Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) UK Region B Blu-ray Review

The 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers bypasses the 1956 film adaptation for inspiration, instead going back to the source novel by Jack Finney. A paranoid thriller perfectly in sync with the cinema of the 1970s, director Philip Kaufman crafted a taut masterpiece of suspense and sci-fi chills around unemotional “pod people” infiltrating America. As powerful today as when it was first released, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has lost none of its edge as a thrilling tale of horror and adventure.

San Francisco biologist Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) turns to health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) for help when Geoffrey, her boyfriend, begins acting suspiciously cold and distant. Alien spores from a meteor shower have begun to infect the plant life and some people begin acting in strangely unemotional ways. A few concerned spouses immediately begin to notice differences in their loved ones but are dismissed as mental cases. An influential self-help guru by the name of Dr. Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) attempts to explain the emerging behavior in terms of psychology, calling it a contagious mass delusion due to urban alienation. Elizabeth is sure her boyfriend has been replaced with a duplicate and begins to follow him around.

Elizabeth and Matthew drive the narrative as they seek answers to these questions and determine what is really going on with so many people. As more and more people begin to act oddly, Matthew increasingly hits resistance at work from the classic enemy of government workers, the bureaucracy. The situation becomes even more desperate for the increasingly close friends as they learn the pod people are killing off humans and replacing them with identical duplicates. The tension ratchets up as their friends get knocked off one by one with pod replacements, leaving the couple alone to fight the growing masses of pod people. Twists and turns follow which make the plot very difficult to guess in advance.

Grounded in the gritty landscape of seventies’ cinema, Invasion of the Body Snatchers never lets up from its opening scenes. By the standards of Hollywood it was a fairly low-budget film but its FX and pod transformations are very effective, relying on old-school make-up and prosthetics. Sutherland’s calm demeanor and practical intelligence in the role of Matthew provides the necessary accessories for the character’s heroic struggle. Nimoy makes for a perfect choice as the detached Dr. Kibner, blithely handing out advice to his sedated followers. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a great movie, period. It needs no label as a genre classic, a true gem for movie fans of all stripes.

Movie ★★★★★

This is a weird Star Trek movie @ 30:27

Arrow Video has used the same film transfer found on the MGM Blu-ray, released in the U.S. back in 2010. The AVC video encodes appear to be slightly different but the two discs produce virtually indistinguishable video results. These are identical-looking Blu-rays. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The MGM transfer was a solid transfer from decent elements. Once again the included booklet provides the exact provenance:

The 35mm interpositive was transferred in High Definition on a Spirit DataCine at the Post Group in Hollywood, California. Digital restoration was completed at The Post Group using ASCIII and DRS. The colorist was Brian Borne, and the entire project was managed by Jeanine Intindola for MGM.

Invasion’s cinematography always had a heavy, dense appearance in the mold of other gritty films from its era. Think The French Connection or Taxi Driver, awash in noisy grain and dark textures. Waves of grain and distinctly dark lighting produce poor clarity and shadow depth.

The older film scan from an IP produces decent but not fabulous resolution. Close-ups have moderate detail at best, leading one to wonder if slight digital noise reduction has been applied to the transfer. A modest amount of halos pop up in a few scenes, though one early scene featuring Matthew on his job has an extreme degree of them. Aside from that bugaboo, the mostly film-like transfer produces respectable picture quality. It’s not steeped in extreme detail or clarity but this movie was meant to be dark and foreboding.

Video ★★★☆☆

The primary soundtrack is a 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless presentation that sounds incredible for a 1978 genre flick. The included booklet notes the audio was directly remastered from the original 35mm 2-track stereo printmaster mag and then obviously remixed to surround. It has a rich, full-bodied sound one rarely hears from older movies on Blu-ray. Dialogue is clean and crisp in the dynamic presentation, posed in a soundfield with precise imaging and spread out across the channels. Much of this movie’s terror is due to the creepy use of synthesizers and pulsing noises in the score’s background, designed by the same person responsible for the sound effects in a little film called Star Wars.

A stereo 2.0 PCM soundtrack reproduces the original mix but I found it an inferior listening experience to the more expansive 5.1 mix. English SDH subtitles are provided in a white font.

Audio ★★★★★

Arrow Video always pack their Blu-rays with large amounts of supplemental features. The bonus features in standard definition are all pulled from the MGM version. The features in Hi-Def are new to this version and for the most part provide excellent insight behind the scenes.

Arrow has released this Blu-ray in a limited steelbook edition and a regular Amaray case. The regular edition includes a reversible cover featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh. A 52-page collector’s booklet features new writing on the film by critic David Cairns, as well as re-prints of classic articles including contemporary interviews with Philip Kaufman and W.D. Richter. It is illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

Audio Commentary by Director Philip Kaufman – This is a patchy commentary with some gaps, though Kaufman does like to break-down the themes behind his movie and tell some production anecdotes.

Discussing the Pod (51:53 in HD) – A new panel conversation about Invasion of the Body Snatchers and invasion cinema featuring critic Kim Newman and filmmakers Ben Wheatley and Norman J. Warren.

Dissecting the Pod (17:24 in HD) – A new interview with Kaufman biographer Annette Insdorf.

Writing the Pod (11:15 in HD)- A new interview with Jack Seabrook, author of “Stealing through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney” about Finney’s original novel ‘The Body Snatchers.’

Re-Visitors from Outer Space: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod (16:14) – A documentary on the making of the film featuring Philip Kaufman, Donald Sutherland, writer W.D. Richter and more.

The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod (12:47 in SD) – A look at the film’s pioneering sound effects.

The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (05:24 in SD) – Cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) discusses the look of and influences on the visual style of the film.

Practical Magic: The Special Effect Pod (04:38 in SD) – A look at the creation of the special effects from the opening space sequence.

Original Theatrical Trailer in SD

Extras★★★★★

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