Thursday 13 March 2008

The Invasion (2007)

Thursday 13 March 2008
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Writer: Dave Kajganich (based on a novel by Jack Finney)

Cast: Nicole Kidman (Carol Bennell), Daniel Craig (Ben Driscoll), Jeremy Northam (Tucker Kaufman), Jackson Bond (Oliver), Jeffrey Wright (Dr Stephen Galeano), Veronica Cartwright (Wendy Lenk), Josef Sommer (Dr Henryk Belicec), Celia Weston (Ludmilla Belicec), Roger Rees (Yorish), Eric Benjamin (Gene), Susan Floyd (Pam), Stephanie Berry (Carly), Alexis Raben (Belicec's Aide), Adam LeFevre (Richard Lenk) & Joanna Merlin (Joan Kaufman)

A psychiatrist begins to suspect the world's population are being taken over by parasitic alien spores...

Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers (1955) is one of science-fiction's most enduring ideas; forming the basis for the Cold War-influenced Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (1956), the government paranoia of its same-titled remake (1978), and notions of societal conformity in Body Snatchers (1993). A fourth adaptation, tapping into post-9/11 fears of "living with the enemy", couldn't have been more timely – or, sadly, so deficient in its handling...

Nicole Kidman takes the lead as single-mother Carol Bennell; a psychiatrist who starts to notice strange behaviour in people, after one of her patients (Veronica Cartwright, from Bodysnatchers '78) becomes convinced her husband "is not my husband". Indeed, the wreckage of a crashed Space Shuttle (shades of '03s Columbia disaster) appears to have spread an extra-terrestrial spore that infects the population – turning them into emotionless drones.

Unlike previous incarnations of the story, the "pod people" are now just infected humans – not alien doppelgangers that grow beside their host, before awakening to dispose of the original's now-putrefied body. That twist makes the whole "bodysnatching" idea more plausible, but also means the '07 version is basically just a reworking of teen-horror The Faculty (itself influenced by Bodysnatchers). The alien-humans also now spread their infection by vomiting into fluid to be drunk by the "unturned" -- or directly into troublesome peoples' faces, for added yuckiness.

But back to the plot. Carol's ex-husband Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam) is one of the first victims, and immediately starts taking an uncharacteristic interest in his estranged son Oliver (Jackson Bond). Carol seeks advise from her doctor friend/potential-boyfriend Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), and Oliver is handed over to Tucker for a weekend visit. But then, the bodysnatching picks up pace, and Carol and Ben find themselves in a city slowly being overrun by impostors.

The one interesting element of The Invasion is how it proposes that a world of bodysnatched humans might actually be beneficial, and perhaps even desired – as the infection results in the quick end of global wars. But it's all at the expense of free will and emotion, the key ingredients that make us human: so end of debate.

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (who made the excellent German film Downfall, about the last days of Adolf Hitler), The Invasion is yet another movie where the behind-the-scenes drama is more interesting than anything going on in front of the camera...

Hirschbiegel apparently delivered a "documentary-like" political thriller to Warner Brothers – who weren't happy and demanded more excitement to be injected into things. Producer Joel Silver turned to his Matrix director friends the Wachowski Brothers (who rewrote the script) and their protégé James McTeigue (V For Vendetta), who filmed some additional action sequences. As a bad omen, during the 17 days of re-shoots in Los Angeles, actress Nicole Kidman broke several ribs whilst inside a car being towed by a stunt driver.

The Invasion isn't a total abomination, as there are some effective sequences sprinkled about, and the core of author Finney's idea remains intact (if altered) and remains enjoyable to see play out. But it's a disorganized mess most of the time, and Kidman and Craig make a limp pairing. Kidman does her best as the frosty heroine, but everything just becomes tedious very quickly.

Jeremy Northam is solid as Carol's automaton-like ex-husband Tucker -- but because we didn't know his character pre-bodysnatch, the change to his personality isn't striking or effective. Jeffrey Wright (also Craig's co-star in Casino Royale) does okay with a small role as a biologist who helps identify the spores, but it's stunt-casting Cartwright who delivers the most chilling scene: a spoken monologue about her husband calmly killing their pet dog. How ironic that the studio ordered expensive re-shoots to deliver more visual spectacle, but the film's best scene plays entirely in your imagination...

The final cut also has an irritating tendency to needlessly insert quick flash-forwards to the next (usually stun-based) scene, whenever a talkative scene lasts more than about 90 seconds. Did the filmmakers think the audience for this would have attention deficit disorder?

Throw in some stereotyped Russian friends (for no discernible reason), a Pulp Fiction-style hypodermic needle scene that lacks any tension, and a moment where Kidman considers accepting infection by remembering a time when she wished humanity were like trees, and the film's malady begins to wash over you.

And it's becoming tiresome to see films with such potential get flushed down the toilet by apprehensive executives (see also: Cursed). If Warner Brothers didn't want a political thriller from the director of an intelligent historical drama like Downfall, why hire him and sign off on Dave Kajganich's script? It's a crying shame Bodysnatchers' four-film cinematic tradition has its first turkey at such a perfect moment, politically-speaking, but I'm sure the concept will rise again in another 10-20 years.

The Invasion is one of those films that happens, you watch it, and then you go back to your everyday life none the wiser – which, coincidentally, is exactly what happens to everyone in the film.

Warner Brothers
Budget: $65 million
99 minutes

PICTURE: 1.85:1 | SOUND: DTS / Dolby Digital 5.1 / SDDS