In today’s world of increasing paranoia over the creeping powers of state surveillance, where parallels to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Red Scares of the 1950s are made in the West’s liberal press on an almost daily basis, it seems a fairly obvious choice to look to old Cold War parables for sources to rework for the present day. But in hunting them out, it seems rather bizarre to opt for one of those that helped add to the paranoia, rather than point out the insanity of the situation.
Originally written in 1954, at the peak of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s vehement anti-Communist crusade, sci fi author Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers is now a Cold War classic. Telling of an invasion of strange alien creatures who create almost indistinguishable clones of regular humans, killing the originals in the process, it was a fairly unsubtle analogy to the inability of regular Americans to tell which of their friends may be Communists.
It was first filmed in 1956, then again in 1978 (the version everyone remembers, with Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy). Another version cropped up in 1993, with similar plots cropping up in the likes of John Carpenter’s The Thing and the cult 1958 B-movie I Married A Monster From Outer Space, and the cult late-1960s TV show The Invaders. Similar ideas have also been explored in the various post-George Romero zombie movies, following his classic 1968 flick Night of the Living Dead.
So, why make another version, especially now that the Cold War atmosphere in which the previous versions flourished is no longer around? The 1993 version, after all, crashed and burned, coming as it did a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union.
It’s a question that the studio responsible seems to have been asking itself repeatedly over the last couple of years, so long has this latest version been delayed. For a movie starring the enviable A-list pairing of Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman, the delay seems bizarre. After all, Hollywood excels in pointless remakes, and never seems to worry too much about the quality as long as the new versions have sufficient star power to lure in the punters.
Originally filmed in the autumn of 2005, for a year-and-a-half after shooting the project languished until the Wachowski brothers, best known for their similarly paranoia-filled Matrix series, were brought in for re-writes, with re-shoots – costing more than half the original budget again – taking place in January this year with an all-new director and an all-new ending.
But have the reshoots been worth it? Well, the idea remains the same – the modern shift being to make the alien invaders not some sinister plant-like organism as in previous versions, but a virus that soon takes control of almost the whole world, aided by infected people in the governmental machine. As Kidman and Craig desperately try to counter the onslaught, the claustrophobic, panicked atmosphere is intended to create suspense – yet even with such top actors, and despite the expensive rethink, something falls flat. Why? Simply because we’ve seen this all before – many, many times. Even with A-list actors and a good stab at a slickly stylish shooting style, lack of originality is far harder to disguise. Like the infected humans in all the previous adaptations of The Body Snatchers, it’s pretty much the same as before, but something’s just not quite right.