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"This is the oddest thing I've ever heard of. Let's hope we don't catch it.
I'd hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren't you." - Dr Miles Bennell
During the 1950s, science fiction was undergoing a transition from well-done and engaging films (among these are The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Thing From Another World, both 1951, and Them!) to more standard drive-in fare, such as It Came From Outer Space, 1953, It Conquered The World, 1956), and I Married A Monster From Outer Space, 1958. From its inception, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, despite its pulpy title, appealed more to the former than the latter.
Originally published as a serial in Collier's instead of Weird Tales or a competitor, Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers underwent a name change so as not to cause confusion with the 1944 Boris Karloff film The Body Snatcher. Although a mainstream writer, Finney's dabbling in science fiction (his time-travel books were Time And Again and From Time To Time) brought him quite a bit of attention, culminating in a 1987 World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Directed by Don Siegel (The Shootist and Dirty Harry, among so many others) and produced by Walter Wanger, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, like Hawks' The Thing, is a fascinating fusion of science fiction with horror that fed upon the fears of a generation. Even today the 'pod movie' still manages to tap into the darkest recesses of human nature.
The principal problem with The Thing is its titular creature, which is nothing more than a man wearing some less-than-effective makeup. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers avoids this problem because its plant pods assume human form and remain that way. Adding to the menace is that these creatures from outer space are benign invaders, symbiotes who retain a person's memories and essential characteristics but forego what makes us most human: our emotions. But the alien pods even have a response to that affliction: without emotions, pain and other punitive emotions are eliminated, enabling a more peaceful existence.
Although a man of science, Dr Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is very much human, and Siegel shows this from the very beginning. Bennell rushes home from a medical conference so that he can tend to patients, he is concerned when he almost runs over a little boy and notices that his father's vegetable stand has been abandoned, and he rekindles a relationship with an old fame, Becky (Dana Wynter). As the audience, we then watch as Bennell battles to remain human. Unfortunately, the seedpods take over when a human sleeps, and thus the intrinsic safety of slumber becomes the source of horror where one can fall asleep and upon wakening everything will be the same, except it will not be, not really.
Many critics of the time (and since then) attributed much of the film's paranoia as social criticism for the antics of then American Senator Joseph McCarthy, who saw a communist hiding under very rock in America. Some have even compared it to Orwell's 1984, which dealt with the likes of 'Big Brother'. But Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is much more than the sum of these collective themes. The film is timeless in that it comments upon the loss of humanity, and how as each generation evolves a little of what it means to be human is lost. Only when we need to battle for our innate humanity do we as humans realise just how much it means to us to be humane.
In my practice, I've seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn't seem to mind. All of us - a little bit - we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realise how precious it is to us, how dear.This theme strikes a harsh cord particularly today, with so-called 'reality television' shows and mass-market-driven music invading our air waves, drowning out the voice of more humane artists whose goal is to communicate and entertain. Lulled into a 'consumer-sleep' by such commercial avenues, we are slowly becoming the pod people we instinctively feared while watching this film. Could this be an overstatement? Talk to a young person who has no sense of history, whose vocabulary is punctuated by 'whatever' and "you know what I'm saying" and get back to me...
The sheer intensity of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was so great that the studio (Allied Artists) demanded that Siegel toned down the film's ending. As a result, Siegel added narration and a wraparound coda in which Bennell manages to convince 'the authorities' of the invasion. Although this ending offers a glimmer of hope, it remains an effective coda (the aliens are not defeated, but rather may have been discovered). After all, Bennell knew about the insidious invasion and yet failed to stop it despite his best efforts.
To achieve the minimalist yet effective seedpod 'births,' art director Ted Haworth used rubber, soapsuds, and a high-speed camera (four times normal speed). The end results still manage to chill to this day. Interestingly, future director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, among others) has a cameo appearance, and according to the McCarthy interview on the DVD, was also the dialogue director for the film. In addition to the McCarthy interview, the DVD extras include theatrical trailers, multiple language tracks, and full-screen and widescreen letterbox formats.
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