“It’s got no detail, no character, it’s unformed,” mumbles Jeff Goldblum of a gestating pod-person in Philip Kaufman’s alien-takeover fable. He could be talking about slick-but-empty remakes from 2008’s The Day The Earth Stood Still to 2013’s Evil Dead, but Kaufman’s re-imagining remains a test-case in how to respect and re-fertilise source material.
A sly, backwards-glancing segue sees a cameo-ing Kevin McCarthy pick up where he finished in the 1956 original, a harried everyman still fleeing pod-folks. But contemporary ’70s relevance is also well seeded. MASH vet Donald Sutherland plays the jaded hero, Star Trek logician Leonard Nimoy a suspect self-help guru.
Between them, the two embody a slide from ’60s counter-cultural idealism to ’70s cynicism and, perhaps, predict ’80s self-obsession. Add the post-Watergate jitters and you get a prescient ’70s conspiracy chiller-cum-satire, where corruption looms.
Ben Burtt’s eerie sound and DoP Michael Chapman’s shadows generate unease long before the ET spores spread and the icky prosthetics ooze into view. The best effects innovation, though, is a noise: an alien scream so weird, its climactic use justifies endless 100 Scariest Moments revisits.
Since Jack Finney’s subtext-rich 1955 source novel also bears re-reads, Kaufman and scriptwriter WD Richter had plenty to work with. But to see how well they nurtured old soil, look at Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2007 re-re-remake (after Abel Ferrara’s solid 1993 stab): a film so “unformed”, it’s scary.
Extras include a round table with filmmakers Ben Wheatley and Norman J. Warren and critic Kim Newman.
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