By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Aliens create human clones.
Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is a public health inspector who finds that people around him are beginning to behave strangely. It starts with his friend Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) who insists her boyfriend Geoffrey (Art Hindle) has somehow ‘changed’. Soon other people are saying the same thing and they slowly realize that human clones are being created from alien pods while the people sleep. These clones look exactly like the people they have replaced, but are devoid of any emotion. Matthew and Elizabeth along with married couple Jack and Nancy (Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright) try to escape, but find themselves increasingly outnumbered in this creepy remake of the 1956 classic.
Talented director Philip Kaufman who has never gotten enough credit does a masterful job of weaving an updated version of the tale with more contemporary sensibilities. The balance between sci-fi, thriller and drama really works. The story is perfectly paced and the characters and situations remain believable throughout. Transferring the setting from a small town to San Francisco was inspired. Kaufman captures the sights, sounds and everyday ambience of the city better than just anybody who has done a film there and I really loved the shot of an early morning fog settling in on the top of the Transamerica Pyramid.
The special effects are fantastic. The opening sequence showing the alien spores raining down on the city and hitting onto plant and tree leaves where they form into flowers is very authentic looking and nicely captured. The coolest part though is watching the clones of the humans form out of the pods particularly the sequence showing Bennell’s clone coming to life while he sleeps. Seeing a dog with a human head is wild and Bennell’s destruction of a pod factory is also quite exciting. Denny Zeitlin’s electronic music score is distinctive, but not overplayed and effectively used at key moments although I did feel that there should have been some music played over the closing credits instead of just dead silence.
Sutherland is good, but his 70’s style afro isn’t. The part where he tries in vain to warn various city officials of the impending invasion, but can make no headway is a perfect portrait of government bureaucracy and almost a horror movie in itself. Adams is beautiful and the way she can somehow make her eyeballs quiver has to be seen to be believed. Goldblum is fun as a brash struggling writer who never seems to know when to stop talking and has a conspiracy theory about everything. Cartwright plays a panicked woman better than anybody and Leonard Nimoy is solid in a sort of Spock-like role where the character believes everything must have a logical conclusion.
There are also some neat cameo appearances as well. Robert Duvall can be spotted at the beginning swinging on a swing. Kevin McCarthy who starred in the original steps into where he left off in the first one as a man running into traffic and warning motorists of the invasion. Don Siegal who directed the first film plays a cab driver and famous cinematographer Michael Chapman can be seen briefly as a janitor. Director Kaufman casts himself in a bit part as a man banging on the glass of a phone booth while Sutherland is making a call.
This movie is smart and stylish and in a lot of ways I liked it better than the original. The only real drawback is the fact that it becomes increasingly clear that these people aren’t going to escape and the drawn out chase sequence becomes more depressing and defeating than exciting.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: December 20, 1978
Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes
Director: Philip Kaufman
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD