BODY SNATCHERS (1993) Blu-ray
Director: Abel Ferrara
Warner Archive Collection

Warner Bros.' Archive Collection has released on Blu-ray BODY SNATCHERS, the third cinematic adaptation of the classic Jack Finney novel, The Body Snatchers, released by WB in 1993, directed by Abel Ferrara (from a script co-written by Stuart Gordon and Larry Cohen), and starring Gabrielle Anwar, Terry Kinney, Meg Tilly, Forest Whitaker, R. Lee Ermey, Christine Elise, Billy Wirth and Reilly Murphy. Barely released by Warner Bros. after they sat on it for over a year, BODY SNATCHERS didn't clear half a million in ticket sales during its limited run, but one or two critics found favor with it (including a typically wrongheaded rave from Roger Ebert, who stated, remarkably, that it was the best adaptation of Finney's work up to that point). Unfortunately, BODY SNATCHERS is exceedingly familiar genre work, mixing in tame shocks with even more tired family drama dynamics, for an ultimately blank, emotionless pod of a horror title. Only a trailer for a bonus, but no complaints with Warners' pristine 2K interpositive scan/digitally restored 2.40:1 widescreen transfer.

Disaffected teenager Marti Malone (Gabrielle Anwar, IF LOOKS COULD KILL, THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD) is being dragged down to a hot, swampy Alabama Army base by her father, Environmental Protection Agency agent Steve Malone (Terry Kinney, SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN). Apparently, the base, run by steely General Platt (R. Lee Ermey, THE BOYS IN COMPANY C, FULL METAL JACKET), hasn't been too careful with how it stored its supply of chemical warfare toxins, and the E.P.A. is there to save the day. Not exactly helping matters is the fact that Marti feels left out of her "new" family: Marti's mother is dead, and Dad remarried trippy dingbat Carol (Meg Tilly, PSYCHO II, IMPULSE), who's clearly more interested in doting on hers' and Steve's five-year-old son, Andy (Reilly Murphy), than on giving Marti the love and attention she needs. Not all is as it appears at the base, however, when Marti starts noticing that more and more people are walking around like emotionless zombies. Doctor Major Collins (Forest Whitaker, BLOODSPORT, BATTLEFIELD EARTH) asks Steve if there could be something going on with the toxins he's studying, considering the alarming number of cases he's seeing of extreme delusional fixations and paranoia. Marti finds temporary solace with new friend Jenn Platt (Christine Elise, CHILD’S PLAY 2), the punk rocker daughter of the base commander, as well as handsome helicopter pilot Tim Young (Billy Wirth, THE LOST BOYS). But when Marti discovers that alien pods are creating soulless duplicates of everyone on the base, it's a race for her life...and her family's.

In the pre-internet days of the early 1990s, BODY SNATCHERS was one of those obscure, studio-abandoned titles you might have only noted if you later spotted it on the VHS rental shelf at your local convenience store (or if you read Daily Variety on those big sticks at your college library). I was vaguely aware of BODY SNATCHERS when it first came out, but it never played within a hundred miles of where I lived, and since it didn't create any real critical buzz, nor feature any top-line talent I wanted to seek out, BODY SNATCHERS stayed off my radar until this Blu-ray transfer showed up in my mail. Having just reviewed the superior 1978 Philip Kaufman remake a few months back, I was curious how director Abel Ferrara (MS. .45, BAD LIEUTENANT) was going to expand on it, or bring something new to the concept.

I needn’t have wondered. As the non-descript, visually unimpressive credit sequence rolled by, indicating at one point that no less than five writers were involved in this remake (always a good sign...), I got that indefinable, inescapable feeling of mild dread that can come over the hard-core movie lover when an unmistakable dog is first spooling out. Written by top-flight exploitation talents Stuart Gordon (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND), Dennis Paoli (CASTLE FREAK, THE DENTIST), and Nicholas St. John (THE DRILLER KILLER, KING OF NEW YORK), from a story (i.e.: earlier script) by Raymond Cistheri and Larry Cohen (IT’S ALIVE, THE AMBULANCE), BODY SNATCHERS started off on the wrong foot and kept stumbling right through its shockingly pedestrian paces. While contemporary critics noted with unexplained pleasure that Ferrara had the original story’s and two previous screen incarnations' hero switched to a teenage girl, rather than an adult male (why should that, in and of itself, garner praise?), the reality is a flat, uninflected Gabrielle Anwar delivering sophomoric teen inanities for the opening narration, such as, “Sometimes things happen that we don’t understand....maybe we’re not meant to understand,” or “If we had known what was waiting for us, we would have ran. But it had to happen.” I can’t remember one good line she had in the movie that reflected the “rightness” of turning the Body Snatchers hero into an angst-ridden teen why bother switching the character in the first place?

But then, almost all of BODY SNATCHERS’s elements are comprised of half-assed ideas that aren’t remotely developed. If Ferrara and his screenwriters thought American audiences would readily embrace its sneering anti-military stance (“Will you look at these goons? They actually volunteered for this crap.”) in favor of a vague pro-environmentalist undertone (“EPA. Cool. Hippies saving the planet.”), it was a spectacular miscalculation (whispy-haired, humorless Kinney and fluttering ding-a-ling Tilly are an exceedingly obnoxious on-screen couple). What’s the point of putting the aliens down in a toxic swamp at a military base, if you can’t or won’t draw some cogent parallels or jabs? Just showing the juxtaposition isn’t enough for “commentary.” As for BODY SNATCHERS’s family-in-crisis subplot—one that takes up far, far too much screen time—why in the world would Ferrar and the writers involved here think horror fans would want fewer actual scares and gore, and more and more tired, clichéd "Lifetime Movie Network" dynamics where daddy’s distracted and new mummy doesn’t love step-teeny bopper...and step-teeny bopper wishes everyone was dead?

When we finally do get scares in BODY SNATCHERS, they’re infrequent, low-key, and not particularly frightening or believable (those spidery tendrils can’t match Kaufman’s bloody, gross-out vegetative pods and webs). Ferrara never creates the absolutely necessary paranoia we need to feel of trying to figure out who’s a pod and who isn’t...but in the end it doesn’t matter, because we’re not invested in any of the characters (in fact, most of the people are so dully drawn, we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, anyway). He can’t even give the pods something new to do here, ripping off Kaufman’s finger-pointing scream as a trigger warning for the pods hip to a human presence (why bother to remake a classic if you’re not doing something new with it?). In Roger Ebert’s hilariously off-target review, he states that something happens on a helicopter (I’m guessing when Anwar pitches her little brother clone out of the cabin, maybe?) that’s as scary as anything in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or THE EXORCIST. Pronouncements like that really make me miss Gene Siskel; to dare compare those two iconic masterpieces with something as wafer-thin and instantly forgettable as BODY SNATCHERS, boggles the mind. Even a pod mind.

The color-corrected 2K scan, 1080p HD AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen Blu-ray transfer for BODY SNATCHERS looks exceedingly sharp. I don’t know how this appeared on the big screen, but here the blacks are absolute, the color values subtle (if a bit drab by original design, overall, tending to muddy browns and yellows and greens), and there's exceptional image fine detail. No enhancement issues I could spot, with an almost pristine picture. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 Dolby Surround audio track has quite a bit of heft when the explosions begin; before that, it’s discreetly separated, simulating a deep sound field. Very nice. English subtitles are available. An original 1.78:1 trailer is included as the sole bonus.
(Paul Mavis)