The best jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the exis­tence of a remake is when it respects the spir­it of its inspi­ra­tion while tak­ing it in a new direc­tion that ties in with the zeit­geist of its time.  For a pitch-per­fect exam­ple, one need look no fur­ther than Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.  It ful­fills all the afore­men­tioned InvBS78-posrequire­ments for a qual­i­ty remake — and the results aren’t just good, they’re rev­e­la­to­ry in how they find new dimen­sions in clas­sic mate­ri­al.

The 1978 ver­sion of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers moves the action from a small town to San Francisco.  A strange rain brings a strain of new flow­ers, noticed by Elizabeth (Brooke Adams).  She shows them to her co-work­er, health inspec­tor Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) but is soon dis­tract­ed by sud­den changes in per­son­al­i­ty and behav­ior in her hus­band Geoffrey (Art Hindle).

More peo­ple start to show sim­i­lar changes — and they soon learn that the flow­ers are the host to spores that con­tain an alien race.  Those aliens con­quer a plan­et by cre­at­ing repli­cas of the planet’s inhab­i­tants to take them over — and soon Matthew and Elizabeth are on the run with edgy poet Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and his quirky wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) as they find them­selves at the heart of an ever-grow­ing con­quest of the city.

That plot syn­op­sis might sound famil­iar to those who know the orig­i­nal Invasion but it doesn’t account for the clev­er ways in which Kaufman and screen­writer W.D. Richter update the mate­ri­al.  The char­ac­ter­i­za­tions have a wit and eccen­tric­i­ty that fits the late ‘70s milieu and the plot clev­er­ly takes on the struc­ture of the kind of polit­i­cal para­noia thrillers that became so pop­u­lar in the ‘70s.  In doing so, it gives the sto­ry a the­mat­ic over­haul that makes it a pow­er­ful ele­gy for the death of invidi­vual­ism in soci­ety, with the aliens rep­re­sent­ing the kind of creep­ing con­for­mi­ty that peo­ple give in to all too eas­i­ly in dehu­man­iz­ing times.

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Invasion Of The Body Snatchers also has a unique feel, deft­ly blend­ing ten­sion with bits of sar­cas­tic humor and gen­uine emo­tion.  Kaufman brings a con­trolled inten­si­ty to his direc­tion, har­ness­ing the skills of his col­lab­o­ra­tors to cre­ate an atmos­phere of free-float­ing anx­i­ety.  The key weapon in his arse­nal is fan­tas­tic cin­e­matog­ra­phy from Michael Chapman, who mix­es film noir light­ing and dra­mat­ic angles with deft hand­held pho­tog­ra­phy to cre­ate an ever-evolv­ing visu­al style that grabs the view­er from the ear­li­est shots.  Also wor­thy of note is punchy edit­ing by Douglas Stewart, skin-crawl­ing sound design by Star Wars vet Ben Burtt and an amaz­ing score by jazz musi­cian Denny Zeitlin that weds avant-garde orches­tra­tion to bur­bling synths.

As a result, this ver­sion of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a styl­is­tic pow­er­house that sweeps you up and car­ries you along via a string of amaz­ing set­pieces: high­lights include an amaz­ing dia­logue-free open­ing scene that depicts the spores trav­el­ing to earth, jit­tery fast-cut mon­tages of Sutherland and Adams rush­ing through the streets as para­noia takes over and tense show­downs in a lab­o­ra­to­ry and a ware­house.  Even sim­ple sce­nes like Matthew try­ing to con­vince dis­be­liev­ing cops that Geoffrey is up to no good gain a new pow­er from bold film­mak­ing choic­es (in this case: prowl­ing, jagged­ly-cut hand­held shots that chart the shift­ing ener­gy of the con­ver­sa­tion).

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However, the 1978 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers has more to it than just para­noia and style.  Its heart is a fan­tas­tic ensem­ble of per­for­mances that make it easy to mourn the attack on indi­vid­u­al­ism the sto­ry presents.  Sutherland makes a like­ably atyp­i­cal hero, show­ing a low-key charm and his under­rat­ed sense of humor, and Adam match­es his efforts with a warm per­sona and a con­vinc­ing knack for con­vey­ing fear.  They’re a cou­ple you’ll root for and their trag­ic romance adds an added lay­er of grav­i­ty to the pro­ceed­ings.

It’s also worth not­ing that Goldblum and Cartwright are some of most like­able weir­does you’ll see in a sci-fi flick, gen­tly skew­er­ing post-hip­pie era ‘70s weird­ness but mak­ing their char­ac­ters resource­ful and charm­ing.  Elsewhere, Hindle is chill­ing­ly numb as the first of the film’s “pod peo­ple” and Leonard Nimoy has one of his best non–Star Trek roles as a smarmy pop psy­chol­o­gist who uses his ther­a­py-jar­gon to explain away the heroes’ sus­pi­cions about the peo­ple around them.  There’s even mem­o­rable cameos from two peo­ple in the orig­i­nal Body Snatchers, star Kevin McCarthy and direc­tor Don Siegel.

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Simply put, the 1978 redux of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is one of the great movie remakes.  It’s styl­ish, smart, inspired in its the­mat­ic rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of its text and filled with the kind of ener­gy and cre­ativ­i­ty that any good movie should have.