Poor Nicole Kidman. For an A-list, Oscar-winning actress, she just can't catch a break lately. Her film credits over the last few years read like a list of cinematic casualties: 'Stepford Wives,' 'Bewitched,' 'Dogville,' 'Birth,' and 'The Golden Compass' -- all bombs. Now we can add 'The Invasion' to the list. The film, a much-troubled remake of the classic 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' was not just DOA at the 2007 summer box office, but a tankeroo of such epic proportions that it easily ran away with the title of biggest misfire of the season.
Although I’ve always admired Kidman -- and as much as I wish I could throw her a bone -- 'The Invasion' unfortunately lives up (er, rather, down) to its tragic reputation. The movie was plagued with production problems from the outset. Much publicized "creative differences" between director Oliver Hirschbiegel and producer Joel Silver resulted in dire test screenings and studio-mandated reshoots (reportedly orchestrated by 'Matrix' gurus the Wachowski Brothers). Then, during reshoots, Kidman was involved in an on-set accident, which thankfully free of casualties, only added to the film's stigma as damaged goods. When the ‘The Invasion’ ultimately hit theaters, bringing in a paltry $15 million domestic gross, few were surprised.
The first third of 'The Invasion' seems like a promising (if somewhat unnecessary) update of the original 1956 paranoia classic about body-swapping aliens, with Kidman playing Carol Bennell, a successful Washington psychiatrist who is starting to notice a disturbing trend in her patients. Complaints of loved ones whose bodies appear to have been "invaded" by an inhuman presence are reaching epidemic proportions, and Carol soon begins noticing strange and sudden personality changes in those around her. Enlisting the help of Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) and his fellow lab technician Dr. Stephen Galeano (Jeffrey Wright), Carol uncovers the shocking reality -- an alien race has invaded earth through microorganisms, and it’s taking over the human race one "host" at a time.
Up to the midway point, 'The Invasion' is a faithful and compelling update of the original 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' (as well as its subsequent remakes, Philip Kaufman's underrated 1978 redux, and Abel Ferrara's flawed but still effective 1993 take, simply dubbed 'Body Snatchers'). Unfortunately, it's absolutely clear where the creative schism occurred between mega-producer Silver (champion of loud, brainless action over substance) and the German-born Hirschbiegel, who reportedly favored a more cerebral, thought-provoking approach to the material. The minute the fast-cut editing and obviously tacked-on action set pieces kick in, it's like a another movie has been spliced into 'The Invasion.' Countless other films have seen post-production tinkering (some good, some bad), but here, the Frankenstein'ing of multiple sensibilities completely destroys the picture.
The second half of 'The Invasion' is a mess. Hirschbiegel spends a good deal of time setting the mood and eliciting a fine performance from Kidman, only to see it thrown away in a mishmash of half-baked chase-and-rescue sequences that have been force-fed into the narrative. Any interesting thematic ideas that Hirschbiegel and screenwriter Dave Kajganich have hinted at (particularly the use of the Washington setting and allusions to our current political climate), are completely jettisoned in favor of action cliches. Do we really need Kidman in three different car chases? What about the bizarre, utterly misguided use of ultra-fast cutting that somehow uses flash-forwards to make complete mincemeat of coherency? Hirschbiegel's original version of 'The Invasion' may have lacked the big-ticket action that movie studios feel audiences demand, but it's hard to imagine it being any worse than the final cut.
Despite the butchering, there are hints in 'The Invasion' of what might have been. Visually, there is much to like here. Rainer Klausmann’s moody and evocative cinematography makes this the best-looking body snatcher movie yet, and the initially meticulous pacing (at least in the first half) creates a sense of impending dread that easily equals both the 1956 original and the excellent 1978 remake. Hirschbiegel also has fun updating the method of alien infection, which results in some genuinely queasy (but not gory) transformation effects that truly gave me goosebumps.
It's too bad Silver and Warner Brothers had so little faith in the audience that they felt 'The Invasion' had to be tarted up with lame conventions and insipid action. The appeal of the body snatchers tale has always been in its use of pod people and assimilation as an allegory for cultural paranoia, but such resonance is precisely what has been edited out of 'The Invasion.' It's upsetting to see a film so clueless about the appeal of its own story, despite the best efforts of the filmmakers involved. 'The Invasion' is truly a missed opportunity.
Warner brings 'The Invasion' to HD DVD in a 1080p/VC-1 encode (identical to the previously-released Blu-ray), framed at the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. It's a very nice presentation, with a coolly stylized veneer that suits the film well.
The source is a bit grainy, but otherwise 'The Invasion' is typical of a new release and looks as clean as a whistle. The striking use of a vivid color palette that slowly grows more desaturated as the invasion progresses is nicely rendered here, with excellent clarity and no chroma noise or other issues. Fleshtones are not "accurate," nor are they intended to be, and the bluish/yellow cast adds a suitably clinical air to the proceedings. Unfortunately, there is a bit of oversaturation in the early parts of the picture, which somewhat lessens overall detail, but otherwise, this is a sharp and dimensional picture. Blacks are excellent, with contrast nicely modulated across the entire grayscale but it’s not too bright or bloomy.
This is also another smooth VC-1 encode from Warner, with no noticeable artifacts, and the lack of edge enhancement (typical of most Warner high-def releases) is always welcome. Aside from the excessive colors and slight graininess, this transfer is sure to please.
Warner provides a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) for 'The Invasion,' and it stands tall with the video -- a very fine, involving presentation. (Optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround dubs are provided in French and Spanish, along with English SDH and French and Spanish subtitles.)
'The Invasion' gets most of its sonic bang out of subtle atmospheric effects, particularly during the first half. The sound design here is quite clever -- almost subliminal -- in merging droning and mechanical sounds (everyday appliances, outside traffic etc.) with the score. It's all bleeds nicely around the soundfield, and dedicated discrete effects are also localized with sharp accuracy. When the more action-oriented moments kick in during the muddled last act, the surrounds become even more aggressive, with smooth pans and an effective amount of heft directed to the rear soundstage.
Dynamics are also strong. Low bass is suitably deep, but not overpowering, and the higher registers have the slick clarity of an A-list, big-budget studio film. Dialogue is nicely reproduced as well, with only a few of the quietest moments seeming a bit flat in the mix. Overall, 'The Invasion' is not a rock 'em-sock 'em soundtrack designed to hit you over the head, but given the film's stylistic intentions, it's a very effective presentation.
The list of supplements included on 'The Invasion' initially looks impressive, until you actually take 'em out for a spin. This is a piss-poor batch of extras, whose total runtime is so short it almost feels like a cheat. At least Warner presents them all in full 1080i/VC-1 video, though it's hardly enough to offset the overall chintziness of the affair. (Subtitle options on the extras include English, French and Spanish.)
'The Invasion' is the fourth and weakest retelling of the famous 'Body Snatchers' tale. Believe the talk you heard of post-production tinkering destroying the final product -- this is a clear case of too many cooks spoiling what could have been a solid remake. This HD DVD is a nice presentation of the film, however, with great video and audio. Alas, the supplements are lame, but if you're only interested in the flick, this is probably worth a rental. Just sets your sights very, very low.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.