The Invasion is the fourth motion picture to be adapted from The Body Snatchers, the classic 1955 science-fiction novel by Jack Finney. It is also the least compelling, creepy or coherent. When a train wreck this spectacular occurs, the director is usually to blame. This time, unless I’m very wrong, the blame belongs somewhere else.
Like the directors of the previous three versions, the German filmmaker Oscar (Downfall) Hirschbiegel appears to have intended to make a picture that would serve as a parable for its time. The Invasion certainly opens with a ripped-from-the-headlines image: that of a space shuttle disintegrating as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
The resulting wreckage is scattered across hundreds of square miles from Dallas to Washington. More significantly, it’s crawling with space germs. Authorities try to prevent the public from coming into contact with the debris — but we’ve all seen how effective they can be when it comes to large-scale disasters. Jeremy Northam plays a high-ranking official from the Centers for Disease Control. He’s not on the scene five minutes before he handles a piece of scrap metal and becomes infected.
Now that, one has to admit, is a nifty touch. Once Northam’s character has slept and woken the next day morphed into a pod person, his job puts him in an ideal position to spread the infection to millions of people. He simply warns the public about a looming virus, sets up coast-to-coast immunization stations and, faster than you can say “bird flu,” Americans are lining up to drink the Kool-Aid.
Nicole Kidman plays Northam’s ex-wife, a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist who cares for their young son (Jackson Bond) and sees patients who are starting to say things such as, “My husband’s not my husband.” Her best friend is a doctor played by Daniel Craig. The two are this close to upgrading from buddies to lovers when they’re distracted by the skyrocketing number of zombie types everywhere they go. To complicate matters, her ex has gotten in touch after several years to state, serenely as a Prozac pitchman, that he has a sudden interest in spending quality time with his son.
Pod dad hides the kid and pukes in Nicole’s face when she comes looking for him. (This is how they turn humans into new recruits when there’s no immunization station conveniently located nearby.) She’s grossed out, of course, but realizes that, worse than ruining her hair, the vile attack will result in her morphing into a pod person if she succumbs to the need for sleep.
Just before she rescues her son, Northam and a houseful of zombie friends make one last attempt to win Kidman over. The twist in Hirschbiegel’s update is that the pod people’s rap isn’t all that different from the lyrics to a lot of songs by John Lennon. Imagine a world with no wars, they offer. With no Iraqs, no Darfurs. Imagine a world in which no one has anything to fear from any other person, because there is no “other.” Have we been rooting for the wrong side all these years? As it turns out, all the pod people are saying is give peace a chance.
Sure enough, as the virus sweeps the globe, all violence stops. But no matter. The minute this provocative notion is introduced, the picture shifts gear. Turns out producer Joel Silver wasn’t happy with the cut the director submitted, so he called in Andy and Larry (The Matrix) Wachowski to rewrite and rework much of the film. As a result, The Invasion morphs about halfway through from a movie of ideas into a movie of car chases, shoot-outs, loose ends and preposterous plot developments.
And that’s what I mean about the blame lying elsewhere. Something tells me the director’s cut might not have proved the finest of the four screen versions, but it would have wound up a more cohesive and effective creation than this flashy, vapid patch job. You know you’re in trouble when you’re working harder to stay awake than the main character in one of these deals — and when a guy with taste as iffy as Silver’s stoops to remaking the remake.