol becomes infected, she must do everything in her power to stay awake. For if she falls asleep, she will be lost forever. But how long can she hold off the inevitable.

Now then, where were we? Ah, yes…the parasitical virus.

Fresh from his Oscar nominated and hypnotic Downfall, German director Oliver Hirschbiegel was tapped by Hollywood to make his first English film, yet another remake of the 1957 thriller, Invasion of the Body Snatchers truncated austerely to The Invasion. Warner Bros. gave Hirschbiegel millions of dollars and some of the biggest stars in the business. Everyone involved in the production licked their lips in anticipation of an out-of-this-world success.

Then came the first screenings. The studio so loathed the cut that they immediately demanded massive reshoots. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel was “unavailable” so Warner Bros. asked Andy and Larry Wachowski, the sibling team behind The Matrix trilogy to rewrite as much as two-thirds of the film, gutting cerebral content and replacing it with more action and a completely different ending. James McTeigue, who directed the pair’s V for Vendetta was brought in to direct. We may never know what Hirschbiegel’s original cut looked like, but it can’t have been any worse that this infantile mess.

The Invasion is Frankenstein’s monster, a composite of ill-fitting scenes stitched together without any thought for the aesthetics of final product. It is completely obvious that some scenes are missing while others were hastily added. To complain about the inappropriate abruptness of the virus’ rise at the beginning of the film would be to waste the breath required to howl in righteous condemnation at a resolution to the entire plot that takes place in the same span of time that it took you to read this brief paragraph. No kidding.

The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a commentary on the dangers of the Cold War. The 70s remake confronted the vacancy of American political leadership at the height of the Vietnam War. The Invasion can’t decide whether or not it feeds on the fears of a global pandemic or our barbaric cruelty and appetite for war. This schizophrenia robs the film of any real potent message.

Somewhere in The Invasion is a good movie scratching to get out. There are genuinely creepy moments and the film certainly tries to say something about human nature, our proclivity towards violence, the duality of emotions and the necessity to “stay awake” and ideologically vigilant. But those noble intensions are lost amidst a mad push for commercial viability. Ironically, the Wachowskis managed to fuse both art and action in a way that grossed billions on dollars with The Matrix. Whether the material they were working with was deficient from the get-go or whether they should have left well enough alone is privileged information known only to a few. Hirschbiegel, who at one time apparently wanted his name removed from this film, has become a walking cautionary tale, just one more tragic piece of European road kill on the dumbed-down road to Hollywood glory.


Blogger Grinth said...

And one might wonder why Godard would decide to make the film 'Contempt'...

When I saw the previews for this film, my first thought was "Do we really need another remake of 'Invasion of the Bodysnatchers'?"

Your review does nothing to change what you can guess was my answer to that question.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous nate said...

When I saw the previews for this film, my first thought was "Do we really need another remake of 'Invasion of the Bodysnatchers'?"

I wondered that too. Downfall was incredible. Shame about this.

2:39 PM  
Blogger LadyBronco said...

What a shame.
I was so looking forward to a good, funky, creepy sci-fi movie.

6:36 PM  

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