The Reeler

Reviews

August 17, 2007

The Invasion

It's up with pod people once again, but Downfall director's vision gets blurred

It has been 52 years and four movies since Jack Finney’s pod people invaded the nation’s consciousness via his novel, The Body Snatchers. Every iteration since has sparked debate about the monotone alien race’s political affiliations. The first, Don Siegel’s superior 1956 adaptation Invasion of the Body Snatchers, was read as a critique of Stalinist totalitarianism as well as an expression of McCarthy-era paranoia. Philip Kaufman’s 1978 pods were argued to be the result of a failed leftist ideology, San Francisco turned into a spic-n-span corporate haven. More recently, Abel Ferrara’s 1993 Body Snatchers posits its monsters as post-Desert Storm army bigwigs.

2007’s entry, The Invasion, has chatter about the Iraq War, Darfur, media incompetence, and worldwide pandemics, but that’s all secondary to the clang and boom of producer Joel Silver’s action-film aesthetics. In fact, it’s the behind-the-scenes politics of the film that truly fascinate. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel was hired on the strength of his 2005 dirge through Hitler’s last days, Downfall. According to the L.A. Times, however, after the Warner Bros. suits saw a cut of the film, they complained of a paucity of action sequences. Hirschbiegel was no longer available, so Silver rang up the Wachowski Bros. (in the process of filming the Silver-produced Speed Racer) to write a new ending, and hired James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) to helm the re-shoots. Hirschbiegel argued that the lack of action was due to budget constraints. A variety of online film sites claim that up to two-thirds of the film was re-shot, although there’s no definitive evidence that more than the ending was changed.

As it stands, The Invasion has the feel of a mash-up that was created haphazardly in the editing room, never gaining a rhythm or anything close to a distinct point of view. The story remains the same (though pods are replaced with spores): An alien crash precipitates a worldwide zombification of humanity. Nicole Kidman speaks with a throaty whisper as Carol, a divorced D.C. psychiatrist spooked by the sudden spike in “my husband is not my husband” cases. Her companion against the pods is Daniel Craig as the smitten sandy-haired doctor, Ben. Instead of the growing, almost existential malaise that arises in the Siegel version, The Invasion quickly devolves into another tale of an angry mother protecting her child.

The directorial switch-hitting resulted in definite clashes in style, most notably in the pre-pod D.C. footage: Carol is followed in tracking shots along the city streets with eye-level intimacy, and the camera catches a newspaper vendor muttering to himself beside Kidman’s far-off stare. There’s a level of detail in these early scenes that matches Hirschbiegel’s work with cinematographer Rainer Klausmann on Downfall (who was retained for The Invasion). A similar sense of continuity marks a tense sequence on a subway, where expectorating spore-people chase Carol out of the train and into a tunnel; the enclosed space is perfectly articulated.

The series of action set pieces that take up the rest of the film are shot piecemeal and heavily edited, the result of multiple set-ups to make sure something salvageable could be retained, a likely style for re-shoots (and for most action films nowadays). This is not to say that Hirschbiegel’s original film would have been a masterpiece, but at least it would have retained a unity of vision that this film has shattered, most disastrously in the multiple flash-forward sequences which immediately retard the narrative’s already shaky momentum.

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