It’s been awhile, so I figured I’d marathon the various versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Finney’s delicious little silver age sci-fi novel has spawned four official sequels so far. The original, of course, is a classic tale of Cold War paranoia (“Keep watching the skies!”), then we get a strange, meandering remake in the 70s, followed by the 1993 remake notable only because it was Gabrielle Anwar’s first nude scene, and, finally, we got that fucking bullshit 2007 remake which seemed more inspired by Lifeforce than anything else and did nothing but make us realize that we should re-watch the 1993 version because we wore out our old VHS tapes pausing on Anwar’s tits.
Of them all, the strangest, by far, is the 1978 remake. My biggest issue is that, in 1978, the odd decision was made to remove the “invasion” aspect and, instead, create a moody parable about the cosmic forces of nature.
On the surface, it’s kind of refreshing to get away from the propaganda and paranoia that so dates the original movie, but there were better ways to do that. For one, you could simply not be so obvious about it. The answer is not to remove the invasion aspect all together because, then, all of the pod people lack any motivation at all. The story is really about weirdo Donald Sutherland, creepy Jeff Goldblum, Karen Allen-clone Brooke Adams, and ever-hysterical Veronica Cartwright (she really has spent her entire career being the hysterical housewife type who completely falls apart early on and stays that way till she gets eaten) as they try to stand against the tide.
During the title sequence, we get a little intro to the pod people, starting out on their home planet. They appear to be amoeba-like goo that mature and then detach themselves from the planet’s surface, relying on cosmic winds or whatever to pollinate the universe. So, of course, they end up in San Francisco, coming down during a rainstorm. The storm allows them to glop together into little mushroom pods that no one in their right mind would touch…but they do. So stats the “invasion.”
But, unlike the other versions of the film, this isn’t an orchestrated invasion. In fact, there seems to be no real motivation behind it at all. This is just what the pod people do. They flutter through space, gel together on a habitable world, and replace that world’s species, presumably to start the cycle all over again. There’s no malevolence or even intelligence behind it.
Yes, once they start taking over people, they start their creepy conspiracy to multiply and replace everyone. But, then, that’s really just an extension of their plant-like origins. Also, the movie leaves it open to interpretation as to the real evil. The pod people steal your consciousness (and memories) when you fall asleep. There’s no sort of alien control forcing them to do evil, they’re just pod people now. They’re working to preserve themselves. Pod people are portrayed not as weirdo aliens but, instead, as becoming very calm and happy about life and the world around them. Nor do the pod people seem overly obsessed with invading the Earth. In fact, they maintain the lives of their old bodies. They continue to work their menial jobs and go about their sad little yuppie lives. All the conspiracy work is done in their spare time. Even when the whole city is converted, the pod people are still trudging to work. Their only clear motivation is to stop everyone from freaking the fuck out about their arrival. In fact, all four of our heroes — each of whom are total sociopaths and misfits, by the way — are nothing but hysterical and closed minded in the face of the cool and collected pod people, led by Leonard Nimoy who plays the nation’s top psychotherapist.
The idea that the pod people are just part of some grander aspect of human evolution even gets a nod in the script. Hysterical Veronica Cartwright, at one point, hysterically screams that the pod people are coming “just like the ancient astronauts in their spaceships who mated with the monkeys and started the human race.”
No one contradicts her. In fact, everyone sort of takes a moment to think about that, as if it’s a given that, in fact, that’s how the human race started. The events currently in play are simply part of some greater cosmic evolution. We are a byproduct of some larger, greater power.
This is driven home with a couple of brief soapboxing scenes espousing the philosophy of Immanuel Velikovsky and Olaf Stapledon. In a nutshell, Velikovsky posited that Venus is actually a captured comet and, when it was captured, there was an unparalleled cataclysm on Earth that shaped prehistory and our evolution. Largely, in his book When Worlds Collide, he uses the various inexplicable events in the Bible and other ancient texts as support for his theory. The various miracles described are what happens when the Earth has a near collision with something as big as Venus.
A trade paperback of When Worlds Collide is featured throughout the movie, and we even get jarring non sequitur scenes where people are literally holding it up Vanna White style for the camera and talking about it. No one remembers this when I talk about it. We see it twice — the old guy in the mud baths. First there’s the lingering shot of him reading in the mud bath, and then we get that weird scare-moment when he’s sitting behind the curtain and scares Veronica Cartwright and they have this conversation about the book, which is when she brings up Stapledon. Specifically, his novel Star Maker.
Stapledon’s work is a bit harder to pin down. Most of it is classified as fiction, and it’s all roughly about Mankind’s destiny which is that, one day, we’ll all ascend into a sort of cosmic Marxist consciousness. Star Maker outlines Stapledon’s kooky thoughts on the meaning of life, and follows two billion years in Mankind’s history (and how it applies to the universe). From the dawn of Man up until we all ascend and meet the “Star Maker” who is basically The Architect from The Matrix movies.
So, of course, we’re all part of the grand cosmic plan. Everyone in the 78 movie thinks this, whether they’re sentient plants simply trying to fit in or crazy weirdos trying to get away.
It’s telling, then, that hysterical Veronica Cartwright is the only one who survives. The person who subscribes to the theory of ancient astronauts, the cosmic consciousness, and worlds in collision avoids assimilation by…calming down, taking it easy, hiding her emotions.
If the remake had been made just a few years later, I would have called it a witty commentary on 1980s America. Instead, it’s one of those movies where you walk away wondering who the bad guys really were. And it lacks Anwar’s tits.