If one were to bring up the subject of movie remakes, there generally tends to be a unifying call among people: no more. For most, a remake seems like a lazy attempt to cash in on a familiar name. It seems like it is a choice to avoid taking any risk on a new idea, instead retreading the familiar and potentially creating an inferior version of the same product. In truth, a remake is not an inherently bad prospect. True, sometimes it is done merely as an act of business by using that familiar name to get people into the theaters. However, a remake can result in something good. It could take a past film which had a good idea but flawed execution, and better realize its potential. It could expand and better showcase ideas hinted or suggested at with an earlier work. That is the case for one such remake. Back in 1956, a movie called Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released and became one of the sci-fi classics of its era, serving as an effective piece of anti-Communist (or anti-McCarthyist, depending on your interpretation) paranoia. Then, in 1978, it was remade, the result being a chilling tale that examines the subject through the lens of ’70s cynicism and “Me Decade” ideas.
In the city of San Francisco, Elizabeth Driscoll thinks that something is wrong. Her boyfriend, Geoffrey, has begun to act differently. He is colder, more distant to her. She turns to a colleague, Matthew Bendell, for help in trying to find out just what has happened. As they do, however, they discover something truly odd: duplicates seeming to form, baring a resemblance to people that they know and linked to a strange plant that has begun to pop up. As they try to understand this, they discover the truth: people are not who they seem. More and more people are being replaced with these alien copies when they fall asleep, the originals destroyed. It is not just normal people being replaced, either. This duplicates have infiltrated into positions of power, as well. Now, they seek to replace humanity and claim our world as theirs. With the threat of the world hanging in the balance, Elizabeth and Matthew set out to stop the spread of these duplicates. Of course, can they trust the people around them, or have they already fallen prey to the body snatchers?
This film is an example of a good remake. It takes the paranoia built into the core idea of people being replaced by emotionless copies and expands upon it with the execution. For instance, early in the film, most of the city is packed with the sort of natural noise that can arise from people rushing about. However, as more and more people are replaced, that ambient noise grows quieter. In addition, the performances of these copies are strong, delivering on a sense of otherness that make their detached attitudes all the more chilling. Along with that, the upgrade in effects better showcases aspects of the copying process that were merely hinted at in the original. For instance, the original film was somewhat limited in showing the copy development, mostly displaying opening pods and vaguely human forms in them. In this version, the copies grow and form through a stage of uncanny development, while the originals are leeched upon as they sleep. As for the destruction of the originals, their decayed and broken husks are a chilling portrayal of the end result of anyone copied by these body snatchers. Of course, effects are one thing. The bigger point, however, is in how this remake uses the idea of the body snatchers to explore its own avenue of thought.
While the original film was focused on fears of the 1950s, this iteration is rooted in concerns of the 1970s. For instance, the ’70s was a period of time sometimes regarded as the “Me Decade”, because the communal ideals of the ’60s gave way to self-centered pursuits concerning changing oneself. In essence, there was a shift from fixing society to fixing individuals. In this film, the aliens present their takeover as a better alternative to humanity’s natural state. They offer a world that is free from fear and hate…but also free from love. Thus, their takeover is presented almost as a chilling allegory about the temptation in changing oneself by essentially checking out of the big picture. Along with that, a distrust of government and authority festered into the 1970s. Situations like the Vietnam War and Watergate prompted a suspicion in the public about authority, and this film channels those concerns into the fears it presents. Elizabeth and Matthew do try to use the authorities to combat the spread of these body snatchers, but even the police and local government figures have been infiltrated by these aliens stalling their efforts. Even a self-help guru they turn to for assistance seems more like a modern-day snake oil salesman instead of a useful authority figure. Thus, this paranoia about alien invaders represents the era’s fears of those in power.
Though the idea of a movie remake may sound bad to the general public, a well-crafted remake can take the ideas of the original and deliver them with a new shine and skill. The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes the core concept of an alien takeover with emotionless copies, but trades out the original film’s 1950s fears for an exploration of ’70s concerns.