Body Snatchers (1993)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Gabrielle Anwar, Terry Kinney, Billy Wirth, Christine Elise, Meg Tilly
There’s an old saying in Hollywood that goes, "Don’t remake the same movie too many times." Okay, so I made that up, but I’m sure that someone has said that at some time in the past. No matter the case, when "Body Snatchers", the third film to be based on the novel by Jack Finney, was released in 1993, it went virtually ignored by the public. I can only assume that most people thought it was a re-release of the 1978 version "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." While "Body Snatchers" may share the same basic plot as its predecessors, it is a unique film that brings a new vision to the nightmare story. The film has just hit DVD and deserves to find a new audience.
"Body Snatchers" is set on a modern-day military base. Teenager Marti Malone (Gabrielle Anwar) has moved to the base with her family. Her father Steve (Terry Kinney) is with the EPA and has come to the base to check for hazardous chemicals. Marti immediately begins to notice that the residents of the base act very strange. They don’t seem to show any emotion and keep to themselves a lot. She then notices that everyday, more people are giving the trash collectors one small trash bag. Marti befriends Jean (Christine Elise), the general’s daughter, and Tim (Billy Wirth, the long-haired vampire from "The Lost Boys") a helicopter pilot, as they seem to be the only two normal people on the base.
Then, things begin to get really weird. After an incident at his day care, Marti’s brother Andy (Reilly Murphy) is afraid to go to sleep. Marti’s step-mom Carol (the ever-creepy Meg Tilly), acts even more distant than before. Marti discovers that the residents of the base are being replaced by pods from outer space. She must now decide who she can trust and find a way off of the base.
As with the 1956 and 1978 versions of the story, "Body Snatchers" deals with the central premise of people being replaced by emotionless "pod-people." But whereas the 1956 version dealt with communism and the 1978 version was a reaction to Vietnam, this new version of the story seems less interested in making a statement than it does about creating a mood.
"Body Snatchers" was directed by Abel Ferrara, a New York filmmaker who typically makes very small movies, so it’s unusual for him to take on a piece like this. With this in mind, it’s obvious that Ferrara wanted to do something different with the "Body Snatchers" idea. The film seems to abandon the idea that it has to be "about" something and strives to create an air of isolation and voyeurism. For the majority of the film, whenever we see someone doing something, we are usually viewing them through blinds or paned windows. The movie is telling us that we shouldn’t be privy to the action or that we shouldn’t be seeing it "yet". I say "yet", because once Marti discovers the pod-people, the film is no longer shot this way. With this style, Ferrara is enabling us to wholly identify with Marti’s character. She knows that something is going on, but isn’t quite sure what it is. This style is also used in a scene involving Marti. Note the scene where Marti is walking with Tim, for the first part of the shot, they are obscured by tree branches. This stylistic choice really adds to the voyeuristic feel of the film.
But Ferrara doesn’t use only obstructions to tell his story. Notice his skillful use of shadows. There are several scenes where Marti or her dad, are cornered by the shadows of the soldiers. This is especially apparent in the scene where Steve is testing the water and meets Major Collins (Forest Whitaker). To each side of Steve is the shadow of the two soldiers who are with him. This tells the viewer that soon Steve will not be able to escape from the dark creatures that the soldiers will become. It’s rare to see the kind of meticulous cinematography that is in "Body Snatchers." Each shot contains tons of visual information, and the film seems to be a storyboard come to life.
But enough of my film school yammering, does the movie work? And my answer is, yes. "Body Snatchers" is very suspenseful and creepy. As we learn what is going on, we join Marti in her sudden distrust of everyone. The film contains some good scares and some neat twists toward the end. At 87 minutes, the film is short and you feel that it could have done more with the storyline, but with the atmosphere that the film creates, it definitely leaves an impression.
One definite advantage that the film has over the two previous versions is the special effects. For the first time, we get to see how the pod-people are formed and let me tell you, it’s pretty gross. The pods and the transformation sequences are shot in a very natural way by Ferrara and that makes it even more creepy. The Warner Home Video DVD of "Body Snatchers" offers the film in a <$PS,letterboxed> format and as a heavily cropped <$PS,pan & scan> version on the same disc. The <$PS,widescreen> version is <$PS,letterboxed> at an 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. Seeing the film in its <$PS,letterboxed> format only adds to the claustrophobic feel of the film and is definitely preferred to the butchered look of the <$PS,pan & scan> transfer. The transfer is accurately framed as there is no apparent loss of visual information at the top or bottom of the screen. The picture is clear throughout with good level of detail, although slight signs of <$pixelation,pixelation> are evidentin the DVD transfer. Ferrara has shot most of the film using very little light, and this plays well on the DVD transfer. The film is dark, but never too dark to tell what is going on.
The "Body Snatchers" DVD has a Dolby 2-channel Surround audio mix. You never know what you’re going to get with 2-channel, but here the sound is superb. As the film is set on a military base, the sound of helicopters is almost constant in the surround sound channels. The dialogue is well balanced and the creepy score by Joe Delia helps to add to the ambience of the film. It is disappointing that there are no extras on the disc. A trailer would have been nice.
While "Body Snatchers" was easily dismissed by most purists upon its initial release, I feel that the film deserves a second chance. For those of you who are interested in cinema as an art form, "Body Snatchers" is a great opportunity to study a film where there is something going on besides the story. I applaud Ferrara’s use of technique in the film and feel that it definitely adds to the overall viewing experience. Watching this film won’t cause you to lose your identity, but you will get a unique cinematic experience.