Aliens Go Home
“I’m so afraid I’m gonna fall asleep,” Nicole Kidman says at one point during The Invasion, which was just about the only spooky or eerie moment I encountered in this third — and entirely unnecessary — screen mounting of Jack Finney’s classic science fiction novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was as if she were reading my mind, for I was thinking at that exact moment, “I think this movie is gonna put me to sleep.” Weird, huh?
I love when movies write their own reviews: it saves me the effort. And this one simply isn’t worth the effort.
Kidman’s (Happy Feet, Bewitched) shrink, Dr. Carol Boring, is afraid of falling asleep because that’s when the alien virus that came to Earth on a crashed space shuttle takes over your brain and turns you into a humanoid automaton. I was afraid of falling asleep because somehow, The Invasion manages to turn everyone onscreen into humanoid automatons even before they’ve been taken over by the alien bug. And as if offering us rather tedious characters we’re supposed to be rooting for weren’t insult enough, the movie also relegates the takeover of the planet to offscreen asides: Dr. Stephen Plot-Exposition (Jeffrey Wright: Casino Royale, Lady in the Water) comes along at appropriate moments to say stuff like, “Oh hi! We discovered this virus is like totally alien!” and “Oh hey! Have you noticed how the world is falling apart? I heard it on the radio, you can just take my word for it, okay?” But to be fair, which would you rather see onscreen: the collapse of civilization as we know it, or every single one of the 812,000 phone text messages Carol sends to her Adorable Blond Moppet(TM) son, Oliver (Jackson Bond), in her spasms of parental worry during the offscreen collapse? I know that I can never get enough of watching people punch buttons on tiny keboards. (Her cell phone bill: now that’s gonna be scary.)
Oh! And she also texts her friend, Dr. Ben Dullard (Daniel Craig: Casino Royale, Infamous), quite a bit too — he’s supposed to be helping her escape from somewhere, or find her kid, or something. When we first meet Ben, he’s talking about how the media (offscreen, of course) isn’t telling the whole story about what’s going on, and how he’s had to hunt around for other outlets to sell his stories to, or something like that, and so you think: Aha, he’s a journalist. But the next time we meet him, he’s wearing a lab coat and talking like a doctor, which is strange, though not the kind of strange we’re expecting from a movie like this. Then again, the movie compresses time weirdly: events that feel like they’re all happening on the same day later seem to have been stretched out over days, weeks, or perhaps even months. Maybe Ben decided to change careers and went to med school in some compacted interim here.
Though it’s not being mentioned by Warner Bros., the studio brought in the Wachowski Brothers (of Matrix fame) and their protege James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) when German director Oliver Hirschbiegel turned in a film they didn’t like: it wasn’t actiony enough, apparently. Now, why they would have expected the guy who made the thoughtful and provocative WWII bunker drama Downfall — about a Hitler who’s not as monstrously evil as clichéd Hollywood movies would depict him — would turn in a science fiction movie that’s all Hollywood clichés is a mystery. But they did, and then then freaked when he didn’t. So the Wachowskis rewrote — according to Entertainment Weekly — 30 percent of the script, and McTeigue shot a ton of new footage. I’m guessing these rewrites are responsible for the confused themes of the film — is being an alien/human automaton good for the world, seeing as it brings global peace and all, or is it bad, because it takes away what it means to be human? And I’m guessing that the reshoots are when all the dumb car chases and foot chases and ooga-booga stuff jumping out of nowhere got smashed into the film.
I’m guessing that Hirschbiegel’s version of the film is a lot smarter, and a lot more subversive — any kind of subversiveness, in fact, would be an improvement on the actual subversive content here, which is nil. I just hope he hasn’t been infected by the Hollywood automaton virus, and survives to make another decent movie someday.