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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1956)

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Home Video Reviews

The recent release of Don Siegel's hugely influential science fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) as a DVD from Olive Films may well have its legion of fans proclaiming "This Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not my Invasion of the Body Snatchers!" The mounting paranoia is certainly understandable. Based on Jack Finney's 1955 paperback The Body Snatchers, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has inspired no less than three direct remakes and countless copycats, while the story's logline of friends and loved ones being supplanted by soulless lookalikes became a bedrock genre trope from the mid-20th Century onwards. Given its credibility, its timelessness, its cultural significance, and its undiluted ability to unnerve more than fifty years after the fact, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is more than worthy of Criterion Collection status. It deserves to be presented, curated, and honored - not only as a means of preservation but as a showcase for why the film has such purchase within American society. To see the feature fobbed off as a take-it-or-leave-it, bare bones release just seems... wrong.

This is not to denigrate the efforts of Olive Films. The Illinois-based home entertainment company has labored over the past few years - in conjunction with licensor Paramount Pictures - to bring to the digital marketplace a number of cinematic oddments that might otherwise have never seen the light of day on DVD, among them Andrew Marton's unjustly forgotten disaster classic Crack in the World (1965), Howard W. Koch's gritty policier Badge 373 (1973), Fritz Lang's noirish Secret Beyond the Door (1947), John Ford's cavalry saga Rio Grande (1950), and Eugene LouriƩ's rampaging robot romp The Colossus of New York (1958). These films, while individually worthwhile, are a bit second tier... one might even say minor. Minor is a charge that could never be placed against Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which retains short list status as not only one of the greatest science fiction films of its era but of all time. Not the least of the film's parade of iconic images and setpieces is the capper of lead Kevin McCarthy running into busy traffic yelling "You're next! You're next! You're next!" a catchphrase on par with "Keep watching the skies!" and "Klaatu, barada, nikto."

With the dissolution of its distributor, Allied Artists, in 1979, the rights to Invasion of the Body Snatchers changed hands more than once, resulting in a series of video, laser disc, and DVD releases over the past thirty years. Nostalgia Merchant offered the first VHS tape in the early 80s but by the end of the decade copyright had shifted to Republic, who turned out not only a much-reviled colorized sell-through tape but also the first DVD, in 1998. In between, Invasion was the eighth laser disc pressing of the Criterion Collection, a subsidiary of The Voyager Company, specialists in educational and instructional CD-ROMs. Presented on two platters, the Criterion laser of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a nonanamorphic attempt to approximate the film's 2:1 SuperScope framing. Not commonly remembered is that the film was shot at 1.33:1 (likely intended for 1.85:1 exhibition) but reframed for widescreen in postproduction. The presentation of the Criterion laser was ported over to the nonanamorphic Republic DVD, which repeated the tack of windowboxing (rather than letterboxing) the feature to preserve its original aspect ratio - the result being a frame of thick black bars akin to watching the film through a mail slot. A bonus standard frame version (1.33:1) of the film was nothing more than an ill-advised cutdown of its SuperScope blow up.

The purchase of the Republic library by Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures put Invasion of the Body Snatchers within reach of Olive Films. (The handover mooted a proposed deluxe DVD edition, for which filmmaker Joe Dante had conducted an audio commentary with stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter.) Olive offers an improved transfer in both standard DVD and Blu-ray formats. Though the film looks a long way from fully restored, the Olive disc is cleaner, smoothing out the crawling grain evident on the old laser and DVDs, and evincing good detail and satisfying black levels (so crucial for the film's closing act, as McCarthy and leading lady Dana Wynter take refuge from the pod people in Bronson Cave and share a final moment of human tenderness). Anamorphic enhancement allows Invasion of the Body Snatchers to fill the home entertainment screen, restoring its sense of global menace. The Criterion laser disc had included the film's original downbeat ending as well as some technical featurettes related to the SuperScope makeover, all missing from the Republic and now the Olive films DVD. The Olive release lacks even a theatrical trailer by way of extras and instead of the 25 chapter stops of old Olive offers 8. Take it or leave it.

For more information about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, visit Olive Films. To order Invasion of the Body Snatchers, go to TCM Shopping.

by Richard Harland Smith