The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents November 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Im Not There
The Kite Runner
ASC Close-Up
DVD Playback
Body Snatchers
Flash Gordon
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Collector’s Edition
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 2.0
MGM/20th Century Fox
Home Video, $19.95

Jack Finney’s story “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is one of the most durable in science fiction, at least as far as screen adaptations are concerned. To date, it has been filmed four times and has influenced countless unofficial remakes, such as The Faculty and They Live, but for sheer filmmaking craft and visceral terror, no incarnation has topped the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Philip Kaufman and photographed by Michael Chapman, ASC.

Setting the story in San Francisco, the film tells the story of Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), a health inspector whose co-worker, Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), becomes convinced that her husband isn’t her husband anymore — he looks and sounds the same, but at his core he is profoundly different. Before long, Matthew and a couple of other friends realize Elizabeth isn’t crazy: aliens have landed on Earth and are turning humankind into a race of emotionless “pods” who have no need for love, hate or individuality. The filmmakers use this premise to satirize not only particular cultural movements of the era (especially McCarthyism), but also the tendency people have to conform. The scariest thing about Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn’t that mankind is in danger of losing its ability to feel, but that so many people welcome the change.

Chapman, who was in the midst of a creative hot streak that included Taxi Driver, Fingers and Raging Bull, employed an unsettling palette of greens and violets to depict a world that has been infected. The juxtaposition of locations with a stylized color scheme perfectly suggests a recognizable urban landscape invaded by something unnatural, and Chapman uses a sophisticated interplay of light and shadow to convey the characters’ fears that danger lurks in every dark pocket of the frame.

The result is a suspenseful thriller that also packs an emotional wallop. The filmmakers balance formal compositions with subjective handheld camerawork to subtly manipulate the audience’s point of view throughout the film; the fact that the viewer’s identification is so complicated adds to the movie’s ability to disturb, as every unsettling implication in the film is followed through to its most terrifying possible conclusion.

Chapman’s evocative lighting has never looked better than it does in this two-disc collector’s edition, whose transfer of the film perfectly preserves not only the vivid colors but also the rich blacks of the picture’s palette. The equally impressive Dolby 2.0 mix is a terrific showcase for the work of sound designer Ben Burtt, who created a sense of aural unease to match the disturbing mise en scène.

In an engaging audio commentary, Kaufman articulately describes his process and the contributions of his collaborators. His ideas are explored further in four excellent featurettes that appear on disc two. The 16-minute “Re-Visitors from Outer Space” examines the genesis and themes of the film, and includes interviews with Kaufman, Chapman, and others. Chapman, who plays an alien pod in one scene, also discusses his work in “The Invasion Will Be Televised,” a five-minute supplement on the movie’s cinematography. The slightly shorter “Practical Magic” focuses on the special effects of the opening sequence, and the 12-minute “The Man Behind the Scream” features Burtt, Kaufman, and sound editor Bonnie Koehler explaining Invasion’s rich audio effects.

The creepy theatrical trailer that completes the set contains a voice-over narration asserting that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is “a modern masterpiece.” Watching the movie nearly 30 years after its release, it’s apparent that this is a rare case of truth in advertising.

<< previous || next >>