Mark Reviews Movies

THE INVASION

2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright, Veronica Cartwright

MPAA Rating: R (for language)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 8/17/07


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Review by Mark Dujsik

I'm always fascinated by projects like this, because there's the potential for an entirely different version of the product existing, sitting on a shelf somewhere, hopefully going to be released on DVD at some point. The Invasion had one of those post-production hubbubs we hear about a lot. The movie was test-screened (two dreaded words) and considered a failure. Some scenes were re-shot, and, allegedly, a good chunk of the movie rewritten. It is credited to screenwriter Dave Kajganich and director Oliver Hirschbiegel, but the Wachowski brothers (Andy and Larry) and director James McTeigue had to do with the re-shooting. What and how much was changed is going to have to wait until we see the original cut, but whoever's idea it was to add a modern political viewpoint on Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers (now adapted to film four times) had the right idea. The original 1956 version was a thinly disguised reaction to Communism and McCarthy era paranoia about the Red threat—the pod people a community looking to eradicate individuality—but this new version pointedly considers the concept that maybe being a race of pod people isn't such a bad thing.

Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) is a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C., who, when the movie opens, is scrambling around a pharmacy, looking for something to keep her awake. Some time beforehand, she's going through her life: taking care of her prone-to-night-terrors son Oliver (Jackson Bond), spending time with her friend-and-possibly-soon-to-be-boyfriend and doctor Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), and wondering why her ex-husband Tucker (Jeremy Northam) suddenly wants to spend time with their son. Elsewhere, a space shuttle has crashed in a remote field, and Tucker, part of the Centers for Disease Control, is on call to discover a strange contamination that came down with the craft. He pricks his finger on a piece of it and soon after begins to act strangely. People all over begin to act peculiarly as well, which Carol hears second-hand from one of her patients (Veronica Cartwright, from the 1978 remake), whose formerly abusive husband is now docile and taking his aggression out on a abruptly hostile dog (Dogs always know first). Well, the problem is that the contamination is an alien life-form, which infects a person and turns him or her into a passive version of him/herself with one goal: to spread the infection.

The movie has a political bent in its undertones early on, when we learn the entire alien presence has been reduced to a widespread outbreak of a new kind of flu. Everywhere else in the world, countries are admitting to something strange and epidemic precautions are being taken. In the U.S., though, the government lackeys have been turned into alien lackeys, establishing "vaccination centers" throughout the country and even having the caterers at a press conference vomit into the press corps' coffee (which would be a logical explanation for why the current press seems more a tool of the government than a true fourth estate). It's the kind of misdirection and misdiagnosis to which we've become accustomed, and the mere acknowledgment of it is enough to heighten the stakes in what at first appears to be a regular, old science-fiction thriller. Then things gets tricky, and while Carol, Ben, and Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright, as always on the sidelines) try to discover a cure, peace breaks out around the world (there's an old journalism joke about that). We learn the occupation of Iraq has ended, the Darfur conflict has come to a close, and even Kim Jon-il has gotten involved in the worldwide harmony.

The ideas are there, with or without anyone on screen directly acknowledging them, but the characters still do. Scenes in which it happens, like an extended dialogue between Carol and a Russian ambassador (Roger Rees) about the nature of humanity (a bundle of animal instincts vs. an evolving consciousness), are unneeded and feel like exactly what they are: spoon-feeding the audience. It's ironic that Carol prescribes pills to help make people more like those hosted by the aliens; it's too much when she and other characters acknowledge that irony. The main story works as a paranoid thriller full of some effective imagery. The way to avoid detection by the aliens is to appear emotionless, and the chaos that invariably erupts when people feel they're about to be reduced to something less-than-human provides challenges to that theory. The concept of the aliens projectile vomiting on their victims is unnerving, and the strange, filmy casing that cocoons a person in the transitional phase is similarly effective. It's then a shame that this disquieting tone is tossed aside in the climax, which contains an obvious turn of loyalty by a major character, a car chase, and an anticlimactic, easy resolution.

There are a lot of challenging elements in The Invasion, but ultimately, the movie is a bit too easy on them, itself, and the audience. It still leaves me intrigued at the prospect of comparing this Hollywood-polished product to Hirschbiegel's untouched output.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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