Release Date(s)1978 (November 23, 2021)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is often noted as one of three great horror remakes, the other two being John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Adapted by W.D. Richter, who would go on to write the 1979 version of Dracula and Big Trouble in Little China, not to mention directing The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, this pod people reimagining toys with the same basic plot elements, but modernizes them. The 1956 original was subtextually about communistic paranoia, whereas the remake posits a more conspiracy-laden replacement program in which friends and lovers in a New Age world can no longer be trusted. These differences aside, the film did well over the Christmas weekend and beyond, all but eclipsing the original in popularity—a rare feat for a remake.
A group of gelatinous spores from outer space make their way to Earth, specifically San Francisco, co-mingling with the local plant life. Once people discover them, they begin to change, no longer resembling their former selves on the inside but appearing as exact copies on the outside. A constant sense of unease about who is really who is what drives the story. It keeps viewers alert, going from one moment to the next with a feeling of tension, but also dread towards the inevitable. Invasion of the Body Snatchers also deals with more contemporary concepts, including new approaches to psychiatry and interpersonal relationship issues. Even before the takeover, characters are already focused on inner modification or identifying problems in their love lives. Little do they know though that real change is about to occur. And when a select few begin to understand what’s really happening, they run for their lives, not knowing who to trust.
Besides the main members of the cast (Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Nancy Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, and Jeff Goldblum), the film is also littered with cameos, including a brief moment with Robert Duvall, whom Kaufman had worked with previously on The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. Kaufman himself cameos in a couple of scenes, as does director of photography Michael Chapman. Not to be outdone, Kevin McCarthy, more or less, cameos as his character from the original film. And Don Siegel, who directed the original, pops up as a cab driver. Interestingly, it was a time when Leonard Nimoy was in transition as an actor, despite the fact that the persona of his character Dr. Kibner shares many similar traits with Mr. Spock.
Invasion’s other great assets lie in its cinematography by Michael Chapman and its sound design by Star Wars veteran Ben Burtt (later mixed by Mark Berger). The sounds of the pod people screeching, as well as the transformation process, inherently make one’s skin crawl. The special make-up and mechanical effects during these scenes are still impressive and hold up remarkably well. But one of the most unforgettable aspects of the film is its ending, which wasn’t known to the cast and crew outside of Sutherland, Kaufman, and Richter. When the cameras rolled on Veronica Cartwright as she approached Sutherland to greet him, her reaction wasn’t scripted. The same technique was also used on her for a scene in Alien nearly a year later.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was shot by director of photography Michael Chapman on 35 mm photochemical film with—based upon my research—Arriflex 35BL cameras and Cooke and Zeiss B Speed (Super Speed) lenses. The resulting image was framed at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical presentation. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to 4K Ultra HD for the first time utilizing a newly-restored master taken from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, which has been personally approved and color graded by director Philip Kaufman for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available).
One thing to remember about Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that Michael Chapman deliberately shot the film with low lighting levels, attempting to achieve a noir-ish feel, but in color. Because of this, various home video iterations of the film over the years have ranged from overly crushed to too bright, and everything in between. Though Chapman didn’t specifically approve this transfer himself, he and Philip Kaufman worked closely in creating the film’s look. That said, Kino Lorber’s presentation is stellar. Indeed, it’s the best the film has ever looked outside of a screening room, if not better. The higher encode allows for great depth, but also tight grain that borders on the heavy, but organic side. Detail found within the darkest corners of San Francisco, in both daytime and nighttime scenes, is quite muscular. The color palette offers a range of various greens for foliage, but also bold swatches of red, yellow, and blue. The grays, oranges, and browns of the city-bound environments are also accurate, as are flesh tones. Viewing this transfer on the accompanying Blu-ray really shows just how powerful it is, but the added depth in the HDR pass pushes it right over the top. Blacks and shadows are especially beneficial, deepening them naturally and bringing out new detail. While the previous Scream Factory Blu-ray release of the film had a cooler tint, this transfer leans more towards a naturally warm appearance. Contrast levels are excellent, the image is stable, and there are no major instances of dirt or debris leftover. Indeed, it would be challenging to make the film look any better.
The audio comes in both English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. A lot of the sound work leans to the vintage side, but Ben Burtt’s amazing sound effects remain very much intact. Dialogue is always clear and discernible, and both sound effects and score have an ample amount of room to breathe in the surrounding channels with plenty of speaker to speaker movement, never attempting to re-envision the film’s original sound design. There’s also an abundance of ambient activity, as well as occasional low end. The stereo track obviously has less room to move around in, but both tracks are otherwise identical and clean, free of any leftover distortion, dropouts, crackle, or hiss.
The disc sits inside a black amaray case alongside a Blu-ray featuring the same transfer in 1080p, as well as the same audio and subtitle options. (Again, even the Blu-ray of this new transfer looks fantastic.) The double-sided artwork features the advance US one-sheet poster on the front, and the reverse features one of several alternate foreign posters for the film. Everything is housed within a slipcover featuring the same US one-sheet. The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE (UHD)
- Audio Commentary by Philip Kaufman
- Audio Commentary by Steve Haberman
DISC TWO (BD)
- Audio Commentary by Philip Kaufman
- Audio Commentary by Steve Haberman
- Star-Crossed in the Invasion with Brooke Adams (HD – 9:07)
- Re-Creating the Invasion with W.D. Richter (HD – 15:45)
- Scoring the Invasion with Denny Zeitlin (HD – 15:35)
- Leading the Invasion with Art Hindle (HD – 25:04)
- Writing the Pod (HD – 11:16)
- Re-Visitors from Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod (Upscaled SD – 16:15)
- Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (SD – 4:39)
- The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod (SD – 12:48)
- The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (SD – 5:24)
- Radio Spots (HD – 10 in all – 4:56)
- TV Spots (SD – 2 in all – 1:02)
- Trailer (HD – 2:16)
- The Puppet Masters Trailer (SD – 1:45)
- The Wanderers Trailer (HD – 1:53)
Director Philip Kaufman provides a solo audio commentary, originally recorded for the 1998 MGM DVD release of the film. Although he goes silent a few too many times, he offers plenty of behind-the-scenes details that can’t be found in the other supplements. It’s a well-edited and entertaining track. Film historian Steve Haberman provides a second audio commentary, which was originally recorded for the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release in 2016. As is his usual fashion, he delves deeply into the background of the film, its cast, and its crew—giving rapid-fire facts about its creation, but also providing plenty of contextual information.
Star-Crossed in the Invasion features an interview with actress Brooke Adams who discusses getting the part, working with Philip Kaufman, appearing nude, various moments from the film, working with the cast, and how creepy the film still is. Re-Creating the Invasion features writer W.D. Richter who discusses getting involved with the project, working with Kaufman, thematics and changes in the script, the time and setting of the story, Kevin McCarthy’s and Don Siegel’s cameos, the special effects, writing during shooting, the cast, and the ending. Scoring the Invasion features composer Denny Zeitling who talks about approaching the score without outside influence, getting the job, using jazz music, relying on organic sounds instead of traditional instrumental sounds, Jerry Garcia playing banjo in the score, emotional moments in the score, the film’s effect on people, his process, and his feelings on the film in retrospect. Leading the Invasion features actor Art Hindle who discusses being fully aware of the original film, coming from Canada, working with Kaufman, his character, playing someone who has been “body snatched”, working with various members of the cast, Michael Chapman, and making three big horror films in a row. In Writing the Pod, author Jack Seabrook discusses the life and career of Jack Finney, who wrote the original novel of The Body Snatchers.
Next is a set of featurettes originally produced for the 2007 Collector’s Edition DVD release by MGM and 20th Century Fox. Re-Visitors from Outer Space features some of the main cast and crew, including Philip Kaufman, W.D. Richter, Michael Chapman, Donald Sutherland, and Veronica Cartwright, who speak about the film retrospectively. Practical Magic discusses the film’s special effects with Howard Preston. The Man Behind the Scream talks about the film’s sound effects and sound design with Ben Burtt and Bonnie Koehler. The Invasion Will Be Televised talks about the film’s cinematography with many of the previous contributors. The rest of the extras consist of 10 radio spots, 2 TV spots, the film’s trailer, and trailers for 2 other Kino Lorber Blu-ray releases.
A few extras from previous releases of the film are not present. Missing from the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release is the Time Is Just a Place episode of Science Fiction Theatre and a photo gallery. And not carried over from the Arrow Video Region B Blu-ray release are two Discussing the Pod interviews with filmmaker Norman J. Warren, director Ben Wheatley, film critic Kim Newman, and film scholar Annette Insdorf. Everything else is accounted for.
While the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956 was a B movie classic, many film fans consider the remake to be superior. And although Phillip Kaufman had made four films prior, and later made the well-regarded films The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Right Stuff, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is probably his most well-known and more respected work. Kino Lorber’s new presentation of the film is reference quality stuff, showcasing how a film from this era can be presented in Ultra HD when given the proper treatment. That, along with a bevy of great bonus materials, make this a must-own release. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons