Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Also known as: The Body Snatchers (informal title)
Release Date: December 21st, 1978 (San Francisco & Minneapolis premieres)
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Written by: W. D. Richter
Based on: The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Music by: Denny Zeitlin
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Art Hindle, Robert Duvall, Philip Kaufman (cameo), Kevin McCarthy (cameo)

Solofilm, United Artists, 115 Minutes

Review:

“We came here from a dying world. We drift through the universe, from planet to planet, pushed on by the solar winds. We adapt and we survive. The function of life is survival.” – Dr. David Kibner

This is a movie that kind of terrified me, as a kid. I’m also a germaphobe and have a strange fear of plants that don’t look right, especially coming into contact with them. I’m probably much better in that regard, as an adult, but this film is still quite unsettling regardless of how many times I’ve seen it and how much I’ve aged in the process.

Out of all the adaptations of The Body Snatchers story, this is the one that’s the most effective. At least from my point-of-view.

There’s just something supremely creepy about this version of the story and a lot of that probably has to do with it being made in the ’70s, it’s use of incredible practical effects and the solid cast.

Being an old school Star Trek fan, I love that Leonard Nimoy plays an evil bastard in this. Well, after he’s been infected with the alien spores, anyway. But its great seeing Nimoy get to express himself in ways that he couldn’t while playing Spock, his most iconic role.

Additionally, I loved seeing a very youthful and cool Jeff Goldblum in this, as well as Veronica Cartwright and Brooke Adams, who I wish would’ve been a more prominent actress because she’s always really damn good.

Donald Sutherland takes the cake, though, as the lead in the film. He and his friends become aware that something strange is going on and he does his best trying to stop it, even though it becomes clear that the alien invasion will happen regardless of how human beings feel about it.

The movie is also full of sequences that are simply great.

The one that really stands out to me is where Jeff Goldblum brings the heroes to a strange body. Here, we get to see the first real physiological changes in those effected by the alien spores. We also get to see how the aliens move and try to absorb human DNA in order to be replicated into plant-based copies.

Following that, we get another great sequence that sees Sutherland fall asleep and nearly get assimilated by alien pods in a backyard. The effects in this scene are incredible and some of the best of the era.

Speaking of which, the effects of the opening credits were also damn impressive, as we see the alien lifeforms leave their home planet and soar across the universe on solar winds, eventually making their way to Earth and attaching themselves to our plants.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is simply awesome. I dig the hell out of it from top-to-bottom and it’s one of those films I have to revisit every few years.

At some point, I’ll probably review the other remakes/re-imaginings of this story but none of them hold a candle to this one, except for the original.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original film, as well as other alien invasion and killer virus movies of the ’60s through ’80s.

Film Review: Alien (1979)

Release Date: May 25th, 1979
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 117 Minutes, 116 Minutes (2004 Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Ripley, for God’s sake, this is the first time that we’ve encountered a species like this. It has to go back. All sorts of tests have to be made.” – Ash, “Ash, are you kidding? This thing bled acid. Who knows what it’s gonna do when it’s dead.” – Ripley, “I think it’s safe to assume it isn’t a zombie.” – Ash

I saw Alien on the big screen once before. I think it was in 1999 when it was re-released for its twentieth anniversary. Granted, I can’t miss the opportunity to see this or its first sequel when they come back to theaters. Both are perfection and both are very different. While people have debated for decades, which film is better, I still can’t decide. Why can’t they both be the best? I mean, they are perfect compliments to one another because of the different things that each brings to the table, setting them apart narrative wise and tonally.

Where Aliens is a badass action thriller, the original Alien is really a pure horror movie set in space. The Alien formula was actually so effective, that people are still ripping this film off today. Almost every year, there is at least one film dealing with an isolated crew battling a dangerous creature in tight confines, whether it be a spaceship, an underwater facility or some science research base in the middle of nowhere. Alien is still the best of these kind of films, although John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very, very close second.

What makes this film work is how dark and how cold it is. Everything just comes off as bleak and hopeless. The film has incredible cinematography and its really unlike anything that was made before it. A lot of the visual allure, as well as the film’s looming sense of doom, is due to the design work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. His style is like German Expressionism from the future in that it is dark, disorienting but also very tech-like and beautiful. Giger’s art is very unique and very much his own. Without Giger, I feel like Alien would have been a very different film.

With as iconic as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has become and as synonymous with the franchise as she is, it is weird seeing her not being the top billed star. That honor goes to Tom Skerritt but Ripley does become the focal point and Weaver gives a great performance, even if she isn’t as incredibly badass as she would become in the next film.

This film benefits from having a pretty amazing cast, though. In addition to Skerritt and Weaver, you’ve got Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Veronica Cartwright. All seven of these people have had pretty impressive careers with multiple notable roles.

The film is also directed by Ridley Scott, who has gone on to resurrect the franchise with new energy since he returned to the series with Prometheus in 2012 and then followed it up with the lackluster but still interesting Alien: Covenant in 2017.

Alien is still a very effective film and even if I have seen it dozens of times, there are certain parts in the movie where I still get chills. The effects hold up really well and still look damn good. And even if the sets and computers look really outdated for a movie set in the future, it still has a certain aesthetic that just works for me.

All things considered, there really isn’t a negative thing I can say about the film. It moves at a nice pace, builds suspense effectively, still feels chilling and has aged magnificently.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Other Alien films and Blade Runner.

 

Film Review: Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Release Date: August 1st, 1986
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Mark H. Baker, Michael Burton, Matt MacManus
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Cliff DeYoung, Veronica Cartwright, Matt Adler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Howard Hesseman

Walt Disney, Producers Sales Organization, Buena Vista Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Compliance!” – Max

Everyone I knew as a kid saw Flight of the Navigator. While it wasn’t a smashing hit, it was loved by many and had its following. However, it doesn’t seem to be as well-remembered as some of the other family-friendly sci-fi flicks of the 1980s.

To start, it is a Disney movie and even though it doesn’t feel like a massive epic, it has groundbreaking special effects and was well-produced in every regard.

Joey Cramer plays twelve year-old David Freeman, a kid who wakes up eight years into his future, where his world is totally different. The role needed a lot of emotion and was probably quite challenging for a twelve year-old but Cramer did a fantastic job. Looking back, I don’t know why this didn’t lead to a lot more work for the kid. He got a few roles after this but nothing too noteworthy.

The story also features an alien ship controlled by a computer named Max. Max is voiced by Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. The relationship between David and Max is really what makes this film work. While you root for David to be reunited with his family but ultimately want him to be able to go home to 1978, the real standout thing about this film is the camaraderie between the two main characters. David is depressed and feels lost and desperate while Max feels tremendous guilt for pulling David out of his life.

Apart from Cramer and Reubens, the film features a very young Sarah Jessica Parker, Veronica Cartwright – who I will always love for Alien, as well as WKRP‘s Dr. Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hesseman, who also lit up the screen in Head of the Class and Police Academy 2.

Flight of the Navigator used early CGI techniques to create the alien ship that took David on his journey. It was a metallic seed-shaped structure that could slightly alter its shape based off of what flight mode it was in. Also, the back of the ship would essentially melt open and provide free-floating steps for David to enter and exit the ship. The CGI animation is very similar to what James Cameron would use in 1989’s The Abyss and for the T-1000 in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

While Flight of the Navigator is not a flawless film, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives and it is a fun and emotional journey. Its story is timeless and still effective and kids that I have seen watch it in recent years, all seemed to love it regardless of it feeling somewhat dated.

Flight of the Navigator is a much shorter film than what Disney does nowadays. That being said, it is welcomed, as it doesn’t waste a lot of time and stays on its rails. It gets to the point, packs an emotional punch and delivers a heartfelt happy ending. It doesn’t try to overdo it with razzle dazzle and massive special effects sequences. Frankly, I miss films like this.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Birds (1963)

Release Date: March 28th, 1963
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Evan Hunter
Based on: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, Charles McGraw

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Universal Pictures, 119 Minutes

the_birdsReview:

I don’t really know what it is about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds but it has captivated me since I was a little kid. While Psycho is the superior picture out of his horror offerings, I still enjoy The Birds more. But like Psycho, it is pretty close to perfect.

The Birds also features Tippi Hedren who did a more than satisfactory job with this being her first big acting gig. She is also glamorous in that old school Hollywood sort of way. She almost feels like the second-coming of Grace Kelly, who mesmerized audiences in some of Hitchcock’s previous work. It is easy to see how the director became infatuated with her behind the scenes.

Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels is one of my favorite female characters from any Hitchcock picture. She is witty, smart, funny, enjoyable and very determined. She is a really strong character that is enhanced by her charm and also benefits from her great chemistry with Rod Taylor’s Mitch Brenner. Man, Taylor is so solid in this too.

Jessica Tandy and a young Veronica Cartwright round out the Brenner family and both actresses do a fine job. Tandy plays Mitch’s mother. Her character’s struggle to accept the women in her son’s life is a really good plot thread that ends on a beautiful note.

I also really enjoyed Suzanne Pleshette as the school teacher and former love interest of Mitch. She was an alluring brunette in contrast to the blonde Hedren. She was also heroic and a strong female character that probably deserved a much better fate.

The Birds is unique in that it doesn’t employ any music, unless you count the song the children can be heard singing in the schoolhouse. Instead, it relies on silence and the unsettling sounds of the birds themselves. The lack of music creates an intense sense of dread that feels very natural. Everything in the film feels so organic that the use of music would probably have made the really important scenes a lot less effective.

For instance, the scene where Hedren is sitting on the bench outside of the school in silence, where the birds quietly amass on the jungle gym directly behind her, wouldn’t have been as terrifying had there been music. It’s the surprise, the shock and awe of Hedren turning around, seeing this army of birds behind her that wasn’t there a minute earlier, that makes the film’s threat work. The stealth-like nature of the birds is more frightening than the attacks themselves.

The special effects in this film are so good, even for the time, that it still looks much better than the CGI-loaded pictures of today. You know that most of the birds on the screen aren’t actually in the scene but it looks as real as it possibly can. Never does it distract from the film or take the viewer out of the experience. I can’t say as much about some of the modern special effects techniques.

The Birds is a magnificent motion picture. Many creature features have come and gone for several decades but none, other than the original Jaws, have had as strong of an effect.

Rating: 9.75/10