The Invasion (2007) / Sci Fi-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for language and violence
Running time: 93 min.

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright, Veronica Cartwright, Josef Sommer, Celia Weston
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Screenplay: David Kajganich (based on the novel, "The Body Snatchers", by Jack Finney)

Review published August 22, 2007

Fairly blatant attempts to "salvage" Oliver Hirschbegel's (The Experiment, The Downfall) more philosophical treatment of Jack Finney's classic novel, "The Body Snatchers" mars the overall production, as The Invasion goes for crowd-pleasing elements like gotcha moments, stunts and action, muting whatever core intelligence might have been gleaned through a more somber treatment.  It's the fourth adaptation of the novel, with the first two considered classics of their kind entitled Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956 and 1978.  A gorier treatment would be released in 1993 under the title Body Snatchers, but would prove instantly forgettable.  The Invasion may not be as forgettable, but it is rather useless, as other versions cover the same ground, only better all around.  Unless you've never seen any of the other versions, or just really like Kidman and Craig, I'd say it's a waste of time, despite a few decent stretches that never quite seem to carry over much momentum from scene to scene.

The word on the film is that the studio, Warner Bros., wasn't particularly happy with what they considered to be Hirschbiegel's stagnant, leaden treatment of what they thought should be a terrifying action/sci-fi/thriller, much like earlier works had been.  They doled out the rewriting chores to the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix Revolutions, The Matrix Reloaded), who would hire their crony James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) to spice up the action and intrigue.  The interesting thing is that, given what we can see of both directions from the finished product, neither the initial Hirschbiegel/Kajganich work nor the Wachowski/McTeigue treatment seem to be bad direction in and of themselves.  It's the combination of the two that really do a disservice to the tone of the film, and the ending, which I suppose is meant to be more uplifting than any of the original incarnations had been, is the biggest cop-out crock one could have ever imagined.

The plot starts right off with a space shuttle disaster that sees the debris contaminated by some sort of entity picked up in its outer space travels.  Those that come in contact with the alien substance change into unemotional shells of their former selves once they've had a bit of sleep.  These infected people do what they can to infect even more humans, and soon, a pandemic is on the world's hands, as the remaining humans fight for survival while their loved ones "die" before their eyes.  Nicole Kidman (Happy Feet, Bewitched) plays the heroine of this piece, Carol Bennell, whose ex-husband (Northam, Enigma) is not only taken over by the alien life form, but he is busy injecting more of it into unsuspecting people thinking they will be immune to this "sickness".  She is busy trying to get her young boy (Bond), who has been staying with a friend, before he becomes one of them too.

A decent performance by Kidman is about all that stands out in this muddled outing, with hit-and-miss developments in all of the action and suspense departments all around.  To some extent, it feels like a serious version of another remake misfire she's made in her career, The Stepford Wives, which featured a similar storyline of people taken over in favor of robotic adherence to an "ideal" community structure.  Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Munich) seems to just be there for name recognition, although it's nice to see Veronica Cartwright get a supporting role (she co-starred in the 1978 release). 

Although the original story is widely known as a metaphor for the dangers of communism (some people interpret McCarthyism, but communism fits better with the communal aspect, and McCarthy wasn't trying to convert people so much as root out those he thought were converted), it's uncertain just what the main theme of the film is here.  Perhaps without seeing Hirschbiegel's cut, we may never really know, although given the motifs throughout, it may have something to do with the current overmedicated society we live in, where people take a pill whenever they feel out of sorts, to the point where there are no highs and lows in the emotion department.  I suppose one could also read into the film regarding the conversion of people to a political way of thinking of our own.  The space shuttle is called "Patriot" and it does kick off in Washington DC.  However, if it's about the radical political movements taking over, even a b-movie like They Live does this material better.

People afflicted with some sort of alien virus that controls their DNA is just not nearly as frightening as being replicated by pods that kill us. When we still are who we are physically, and even retain all of our memories, it only means that we lose our ability to feel emotions anymore.  The only thing frightening about the converted is the fact that they want to convert everyone else, whether they like it or not, and the manner in which they do it at times (puking in their face or food and drink).  Of course, we've already seen this done recently in 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, which are both superior to this (the latter even has a similar immune child storyline).

The Invasion suffers not only from its own contradictory approach, but also by having to live up to two very good previous tellings that are more still more disturbing today than this one manages to muster even in the most intense of scenes.  Given the popularity of the previous efforts, whatever new roads it travels would have to be better, or at least interesting, to merit a return to familiar material on our part.  None of the new developments are handled with enough depth or focus for us to find riveting, leaving only the handful of scenes where Kidman and kid are trapped in a corner with seemingly no way out as the only moments where it grabs our attention.  At all other times, we feel like the people in the film who are unsure if they've been infected or not, trying our best to not fall asleep.  Maybe the converted are right -- we'd be so much better off if we just gave in.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo