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Even after 50 years and three movie adaptations, Jack Finney’s short story “The Body Snatchers” is still irresistible fodder for anyone wanting to make a political statement in the guise of creepy aliens. Even those who don’t remember the Cold War/Red Scare paranoia of 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or the Nixonian anti-government fear of the 1970’s film of the same name, are familiar with pod people, alien beings that attack and replace humans in order to completely restructure the human race.
With this summer’s The Invasion, the times have changed a bit, and not remotely for the better. Pod people have become gelatinous cellular alien blob somethings, and instead of killing humans and growing exact replicas in pods in the backyard, they change the host human’s DNA from the inside as they sleep, leaving that person to wake up looking exactly the same, but working for the alien agenda. Despite adhering to many of the details of the original two films, right down to the characters’ names, all attempts to update this property and give it real-life meaning fall completely flat thanks to a meandering plot and an overwhelming lack of vision.
Nicole Kidman plays our persistently human heroine Carol Bennell, with Daniel Craig as her sidekick and love interest. Craig is a doctor who, along with a lab assistant played by Jeffrey Wright, helps Carol wise up to the fact that everyone around them has become emotionless automatons, working tirelessly to transform all remaining humans by (in a disgusting touch) vomiting alien goo into their mouths. Carol soon realizes that her son Oliver—off for the weekend with the new, alien version of his father—is not only in danger of being alien-ized, but may possess the immunity to the alien virus necessary to reverse its effects. And so the chase begins.
Reports say that director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s original cut of the film was further edited and re-shot by the Wachowski Brothers (of The Matrix fame), which might explain the completely disjointed message The Invasion is sending us. The “pod people” concept has always made a great allegory, but this time no one can seem to decide what they want to say. There’s an obvious message about falling “asleep” and waking up not caring about anything or anyone, a slap on the wrist to a culture perfectly willing to ignore current strife. At the same time, the aliens’ lack of emotion results in the end of wars—real wars, like Iraq and Darfur—repeatedly shown via CNN reports. Carol clearly believes that humanity is worth saving regardless, but how about the Iraqi citizens who just achieved peace at the small cost of a few strands of alien DNA? It seems insane for any director to let us root for the aliens, but when it’s the lives of millions of real Sudanese vs. Nicole Kidman and her low-rent Haley Joel Osment son, the choice is easy.
All of the pseudo-intellectual posturing and mixed messages would be tolerable were the film not so damn slow. The main characters spend forever figuring out what the audiences knows within the first minutes of the film, and the last 45 minutes are stuffed with car chases, set-piece explosions and relentlessly-flashy editing that substitute for actual suspense. Because these pod people don’t actually kill their victims, just alter them, they’re not nearly as threatening as they ought to be; a twist thrown in at the end that threatens Oliver’s life simply doesn’t matter so late in the game.
Kidman does her best in an action hero role, but casting her as the only human in a world full of emotionless aliens is almost a joke. She’s one of the most expressionless actresses out there, and is far better at imitating the aliens—as she must do to walk safely among them—than being a real person. Craig does better, miraculously pulling off the “ignored best friend love interest” role despite the James Bond lurking within him, but never gets the attention he deserves.
Despite a classic premise, some talented actors and a few good ideas,
The Invasion is a snore-inducing mess. Though we look to the 50’s and 70’s versions of this story for insights into our national identity at the time, I can’t imagine The Invasion will even be remembered at all. At least, I hope not.