Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

It’s rare to find a remake that many think was better than the original film.

In the world of science fiction, there are perhaps a handful of such films, like the 1988 remake of The Blob, John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenbergs’s The Fly, and, of course, the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Now two of the original  films on that list weren’t necessarily great films, but that certainly wasn’t true of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is considered one of the greatest films of the genre.

I’ll admit that I have long suspected that this was all hype, and had very, very low expectations for this version.  Certainly, none of the other attempts to make another remake have been very good.  So I’ve put off watching this one repeatedly (so long, in fact, that the one copy that was available at a local library has, in fact, vanished

But, armed with a lucky find second-hand copy, I finally watched this one…

And found, much to my surprise, that it was extremely well done.  A classic, like the original.

Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was better than the original.  That’s asking a lot of any movie.

But it does help that we’ve got an impressive cast, with Donald Sutherland in the lead, Leonard Nimoy as a celebrity psychologist, a very young Jeff Goldblum, and even cameos from the original star, Kevin McCarthy, and from Don Siegel, who directed the original.

One of the most noticeable changes comes right at the beginning:  it starts on a distant alien planet, as we see the aliens start on their journey across the unknown reaches of space.  The creature effects once they reach Earth, as something  like droplets of water which then send out tendrils and turn into small flowers, are quite impressive in a very old school way.  I suspect that they don’t get as much attention as some of the more grotesque effects later in the film, but they are quite effective, and tells us a lot more about the aliens than we learned in the first film.

Another major change is that the story has moved from a small town to San Francisco, where our heroes find themselves increasingly alone in the midst of the crowds.

But the change is successful, and the film generates lots of suspense before reaching its explosive finale — and final twist.

Perhaps the most telling element is the perfect, Utopian society the aliens are building, where our familiar civilization runs flawlessly and unhappiness and suffering have been eliminated.  The aliens boast that they represent the evolution of a superior new species — and, naturally, they cannot conceive that the emotions they lack could have any value.

I will note that one character is not particularly convincing as a good friend, although he does better as one of the aliens.  But that is a minor glitch

There is no question, though, that this film is something rare and extraordinary — a remake of a classic that is almost as good as the original.

Whether you’re willing to say it is better or not.

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