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Film / Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

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"We came here from a dying world. We drift through the universe from planet to planet, pushed on by the solar winds. We adapt, and we survive. The function of life is survival."

The first remake of the sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Philip Kaufman and released in 1978. For the other remakes, go here.

Donald Sutherland stars as Dr. Bennell (whose first name is now Matthew instead of Miles) and the setting is transferred to The City of San Francisco, working in an effective theme of urban alienation which, in some respects, actually reverses the theme of the original. At one point, a character expresses her paranoia that she keeps witnessing people recognizing each other, isolation being such a feature of city life that excessive human contact itself is suspicious.

This version also focused on the "malaise" of The '70s and cranked up the Body Horror; appropriately, three of the film's stars (Brooke Adams, Art Hindle, and Jeff Goldblum) all went on to do films with David Cronenberg. Also in the cast are Leonard Nimoy and Veronica Cartwright.


Try staying awake while you read these tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: This version showed the invasion taking place in a colder, more impersonal "I'm OK, you're OK, everyone's OK" national culture that often openly questioned whether America's best years as a country were behind it. In such an environment, the invasion succeeds.
  • Agent Scully: Dr. Kibner is very skeptical about the idea of people being duplicated, until it's revealed that he's already been converted.
  • Aliens are Bastards: The Pod People are gelatinous aliens who invade occupied home worlds and parasitize them by depleting all physical resources while replacing/killing off its native life forms after they supposedly ruined their own world the same way. Their parasitic behavior backfires on and even harms them as well because they too quickly exhaust an entire planet of resources and so they move on to different planets.
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  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Matthew succumbs to the invasion.
  • Apocalypse How: A Class 3a. The invaders are on the fast track to exterminating and replacing humanity.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Elizabeth is worried about Geoffrey's sudden coldness and odd behavior, Matthew mentions four possible reasons: he's having an affair, has turned gay, has joined a cult, or has become a Republican.
  • Badass Long Coat: Bennell wears a trenchcoat for the majority of the film.
  • Beast with a Human Face: A homeless man and his dog are huddled together for warmth and a pod encloses them both, producing a chimerical creature.
  • Big "NO!": The converted Geoffrey can be heard screaming an inhuman "Nooo!" when he discovers that the real Elizabeth has been removed and the pod is now dead.
  • Body Horror: The remake answers the question of what happened to the people whom the pods replaced. They dessicate and then implode whilst crumbling into ash. This was hinted at or at least suggested in the original, where The Hero theorized that once the pod replacements are fully formed the originals are somehow destroyed by deterioration. It also shows us some of the "foetal" duplicates, which are partially formed, slimy, blood-and-snot hued variants covered in hairy filaments.
  • Brick Joke: Matthew first appears giving an inspection on a French restaurant, where he finds a rat turd in some soup and plans to throw the book at the owner (but not before they throw a bottle of wine at his car). It's later revealed that Dr. Kibner wasn't too pleased.
    Dr. Kibner: Matthew! You closed my favorite restaurant, Henri's! Come on, that's a decent place to eat.
    • In addition, the additional health inspectors Matthew sends to the restaurant return with a huge dead rat.
  • The Cameo:
    • Robert Duvall plays a priest on a child's swing set near the beginning of the film.
    • Jerry Garcia can be heard on the soundtrack playing the banjo.
  • Casting Gag:
  • Creator Cameo: Director Philip Kaufman is the impatient man who knocks on the door of a phone booth Matthew is using, along with the voice of one of the officials Matthew calls. Cinematographer Michael Chapman is the creepy janitor at the health department.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Matthew, Dr. Kibner, and Jack all get in a few good digs. Given the three actors playing them, this is hardly a surprise.
  • Death of a Child: At the end of the film, a group of children are shown being lead into an auditorium to be replaced, with a few of them saying they don't want to take a nap now.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: When Matthew tries to tell the police about Elizabeth's pod double, he also has to admit that he broke into someone's home in the middle of the night and technically abducted a sleeping woman.
  • Downer Ending: It sure does pack a punch. Basically, the alien invasion wins, something made clear when Nancy, the only survivor, tries to meet up with Matthew, only for him to pull a horrific Nightmare Face and let out the distinctive scream of a pod-person.
  • Draw Aggro: When hopelessly outnumbered by the body snatchers at the pier, Jack draws their attention long enough for Matthew and Elizabeth to escape. This ends up being a Heroic Sacrifice for Jack.
  • Dutch Angle: The movie features many bizarre camera angles to emphasize disorientation and isolation.
  • Earth All Along: Although Director Philip Kaufman (in the DVD Director's Commentary) confirms that the barren rocky-surface planet filled with gelatinous aliens (who are the film's titular villains, the pod people) seen at the beginning of the movie is their home world, he said that he also likes to think of it as the Earth in the future or another planet that used to have life. But whichever planet they're on, the aliens are all leaving to find another because they've exhausted all of its physical resources.
  • Eat the Camera: Non-comedic example. The last shot of the film has the camera zoom into Pod-Matthew's mouth while he’s screaming at Nancy.
  • Exact Words: Dr. Kibner tells Elizabeth that she’ll feel good as new after a good night’s sleep. The pods hidden in the garden will certainly do that.
  • Fan Disservice: The sight of actress Brooke Adams walking around completely naked is incredibly creepy due to the new pod version of her having absolutely no emotion.
    • The bathhouse scene had several naked, heavyset men getting mud baths and massages.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on, a man is shown running through crowds by the Health Department and a pod scream can be faintly heard.
  • Garden of Evil: The pod factory, which is more a Garden Center of Evil.
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: The pod people do this whilst opening their mouths wide and screaming horrifically to point out unconverted humans.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When the group are being chased by the Pod people, Jack and Nancy sacrifice themselves to the pod people as a distraction to allow their friends to escape. Nancy is able to evade capture, but Jack isn't.
    Jack: Here I am, you pod bastards! Hey, pods! Come and get me, you scum!
  • Hope Spot:
    • The "Amazing Grace" scene.
    • The final hope spot comes when Matthew sets fire to the pod factory. Unfortunately, the invasion continues unabated the next day.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Matthew is surprised that police knew who was calling them, along with the phone operator intercepting his call to Washington.
  • In Medias Res: Early in the film, teachers encourage children to give the pod flowers to their parents, implying that the invasion's been underway for some time.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Kibner arrives to Nancy and Jack's bathhouse to find no trace of the failed Jack-clone. Matthew returns to Elizabeth's bedroom with the police, and finds flowerpots in a vaguely human shape where the body was.
  • Meaningful Background Event:
    • When Elizabeth first picks one of the pod flowers, a teacher with a group of children pass her and start doing the same; the teacher can be heard encouraging them while saying they could take them home to their parents.
    • When Matthew is speaking in the hallway of the Health Department, the camera swings around and briefly reveals that someone is staring at them through the glass panel of a door, with his face pressed creepily close.
    • While Elizabeth is walking down the street, several people sprint by, as if chasing or running away from someone.
    • You'll often see garbage men in the background, and as the movie progresses they're throwing away more and more of the black end-result of pod transformation.
    • If you listen carefully, you can hear a decrease in natural sounds, such as dogs barking or birds chirping, as the film progresses.
  • Motive Rant: Dr. Kibner provides the page quote, explaining the pods' only purpose.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jack and Nancy when they see that the body in their baths now resembles Jack more closely and even has his nosebleed.
  • Orphaned Setup: Matthew is telling a joke to Elizabeth, but she cuts him off before the punchline. Director Philip Kaufman explained the joke on the DVD commentary:
    "The English Camel Corp are trapped in the Sahara Desert. They've been surrounded by Rommel for forty days and have run out of food. The Captain makes an announcement to the men: 'Men, I have some good news for you and some bad news for you. The bad news is, we have nothing left to eat but camel poop. The good news is, there's plenty of it.'"
  • Porn Stache: Donald Sutherland as Miles sports a classic '70s model.
  • Properly Paranoid: When Matthew tries to make a report to the police, Jack tells him to not give his name so that he doesn’t end up on the master list.
  • Red Light District: Matthew and Elizabeth pass through one, with the proprietors promising that their shows will "make you feel like a new man."
  • Remake Cameo:
    • Kevin McCarthy (Miles Bennell in the original film) appears as a man banging on cars and yelling about the pod people, and is then immediately hit by a car.
    • The original film's director, Don Siegel, plays a cab driver who's turned.
  • Shirtless Scene: Offsetting the fat man in the mud bath is a shot of young Jeff Goldblum in a towel taking a sauna.
  • Silent Credits: At the end of the movie after the horrifying last reveal.
  • Snipe Hunt: Before leaving the bookstore, Dr. Kibner tells Jack that there's a woman who's interested in his work.
  • Twist Ending: The ending scene has become so universally iconic and recognized, that many people have forgotten it's actually a twist ending. (It appears as if Matthew escaped the pod people, and has blended into their midst by hiding his emotions. Nancy, who has herself succeeded in doing so, approaches him, resulting in the famous ending twist.)
  • The Vietnam Vet: Implied with Jack Bellicec. Jeff Goldblum was 26 when the film was released, roughly the right age for someone to have served in the war, and he spends the movie wearing army fatigues.
  • Wicked Cultured: One of the pod people recommends Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision to Nancy.
  • World of Silence: At the end of the film, the pod people just stand around, listening for their orders, and performing their tasks. There's no conversation, no laughter, no human warmth. They just exist.

Matthew? Matthew! 

Example of: