It’s unfortunate that so many films are the victim of studio-tinkering, producer’s notes, creative indecision and alterations mandated by poor test screenings before their release. Some of these examples are atrocious, like “Suicide Squad” (which, strangely enough, managed to become a blockbuster in spite of its wall-to-wall wretchedness). Then there’s “The Dark Tower,” the would-be franchise starter, summer of ’17 flop. No question, it’s a mess and obviously the result of post-production meddling. Yet, if one can dial down their I-hate-it-because-it’s-not-the-book rage and look closer, it’s easy to see a great movie trapped inside a passable one. Despite the clipped running time, jumbled editing and moments that were clearly added late in the game, there’s good potential and many bits that work are scattered throughout that flawed film.
An example that still intrigues me is Oliver Hirschbiegel’s doomed but not altogether disastrous “The Invasion,” from late summer of 2007. The marketing and trailer did their best to conceal what a beaten down, long delayed and deeply troubled project Hirschbiegel’s film had become.
The fourth adaptation of Jack Finney’s story, “The Invasion” follows the classic 1956 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the excellent 1978 remake of the same name and the underappreciated, quirky 1993 “Body Snatchers.” Each depicted the world slowly being taken over by a plant-like alien species that takes over human minds while we sleep. Humans that become Pod People are easy to spot, as they behave sans emotions, act robotically and strive to takeover every living thing that can think for itself. These films have acted as varying allegories and timely social commentaries (covering, for starters, the Red Scare and the post-Flower Power religious movements of the latter 20th century) but all focus on the loss of identity.
“The Invasion” stars Nicole Kidman as Carol Bennell, a Washington D.C. doctor who notices a strange phenomenon. Veronica Cartwright, who gave a great performance in the ’78 “Body Snatchers,” ap pears here (playing a different character) as Bennell’s patient, the first to express how someone she knows isn’t acting the way they used to. Bennell gradually realizes that nearly everyone around her has been taken over by an alien menace.
While the prior films presented aliens in the forms of literal, plant-like pods, “The Invasion” portrays the aliens as a virus that can be spread through vomiting. It’s gross but effective, as the scenes of the virus being passed and the alien race being amassed are deeply unsettling. Less effective is the confused political allegory that never takes shape. Despite the Washington D.C. setting, scenes of power players (with varying accents) and mass hysteria is supposed to provide a specific commentary, a clear point is never established.
Yet, the social commentary within “The Invasion” actually works better a decade later. This post-9/11 thriller is geared towards our widespread fear mongering and fading social interactions, as well as our coffee-infused, sleep-deprived, empathy-lite society.
Early on, we hear a conversation a vendor is having over the phone with his girlfriend, demanding that he’s “Mr. Romance” and she just doesn’t get it. At this point, the invasion is slowly getting under way but we see the valid point the movie is making: we’re already dangerously disconnected from our ability to be compassionate and reasonable.
There are many scenes that follow in which emotion-free denizens gaze coldly at those with demonstrative emotions. Yes, these scenes are a Body Snatchers movie staple but they’re also a reflection of our techno-isolation, in which we can exist detached and removed from human involvement. The whole staring-at-a-glowing-screen-like-a-zombie lifestyle was underway when this was released in 2007 but is even more so a staple of modern behavior today. There’s even a scene here where two kids are sitting next to each other, staring numbly as they play video games and don’t look at one another while conversing. It’s today’s equivalent of Pod People. Intentionally or not, “The Invasion” manages to potently tap into a troubling aspect of modern day human non-interaction.
Kidman is first rate and so is Daniel Craig (who made this just before “Casino Royale,” though it was released a year later), an excellent Jackson Bond (playing Kidman’s son) and the always reliable Jeffrey Wright in the supporting cast. “The Invasion” is a great movie bookended by studio-mandated flash. The lousy opening, depicting a space shuttle crash, has remarkably lousy CGI for a major studio film, and the lively but dumb finale features lots of auto stunts that seem borrowed from another movie.
What happened? Reportedly, Hirschbiegel’s initial cut was too “documentary-like” (not really a bad thing, is it?) and was reworked with new scenes by the “V For Vendetta” director/producer team of James McTeigue and the Wachowski siblings. The jarring addition of new scenes is obvious, as the film’s strong middle (shot in an attractive, appropriately dark hue) is undermined by a measured pace giving way to overly flashy editing and showy stunt work. Even the kick of the final scene (presenting an intriguing point that the aliens may be better inhabitants of Earth than the human race) is poorly conveyed. There’s enough here to recommend “The Invasion,” which is eerie, creepy entertainment in spite of how it got Body Snatched by its studio.