Friday, August 3, 2012

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Blu-ray)

Based on a short story by Jack Finney and directed by the great Don Siegel, 1956's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is a bonafide science fiction masterpiece; a genre classic that has inspired at least three official remakes and countless imitators. Now, the boutique video label Olive Films brings the movie to high definition with a new Blu-ray release.

Small town doctor Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy, PIRANHA, UHF) returns to his Santa Mira, California practice after a week at a medical convention to find that a number of his patients and neighbors appear to be suffering from the same paranoid delusion. They are all convinced that their loved ones have somehow become replaced by identical-looking imposters. At first, he's understandably skeptical, and is much more interested in re-igniting an old romance with the recently-divorced Becky Driscoll (lovely Dana Wynter, THE CRIMSON PIRATE), but when a friend finds an oddly "unfinished" body - devoid of distinguishing features or fingerprints - in his home, Bennell realizes the truth: an alien intelligence is creating duplicates of the townspeople (by means of huge "seed pods") and assuming their identities when they fall asleep. Can the good doctor and his lady love escape from the emotionless replicants and warn the rest of the world before it's too late?

Directed with calculated efficiency by the talented Siegel (THE KILLERS, DIRTY HARRY) from a top-notch screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring (OUT OF THE PAST), BODY SNATCHERS gradually ramps up the tension and paranoia from the first frame on, building to an emotional climax that retains its power despite a tacked-on, "hopeful" epilogue insisted upon by the producers. Leads McCarthy and Wynters are excellent and utterly believable, playing into the fantastic situation with sincerity and conviction. The rest of the fine cast includes a number of familiar 50s character actors like Dabbs Greer, Carolyn Jones, Whit Bissell, Richard Deacon, and famed director Sam Peckinpah, in supporting roles.

Although the film has been subject to countless interpretations by critics and fans, some of whom perceive it to be a treatise on the horror of creeping Communism - or, conversely, the perils of McCarthy-esque paranoia - the movie really works because it touches on a universal, primal fear: the loss of one's own identity, the loss of self. It's powerful stuff.

Olive Films is a small company that recently arranged with Paramount to license a number of titles from the Republic Studios film library (which Paramount acquired a while back). This new BODY SNATCHERS release is one of the first products of that arrangement, and it's very welcome. The Olive Films Blu-ray features a remarkably nice 1080p, high-definition, 2.00:1 "Superscope" transfer in glorious black & white. The source print (the original negative no longer exists) is in great shape, and the HD transfer exhibits solid blacks, good contrast, and excellent detail. Audio is a satisfactory DTS-HD Master 1.0 Mono.

Unfortunately, there are no extras provided. Considering how much has been written and said about this film over the years, I can't imagine it would have been too difficult to arrange and record an audio commentary or scrape up some posters and publicity shots for a still gallery. As the Suggested Retail Price is among the upper-end of Blu-ray prices, the lack of supplemental material is especially disappointing. Don't misunderstand me; I'm grateful to have the movie presented properly (the old Artisan DVD had terrible picture quality), but BODY SNATCHERS is a genuine, recognized classic, and deserves a little celebration.

Despite the bare-bones package, Olive Films has done a very fine job on the HD transfer, and the movie really should be in every film buff's video library. Recommended.

BUYInvasion of the Body Snatchers [Blu-ray]