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Featured Blu-ray Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

September 22nd, 2010

Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the second of four films based on the novel by Jack Finney. While the 1994 version earned mixed reviews and the 2007 version was reviled, this version and the earlier 1956 version are both considered absolute classics. However, that does put high expectations on the film. And then there's the matter of whether or not the Blu-ray edition does the film justice.

The Movie

The movie starts on an alien landscape where we see strange translucent globs float around in the atmosphere, and eventually get carried into space. After what one can only assume is eons in space, they land on Earth and attach themselves to plants turning into flowers. One of these flowers is found by Elizabeth Driscoll, who takes it home to her doctor boyfriend, Geoffrey. He is very... amorous, but that night the flower blooms while they are asleep and when they wake up he is cold and indifferent.

This strange behavior causes her to be late for work at the Department of Health, but her co-worker, Matthew Bennell, is in a jovial mood, as the day before he found a rat turd in calf brain soup at a French restaurant, which quite frankly sounds healthier than finding calf brain in your calf brain soup.

Later that night, Geoffrey continues to act incredibly weird and Elizabeth confides in Matthew what she thinks about Geoffrey. Matthew suggests they talk to a friend of his, a psychiatrist named Dr. David Kibner, not because he thinks Elizabeth is going nuts, but because he thinks the doctor can help eliminate the possible ways Geoffrey has changed. Is he having an affair? Is he gay? Has he become a Republican? Yes, that was one of the suggestions Matthew gave, but you have to remember that this was right after Nixon.

The next day, Matthew runs into more people that say loved ones are... different. Elizabeth starts to notice a lot of differences in people as well. Geoffrey kept meeting strangers all day. Everywhere she went people looked at her like she was the only one not in on a secret. She is describing this to Matthew while they are driving and a man jumps in front of the car. He rants about them "being next" and how "they are coming" before running off again, only to be hit by another car and killed.

While at a book party where they are supposed to meet Dr. David Kibner, the pair run into Jack Bellicec, an author who isn't exactly a fan of Dr. Kibner, as Dr. Kibner cranks out self-help books by the truckload, while Jack has yet to find literary success. While Matthew tries to call in a witness report to the police over the accident, Elizabeth hears more stories of people whose loved ones have changed. The more they learn, the more they are convinced something is not quite right.

That's enough of the setup, don't want to get too far into things, as spoilers start to become an issue.

Since the wave of Torture-porn has come about, I've gotten into more than a few discussions regarding horror and whether or not real horror has to be R-rated to be effective. Anyone who doubts a movie can be scary unless it is rated R needs to see this movie. The first part of the film is filled with a sense of paranoia that is about as well done as any film out there. There's a real question regarding Elizabeth and her sanity. There's a possibility it's all in her head. However, since at the beginning the movie we see the pods first land, the audience knows there's more to it, but this part still works. It's a testament to the writing and the acting that we are told right from the start that this is a movie about invading aliens and you still think it could be in her head.

Actually, letting the audience in on the surprise at the beginning changes the horror from, "What is going on?" to "When will they figure it out?", which is actually quite brilliant. When the main characters finally do catch up to the audience, there's still, "How big is this alien conspiracy?" And of course, "Is it too late to stop it?" In the original, the pod people were "Commies" while this film has a less political charge to it. The Post-Nixon era does have an effect on the tone, as well as the less optimistic ending, which is probably the only spoiler for those who have seen the original. It is also a scene that has become an Internet Meme, so if you haven't seen the movie, chances are you will still recognize the ending.

So is this version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as good as the original? I'm unwilling to say so with 100% conviction. It is certainly better in certain areas. The loss of the political allegory means it has a more timeless quality to it. Without the threat of Commies, the 1956 version hasn't aged quite as well. (It is still very effective, don't get me wrong.) This ending is more shocking, and therefore more effective. I think it is a toss-up in terms of quality.

Both are arguably among the best of the genre from their respective eras.

The Extras

But is the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack worthy of the film? First of all, there are extras on the Blu-ray disc, a lot of them. There is a 16-minute making of / retrospective featurette, a 5-minute featurette on the special effects from the opening shots, a 13-minute featurette on the sound, and finally a 5-minute featurette on the cinematography.

The only extra on the DVD is the audio commentary...


Are they trying to earn bad reviews?

The audio commentary track is the only featurette that absolutely needed to be on the Blu-ray. It's annoying to have to pop in the DVD to see the featurettes, but not having the audio commentary track on the Blu-ray means you have to give up seeing the movie in High Definition to listen to the director talk.


As for the High Definition presentation, this is not the best Blu-ray I've seen, but there are some mitigating circumstances. Firstly, it is a very, very dark film. If it were shot today with professional quality High Definition cameras, you could have high detail level and strong blacks, but back in 1978, the detail is all but gone. However, this is not a problem with the transfer, so you can't be too hard on the Blu-ray because of it. Additionally, the sound it good, but this was 1978, so don't expect your surround sound speakers to get a true workout. Basically, it's good for its age.

The Verdict

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a near-perfect movie. However, the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is bungled. This is the latest MGM Blu-ray release where I've loved the movie, but can't recommend the Blu-ray without serious reservations. I can't imagine this will be the last time this film is released on Blu-ray, and I can't imagine the next time won't be an improvement. Hell, just putting on the audio commentary track on the actual Blu-ray would be an improvement. Rent this version, buy the next.

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