Creative compromises are the real enemy in 'Invasion'
Buried somewhere within the bipolar extravaganza that is The Invasion is an awfully good movie that got away.
The Nicole Kidman thriller is the fourth film version of the alien-paranoia classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers previously filmed in 1956, 1978, and 1993 and to understand its problems, you have to know some Hollywood back story.
Written by hot young screenwriter David Kajganich and directed by German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel (who made the 2004 Hitlers-last-days movie Downfall), The Invasion was filmed in 2005. Producer Joel Silver, that purveyor of commercially successful wham-bam, decided Hirschbiegels cut didnt work and put it on the shelf for a year, ultimately bringing in the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) to dream up some action scenes and James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) to reshoot them last fall.
Memo to Silver: This never works. It never has. Get it through your head trusting the original vision is always the better idea. As an example of creative (or desperate) editing meant to salvage a compromised project, The Invasion is a fascinating object lesson. As a sci-fi thriller, sadly, its a mess.
From what I can tell, Hirschbiegel and Kajganichs original had two great notions. The first is that Kidman already seems like an alien replicant. The Invasion is set in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Carol Bennell (Kidman) is a psychiatrist and single mom with a young son named Oliver (Jackson Bond). The action kicks in seconds after the opening credits, with the unexpected crash landing of the space shuttle bearing alien spores. Within hours or days, or weeks; its hard to tell people start behaving oddly, emotionlessly. Theyre no longer who they were but part of an eerie hive mind.
The gimmick is that Kidmans heroine starts the film as a cool, maternal zombie never has the actress more resembled a porcelain doll only to fall apart and become a stressed-out human as the virus takes root in the population. She has to lose control to remember she has a soul. There are no pods this time; as Carols ex-husband (Jeremy Northam) demonstrates, the spores are passed from person to person in an icky spew of green bile. Then you go to sleep, your DNA is re-engineered, and you wake up part of an alien ant colony.
The movies other brilliantly perverse idea: This might not be such a bad thing. In shards of overheard news footage, we realize that peace is breaking out all over the planet: Iraq, Israel, North Korea. Why fight when were all one big organism anyway? Is individuality a fair trade for global harmony? As The Invasion hurtles forward, fraying at the seams, the audience is put in the extremely odd position of rooting for both the humans and the aliens.
Thats the intent. At least, I think it is. There are two movies here, and the more simplistic one ends up in charge. Carols friend and brooding love interest, a doctor named Ben (Daniel Craig), gets a fair amount of business, but other characters have been thwacked back to brief appearances: Josef Sommer and Celia Weston get one good scene as Bens aging Eastern European friends, the Belicecs, as does Roger Rees, playing a cynical Russian diplomat. The gifted Jeffrey Wright is handed chunks of exposition as a lab researcher, then hustled off-screen.
Also present is Veronica Cartwright nice to know she survived the 1978 version as one of Carols patients. Her failure to go alien on schedule tilts The Invasion into an increasingly preposterous final 30 minutes, where characters hastily theorize about immunities and embark on long, frenetic car chases. The spectacularly eerie vibe the earlier scenes have built up, almost in spite of themselves, dies in a din of crushed fenders and gunshots. The films rewritten ending is theres no other word for it pathetic, a laughable attempt to patch closure onto a nightmare. Is there irony intended? Are we supposed to mourn the serene, dull alien Earth that almost is? By now, the storytellings much too confused to tell.
In the way that certain baseball games become pitchers duels, some movies are cutting-room battles. The credited editors on The Invasion are Hans Funck and Joel Negron; the first cut Downfall, the second movies like Man of the House and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. One is Hirschbiegels man, the other Joel Silvers. At times, you can actually see their two versions of the film wrestling, as scenes leap forward in time and then suddenly jump back.
At other moments, you sense the stately, almost monochromatic dread of Funcks cut between the sutures of meat-and-potatoes suspense, the nip-and-tuck of the hired plastic surgeon. Who knows what this movie could have been? The Invasion died on the operating-room table, and were just watching the wake.