It was inevitable that Invasion of the Body Snatchers would get the BFI Film Classics treatment eventually. The film has spawned three major remakes (admittedly with varying degrees of success) and firmly established itself as a favourite among both the critics and the public, entering into pop culture in a way that few other films have. Practically everyone knows the film is all about communism and McCarthy’s witch-hunts, though whether it’s critical or supportive of the senator tends to be determined by the position of the viewer. Thankfully, though hardly unexpectedly, this book goes much further than simply reiterating these well-known ideas.
These tomes have a difficult balance to maintain. Like a popular science book, they can’t betray their academic routes or dumb themselves down too far, yet at the same time they have to be engaging and welcoming enough to entice the casual (or at least semi-casual) reader. Barry Keith Grant achieves this very well here. This isn’t to say that the book is thrilling throughout though. Passages on the filmmakers (particularly director Don Siegel) feel very heavy, and drift far too much from the central film. Rather than placing Body Snatchers in context, these sections feel too much like elaborately detailed mini-biographies, there to give the academics a more authoritative source to quote facts from than Wikipedia.
When it’s on topic, however, this really does both aid in the viewing of the film and provide an insight into the processes that lead to some of the creative decisions. The framing device of the flashback, for instance, which gives the film an entirely different perspective to the original intention, was made very late in the day. And the film’s initial title – They Came from Another World – was dropped due to its similarity to The Thing from Another World, though it still fed into the marketing of the picture. Some may say that little details like this detract from the magic of the film, but without a special edition DVD, it’s nice to have SOMEWHERE to find these little anecdotes.
Ultimately, though, it’s the critical appraisals that will be the real draw of this book, and it does a great job of summarising a film with so many (and some completely mutually exclusive) different readings. Of course, it tackles the film’s political standpoints, and neatly relates how it’s both a criticism of emotionless communism and blind capitalism, depending on your point of view. It briefly touches on the idea of the film being a criticism of colonialism, with the town’s name, Santa Mira, indicating that the initial Spanish settlers had been driven out by the current white American residents, who were just as much invaders as the Pod People. I would’ve liked to have seen this idea developed further, possibly into a chapter, or at least included with the look at gender at sexuality in Chapter 6. Despite that, it’s a fascinating take on a film, which, thanks to its thematic richness, lends itself wonderfully to a book of this kind.
Curiously, the final chapter deals almost exclusively with the film’s remakes. It certainly reinforces the significance of the film to highlight how many people have wanted to put their own stamp on the story. 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a wonderful horror remake, and arguably deserves its own BFI title. However, it’s possibly fitting that in the book’s final pages, it talks about The Invasion, and so it ends by discussing something which may look similar to the original, but lacks any form of heart.