MGM's hi-def 1.85:1 image for Invasion Of The Body Snatchers comes via AVC MPEG-4 and, quite frankly, I have been entranced by it. Unlike their recent Blu-ray of Return Of The Living Dead (see separate review) in which the improvements over the SD counterpart are minimal, this looks superbly detailed and marvellously faithful and film-like.
The original grain has been retained and utterly unmolested by any digital tinkering. In some darker scenes, and you'll notice one very early on in which this is very apparent, the grain becomes quite intensified and does look a touch “noisy”, but this is something that is now a very common element in these older movies making their hi-def arrival on disc, and is nothing to be concerned about. Damage to the print is largely eradicated. If you glance at the SD version, little pops and flashes are frequent. The BD may well have retained some, but you just don't notice them. One or two frame wobbles that I remember from the SD transfer don't seem anywhere near as obvious either.
Colours are very natural and have no boosting. Invasion isn't a desaturated film, but nor is it very vivid. Kaufman wanted to highlight the shadows and the earthy tones of the environment to add to a feeling of increasing “pod-isation”. To this end, we get browns and greens and yellows coming to the fore, and an autumnal cast to the overall palette. When we see blood – Jack's nose-bleed and the subsequent trickle from his pod, the head-bashing with the rake – it is thick and lushly dark red. The actual flowers of the seed-pods are a realistic, un-embellished pink. The lights of the city – neon signs, flashing police lights etc – are often diffused through windows, or rain, again taking down the brightness of the colours. Contrast is tip-top and black levels are wonderful. There is no crushing taking place in the shadows and the murky night-time sequences, and the dark portions of the screen yield to the alarming faces of the poddies, Geoffrey's stoic countenance (and even Matthew's as he hides in the wardrobe) and the helicopter search-lights, the torch-beams and the illumination of the streets and the plazas with naturalistic ease.
But the thing that impresses most about this transfer is the astonishing detail that is on display. Nothing is submerged or lost in the mass-pod-birthing scene – and some hideous sights are on offer here. The texture on walls and clothes is readily apparent, but the close-up detail on faces is amazing, with Sutherland's visage and permed hair offering up oodles of finite information that you won't have seen before on any previous home video version. Distance shots looking out from office windows, and views down on the crowded streets are also detailed, crisp and smooth – without any overt aliasing or artefacts on show. Depth of field is excellent, too. Chapman's photography strives for unusual angles and distortions, forced perspectives and clever frames that have both interiors and exteriors in the same shot – the transfer allows all of this unique visual dexterity to shine through with a fair amount of three-dimensionality.
Edge enhancement is a none-issue. There are a couple of shots of characters seen against the blue sky – Sutherland and Nimoy out on Matthew's balcony, say – that look as though they have sharpened edges and some ringing, but I think this is down to the original photography and the natural lighting. Either way, it poses no distraction to the viewing experience.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers gets a terrific transfer. It looks film-like and it is very highly detailed. I've now watched this disc four times since it arrived and each time has been a distinct pleasure not just because the film is so good, but because the image is such a fine and authentic presentation.
A very strong 8 out of 10.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was the recipient of some terrifically experimental sound design back in 1978. Kaufman, Ben Burtt and his team, and composer Denny Zeitlin all agreed that the film should take advantage of not only the new Dolby system, but also of some even more expressive surround channels that some cinemas could exploit. Collectively, they wanted to push the envelope of the experience and, to this end, the movie is a stunning showcase for aural design. Though nowhere near as outrageous as Suspiria before it, Body Snatchers was to stretch out its music and its effects quite considerably, paying particular attention to the natural sounds of the environment as well as the obvious “pod” noises. MGM's disc comes with a Dolby Surround track that replicates the original audio, and also a better, more enjoyable DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that pushes things out a little further, in my opinion.
Dialogue is natural and very well presented – the gruff but monotone of Sutherland, the thick, lip-smacking twang of Nimoy, the unusual jabbering of Goldblum and the hysterical screaming of McCarthy and Cartwright all clear and precisely nuanced. Voices over megaphones – and there is a surprising amount of this – have the right crunchy distortion and buzz. Hubbub and vehicle noises are realistically conveyed. Zeitlin's score is throbbing, loud and unnerving. It is probable that the score and the sound effects have been emphasised a little more than they originally sounded, but in this case, I would say that this is a very welcome move that brings the audio sensory experience into a much more active domain that fascinates and emboldens the paranoia of the story.
Little sounds are extremely well picked-out and delineated amidst the overall design. The whirring and compression of the dump-trucks. The sirens and alarms that gradually replace the sounds of nature on the audio track. You'll hear a little metallic squeak as a chair in Matthew's house is spun around that really slices across the soundscape with such clarity that it may have you looking around for the culprit in your own room. Telephones ringing are also acute and positioned correctly. The off-camera sound of McCarthy getting hit by a car is wonderfully positioned as being just off and around the corner to the right, the subsequent clamour of voices and a police siren bustling left to right is also very well presented. There are many montage scenes of crowds in the street – footsteps, jumbled voices, and the series of telephone calls that Matthew makes and receives from public call-boxes – and these are all highly integrated and, as the film goes on, increasingly heightened. The sudden roar of the two police motorbikes that zoom past the taxi in the tunnel is wonderfully depicted – the engine aftershock thunders convincingly behind us after they have moved past. Invasion is one of the best examples of urban audio sound design and the mix does it proud.
This disc gets another very strong 8 out of 10, folks.
MGM do something really weird here. They offer us a two-disc set – the BD and a DVD – which has the same extra features on each platter, except for the great commentary track from Phil Kaufman which, for some unknown reason, is only to be found on the DVD! Now, to be honest, I'm very familiar with the director's comments already from the previous DVD, so I didn't listen to his track this time. To be honest, I also felt a little irrationally loathe to spin the DVD in the first place. But the track is extremely good value, folks, so if you haven't already heard it, I certainly wouldn't hesitate in recommending it.
In his very scene and shot-specific commentary, the director paints the environment and the era in which he made his film. He discusses how he came to remake Siegel's film and how he opted to change certain things, develop others. We hear a lot about San Francisco and the locations the production used – as well as the liberal use of the TransAmerica Building and the noise they all caused at the scene of Matthew's house. He tells us how many of the shots were achieved, as well as the effects. The themes and the socio-political concepts of the story are analysed and stylistic touches are pointed out and defended. Denny Zeitlan's score and Ben Burtt's sound effects are examined and the cast are embellished with many anecdotes – the Dancing Bellicecs, for example. Kaufman has a great voice, and a relaxed and relaxing nature and his chat-track is eminently entertaining.
The rest of the features are all found on both discs.
A brief retrospective look at the film comes in Re-Visitors from Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod, which allows us to hear from Kaufman, Cartwright, Sutherland and screenwriter Richter as they reminisce about the film and how it came into being. It's light and a bit obvious, but it provides a nice overview of the film and the themes that triggered the return of the pod-people.
More specific entries follow.
In Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod we get a very small look at the visual effects, which really only focusses on the initial scene of the alien spores leaving their dying planet and how Kaufman saved the day with a tin of $10 gel from an art store. Sadly, Tom Burman's icky FX aren't covered.
The Man Behind The Scream: The Sound Effects Pod is a lengthier (though still short) featurette that has the eminent Ben Burtt telling us how he and his team created the bizarre noises that we hear on the soundtrack to portray the aliens and, more acutely, the wacky sounds of the pod-births. All manner of recordings were made and manipulated and even the heartbeat of Burtt's unborn child were brought into play.
The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod is a fine little piece that concentrates on the stylistic visual aesthetic that Kaufman and DOP Michael Chapman went after. The hand-held side of things is covered, as is the noir aspect and the extensive use of shadows, obstruction, glass and reflections. This is an interesting little feature that delivers some essential information about how the film became so effective. Chapman's little cameo is also pointed out.
Finally, we get the film's theatrical trailer.
Although only brief, and obviously part of a much bigger piece of documentation, I like the flavour and the style of these little “pods”.The tone is relaxed and there is actually much conveyed. I would have preferred the commentary to be on the BD though, and certainly a bit more participation from Sutherland … and even just a tiny bit from Adams, Goldblum and Nimoy.
In the history of remakes, Phil Kaufman's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers stands as one of the best. With perfect intuition, its maker hones-in on the socio-political aura of the late seventies, capturing a frighteningly pertinent evocation of the loss of identity and the relinquishing of free will. His film serves as a great allegorical statement, yet it also remains brilliantly structured, tremendously well-acted entertainment with some truly startling imagery and one of those pivotal shock-climaxes that the decade did so effectively. Blackly humorous and full of nuanced performances, the second take on this of-told tale piles on the urban claustrophobia until the screen feels choked with inevitability, that edgy nihilism that was so prevalent during this period searingly portrayed.
The mass-birthing sequence is an out and out classic, as is the image of the botched pod-hybrid of man-and-dog. The screaming-shriek of unearthly accusation is the stuff of nightmares. But the fact that you care about the characters, despite a partial documentary, semi noirish tone is the ace up its sleeve. With a memorable score from Denny Zeitlin and that awesomely effective sound design, Invasion becomes a haunting exercise for the senses as well as the mind.
MGM's combo release is a curious affair. The transfer is absolutely top-notch – it looks and sounds terrific – but the fact that Phil Kaufman's commentary is only to be found on the DVD disc, whilst everything else, extras-wise, is correctly ported over to the BD, is utterly bewildering. Whilst this niggles, I can't complain about the overall package, which offers fans a fine and faithful transfer and no-frills/no waste featurettes that do conspire to inform you of a fair amount despite their bite-size format.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is not only a fabulous and worthwhile remake, but one of the best horror films from the seventies. Highly recommended.
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