It seems every other decade or so, there has to be a big screen adaptation of Jack Finney’s seminal science fiction novel about aliens that transform in to you when you’re sleeping. 1956 saw the Kevin McCarthy masterpiece that basically explored the fear of McCarthyism, 1978 had the pretty damn good Donald Sutherland creep fest journeying in to the fear of conformity in an age where the free love movement had died, and even in 2007 there was the reworked flop “The Invasion” which attempted to prey on our delirium about biological warfare and terrorism (and failed). 1994’s version is a horror film that’s meant to pretty much just be a horror film.
1994’s version poses an interesting twist on the concept, but is really just there to remake the still brilliant horror story except with half the budget. I guess if we’re going to delve in to the themes of the story, the primary undertone would be fear of military conformity. Main character Marti is in fact a girl rebelling against her father and his military upbringing who has to battle against a horde of soldiers beckoning for conformity and uniformity from everyone, no matter what. It’s not as relevant or powerful as the harping on McCarthyism, but I guess it’s what’s the soup of the day for someone in 1993. Most of the dramatic weight is given to the great Meg Tilly who gives the film’s trademark speech about how futile it is to fight against the pod people.
And there’s a particularly ghoulish disturbing moment where the now possessed Tilly watches her husband be gradually taken over by the pod in his sleep. The rest of the film involves young Marti who lives on a military base with her family, all of whom become the target of the pod people when they’re transferred under the cloak of darkness and hidden within the corners of the base to slowly take over the officials. The notion of consuming a military base first and foremost is pretty brilliant on the aliens’ parts and provides a lot of tension, especially for civilians forced to go up against endless supplies of men whose knowledge consists of tracking and stalking, while character Marti sets out to find her little brother who has been kidnapped and forced in to becoming a pod person.
For the most part “Body Snatchers” has a unique sense of tension and suspense with most of the narrative based around Marti and her ally Tim, a private also trying to defeat the pod people. There’s a very gripping sequence where Forrest Whitaker, in a walk on role, plays major who is forcing himself to stay awake and is confronted by the pod people, showing how truly dire and potentially futile this war against these aliens may be for the world. Sadly, he’s the only truly engaging character in the entire film and has a very brief stint as a character who wised up before everyone else and paid the price for his knowledge. Marti as a whole is a likable protagonist who manages to outwit the aliens but is hobbled by her quest to find her little brother for most of the film, resorting to sheer stupidity to get him back from the aliens and never actually outwits the alien pod people until the climax.
Since the setting is limited and confined there isn’t much room for moments of sheer extended tension as we saw in the predecessors, so it’s mostly just running around the small base never allowing for many moments of interesting hide and seek between humans and alien monsters. “Body Snatchers” is an entertaining horror adaptation overall, even if it is very flawed, but director Abel Ferrara tackles the material competently with some adamant suspense to be had. While not exactly as intelligent or relevant as the former cinematic versions, 1993’s “Body Snatchers” is an entertaining and dread filled horror science fiction film with some interesting performances and a stand out role by Meg Tilly. For my money though, if you want a truly horrifying version of the story, turn to 1956’s adaptation.