01 July 2007

That Kid From "Waking Life" Digs "Body Snatchers"

I'm not one of those film purists categorically against remakes--this is the time of year when the pundits trot out the usual dogma bemoaning sequels, prequels, and remakes insisting, of course, that these aren't what audiences want, when box office tallies (even if they are lower this year) say otherwise (my guess is that "Rush Hour 3" will outgross Werner Herzog's "Rescue Dawn").

Director John Huston once said there was nothing wrong with remakes, as long as they remake bad movies and leave the good ones alone (he should know, his version of "The Maltese Falcon" was the third attempt at the famous Hammett detective yarn in a single decade). That pretty much sums up my opinion on the subject, although occassionally, a perfectly fine film that has become dated and is very much of-its-time has provided fodder for an interesting screen reinterpretation.

Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" is a stellar example. It stands completely on its own as a thriller, but could arguably be termed a sequel to Don Siegel's original 1956 classic (based upon Jack Finney's novel), in that its star, Kevin McCarthy, contributes a memorable cameo in the first act. What's more, the remake speaks to its own time: much as the original was response to McCarthy (Joe, not Kevin)-era paranoia, Kaufman's alien hordes preyed on 1970s "me-generation" vanity--disciples of EST, psychoanalysis, and the burgeoning cosmetic surgery industry who had already surrendered their individuality before the pods even appeared. Credit for this must be given to screenwriter W.D. Richter, who also adapted the Frank Langella Broadway revival of "Dracula" for John Badham, wrote "Big Trouble In Little China" for John Carpenter, and directed the cult gem "Buckaroo Banzai: Across The Eighth Dimension".

There was a third "Body Snatchers" that few remember: it was directed by Abel Ferrara in 1993 and released to little fanfare, critical acclaim, or box office. Set on a U.S. army base, it took a more action-oriented approach to the material (it runs a lean-n'-mean 85 minutes), eschewing subtext for some solid thrills. It also provided Meg Tilly with one of her last onscreen roles before she retired from acting to devote herself to motherhood and writing.

The latest version, simply titled "The Invasion", stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig and is due later this summer. It's already mired in controversy due to reports of budget overruns, reshoots, and bad test screenings, so the hatchets are already out for it--but I think the trailer is promising, which you can check out here (Updated July 3: the newly released one-sheet can be viewed here).

Wiley Wiggins--yes, the young actor from Richard Linklater's "Dazed And Confused" and "Waking Life"--is also a perceptive critic on the subject of film and new media and has been keeping a blog on the various happenings in the Austin film scene. This week, he reports on an Alamo Drafthouse screening of Kaufman's "Invasion", which he calls "most unique, the most immediate, and the most relevant. In that science fiction uses broad Rorschach blots to show us our own fears, hopes and conflicts, this film seems to hold the mirror closer than most..."

Wiggins' program notes can be read here (thanks to David Hudson's GreenCine Daily for the tip...)