The Invasion

Rating 2

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

Written by David Kajganich from the novel by Jack Finney

Starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright and Veronica Cartwright

When a NASA space shuttle explodes on re-entry and debris from it crashes back to Earth over a wide area it releases an intergalactic spore that invades its human hosts, taking over their bodies while they sleep and turning them into “pod people”. Tucker Bennell (Jeremy Northam), a senior investigator working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of those infected. His estranged wife Carol (Nicole Kidman), a successful psychiatrist, begins to have suspicions, which she shares with her best friend, Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig), a hospital-based doctor.

The first thirty minutes or so set the scene with a reasonable degree of attention to detail, passably introducing the creepy aura of a major city, Washington D.C., fast taken over by the hordes of emotion-free pod people. Once the basic facts are established, however, it turns into a frenetic and ham-fisted race against time, as Carol tries to escape from the locked-down capital and make her way to Baltimore to rescue her young son Oliver (Jackson Bond) from her husband.

Strange fractured editing has been employed to tell the story, jumping back and forth within very small timeframes. It is not confusing to the development of the story, but it does give the impression of a film that has been rather clumsily put together. After the relatively encouraging first half-an-hour it rapidly unravels and spirals downhill.

When ‘The Invasion’ was released into American cinemas in August 2007 it was greeted with scathing reviews and subsequently had a miserable showing at the box office. It would eventually gross $15 million in America against an alleged $80 million production budget, with a further box office gross of $26 million overseas. The blame for the failure of the film was placed squarely at the door of Nicole Kidman, who, in time-honoured cinematic tradition has now been accused of being “box office poison”, despite her being one of Hollywood’s few genuine international film stars.

Having watched the film, it is clear to me that any responsibility for its failings is the result of studio interference. Executives at Warner Brothers were not happy with the film made by director Oliver Hirschbiegel. They brought in the Wachowski brothers (‘The Matrix’) to re-write the script and after a break of thirteen months they hired James McTiegue (‘V for Vendetta’) to direct the additional scenes, during which Kidman broke several ribs and was hospitalised when a stunt went wrong.

‘The Invasion’, which was variously known as ‘The Visiting’ and ‘Invasion’ during production, is yet another adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel ‘The Body Snatchers’. It was originally adapted for the big screen in 1956 and re-titled ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, a classic film of its genre directed by Don Siegel, who would later make ‘Dirty Harry’. A 1978 remake by director Philip Kaufman (‘The Right Stuff’) was a critical and box office success and it was re-made again in 1993, the title now shortened to ‘Body Snatchers’. This third version was directed by Abel Ferrara, who had previously been responsible for controversial films like ‘Driller Killer’ and ‘King of New York’.

The influence of Jack Finney’s novel has extended elsewhere, for example the excellent 1998 Robert Rodriguez high school horror ‘The Faculty’ and the sadly short-lived 2005 ABC network television series ‘Invasion’. The theme itself dates back even further than Finney’s novel and can also be found in ‘The Puppet Masters’, a 1951 novel by Robert A Heinlein, and in the 1953 film ‘It Came From Outer Space’, based on a Ray Bradbury short story.

The original 1956 film has variously been claimed to be an allegory for the perceived threat of Communism or a comment about the paranoia in McCarthy-era America, both themes being inter-related. The 1978 film drew on the continuing fallout from the Vietnam War and Watergate. The 1993 film was a commentary about the rigid restrictions that society places upon itself. This fourth film takes place in a post 9/11 climate of international conflict caused by racial, religious and political intolerance.

‘The Invasion’ is a weak and unnecessary version of a story that has been successfully adapted for the screen several times. However, the sexist and maybe even misogynist finger-pointing in the direction of Nicole Kidman, and unproven claims that her alleged heavy use of Botox had already turned her into an emotionless pod person before the film even went into production, is entirely unjustified. Her substantial body of work has surely already established her acting and box office credentials, and she is certainly the best thing about this mediocre film.

Veronica Cartwright, who has a small role here, had a leading role in the 1978 film and also made a three-episode guest appearance in the ABC television series.

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