Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Invasion: a waste of time and, presumably, talent

In the age of McCarthyism, it makes sense that an SF thriller that figured both the depersonalization of life under communism and the hysterical American (over)reaction to same would touch a nerve and be seen as a valuable cultural document, but despite its brilliant premise, I've always found Don Siegel's original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) a little short on craft; on a very basic level, it's too threadbare and ordinary a film, too rife with clumsy framings and barn-broad performances to really merit the status of a classic. Really, so is the 1978 remake, which relocates the paranoid thriller to San Francisco; it looks and feels, for the most part, like the mediocre commercial thriller that it is, with a soundtrack that is often grating and some strikingly cliched shots (tho' I retain a fondness for it, since it does take a few satisfying snipes at California consciousness-raising and has a witty W. D. Richter screenplay). The third remake I barely recall, but at the time, it seemed to be about nothing at all, and is perhaps the only Abel Ferrara film I find wholly negligible (beneath even The Driller Killer, which I haven't even viewed in completion); I never understood Ferrara's point in making the film, and may someday look at it again to reassure myself that there probably wasn't one. Could it have been as bad as The Invasion, though, the newest reworking of Jack Finney's original story? I sorely doubt it.

That would be a great opening paragraph to a full-on explication of why The Invasion is a negligible film. Unfortunately, the movie is so negligible that it doesn't even merit a full-on detailing of its faults. It is a clumsily-crafted hired-gun genre film, in which a presumably talented filmmaker, Oliver Hirschbiegel, who directed the workmanlike but somewhat specious The Experiment and the recent Downfall, with Bruno Ganz in a widely-praised turn as Hitler, lends his name and prestige to what might just as well be an instructional video on the dangers of collective action, such is the level of passion on display. The most glaring example of the film's indifferent assembly is a scene where Kidman and the child she is protecting race to the roof of a building to meet a helicopter, as the infected, the running zombies, the (new, improved, and now podless) pod people - whatever you want to call them - run after them; Kidman and kid spill out of the exit just as the soldiers are piling off the helicopter to confront the mass of Enemy Other emerging behind them. We SEE the soldiers with guns drawn, and we SEE the Other massing behind Kidman and her keep. Cut to: Kidman and kid in copter, safely being whisked away with all soldiers apparently on board. What about the showdown on the roof? When did the soldiers get back on the copter? Were shots fired? Are the podfolk, who are aware that Kidman and so forth pose a drastic threat to their collective takeover, simply placidly watching the copter fly away? Presumably you're supposed to be inattentive enough to such details not to mind much what happened: on with the narrative, it's not important. Certainly not important to Hirschbiegel, anyhow; to me, it's an inexcusable display of filmic indifference, and not the only one on hand.

It's on the level of meaning that the film fails most glaringly, however. It rather ridiculously - like the recent sequel to 28 Days Later - suggests that war, violence, discord, wife-battering, and territorial squabblings are all the inevitable consequences of a world where individual identity and emotion are paramount, and that as long as we privilige the latter, we have to accept the former (did this really seem like a profound observation to anyone involved in the making of the film?). After all, one of the symptoms of the titular phenomenon is that (as radio and TV broadcasts in the background demonstrate), as more and more people acquire the alien virus, world peace ensues, with India and Pakistan reconciling, Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush pledging a peaceful relationship, and troops being pulled out of Baghdad. Such horrors must be stopped at all costs! If the filmmakers are suggesting - in the manner of Saul Bass' great, neglected ant-consciousness film Phase IV - that we need to actually be flexible enough to adapt to the challenges of collectivity, if we are to survive, it is in no way explicated in the central drama, in which an alternately stiff and strident Nicole Kidman protects her child and herself from the alien virus, at all costs; we identify with them, and see the podless pods as the enemy, simply because that's the kind of film we're watching and it would require too much original thinking to frame things differently. The possibility that maybe surrendering your individuality is sometimes the right thing to do is never seriously considered, which, really - given the improved world the film hints at - it needs to be, for the movie to amount to anything more than a bromide.

Best thing in the movie: a brief appearance by Veronica Cartwright (from the 1978 version), who still manages to make being neurotic and high-strung seem sexy in her late-50's. Add her to the list of older actresses I covet sexually, alongside Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, and Helen Mirren. Veronica: the highlights in your hair looked great! By the way, didja realize that one of the minor characters in the 1978 film was played by Lelia Goldoni, from Cassavetes' Shadows? I hadn't, until recently.

Given the spate of horror films that show lone individuals running from an evil, transformed mob - we could also include the remake of Dawn of the Dead on the list - it will be very interesting to see what is done with the new adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend that's bein' cooked up, a text which also poses more interesting challenges than past film adaptations (like, say, The Omega Man) have done justice to. I enjoy so few commercial films now, tho', that I am not holding my breath.

1 comment:

ammacinn said...

Well, here I am, commenting on my own blog again. Roger Ebert - I presume you can find his site for yourself - provides the following useful information that suggests I may be unfairly tarring a perfectly competent director. He explains that the incompetence on hand here "may not be entirely Hirschbiegel's fault. Warner Bros., the movie's distributor, didn't approve of his original version, and brought in the Wachowski siblings to rewrite it and James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta") to direct their revisions. All three served time on the "Matrix" movies: just the team you'd want to add a little incomprehensible chaos."

Okay, nuff said, but until we get a director's cut - and I doubt we will - this doesn't matter much at all. Apologies to Hirschbiegel for having assumed HE was to blame for this sludge, tho'.

A.