Combustible Celluloid
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With: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle, Kevin McCarthy, Don Siegel, Robert Duvall, Wood Moy
Written by: W.D. Richter, based on a story by Jack Finney
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 117
Date: 12/19/1978

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Much Better Now

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Looking at Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers once more, I became convinced that it's not only the best of the four films based on Jack Finney's story, but also one of the best films of the 1970s. (It may also be the greatest film shot entirely in San Francisco.) The film begins with a deliberately organic version of an alien invasion, with flowers, spores and pods making their way silently, unnoticed, to earth.

The main characters all live on the fringes of society, all slightly disrespectable. Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is a health inspector who finds rat droppings in the kitchens of San Francisco restaurants, and Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) works with him. Elizabeth's boyfriend Geoffrey (Art Hindle) spends his time watching TV sports with headphones on; he's already a "pod person." Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum) is a paranoid writer, and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) runs a mud bath health spa.

Finally, in a stroke of casting genius, we have Leonard Nimoy as Dr. David Kibner, a quack psychologist who tries to tell everyone that they're imagining things.

Kaufman designs every shot to send the audience off-balance, using cold, steely technology and plastic as backdrops -- juxtaposing the green quality of the evil pods -- and skewing the angles so that they're not quite what they should be. The outstanding musical score and sound design is one-of-a-kind, with its industrial bleating and scraping.

Screenwriter W.D. "Rick" Richter does an amazing job of explaining the logic of the pod transformations without revealing the film's underlying agendas. Later generations came to see this as a vicious, ironic farewell to the peace and love hippie generation.

Director Don Siegel and actor Kevin McCarthy from the 1956 film both appear in great cameos, and Robert Duvall appears in a non-speaking role as a creepy priest on a swing set.

MGM has re-released the film in a great double-disc DVD set to cash in on the 2007 release of The Invasion. Kaufman provides a jovial and entertaining commentary track -- of interest to me since I live in San Francisco. Disc two comes with several brief featurettes and a trailer.

In 2022, Kino Lorber released a Blu-ray edition with a ton of extras, including the aforementioned Kaufman commentary track. We get a second commentary track by historian Steve Haberman, interviews with star Adams, screenwriter Richter, composer Denny Zeitlin, and actor Art Hindle. There's also an interview with an expert on author Jack Finney. We get four behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a smattering of trailers, TV spots, and radio spots. This is highly recommended.

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