I'm not sure why I expected this to be a dud. Perhaps because it's rated PG, maybe because it's a remake, possibly because the poster makes it look very cheap and dopey. Regardless, it's actually pretty damn good.
This version is pretty faithful to the original version, though updated where necessary to reflect the (then) current times. America was a much different place in 1978 than it was in the mid 1950s. Vietnam and Watergate had vastly eroded it's citizen's belief in itself. The flower power movement had crashed and burned with Altamont and the death of so many young rock stars. Disco was in full swing, fueled by cheap coke and cheaper sex. Jimmy Carter was the President and waiting in the wings for the quiet takeover of the 80s - the Yuppies. Instead reflecting the 50's paranoia about McCarthyism and rampant censorship, the 70's version warns us to be paranoid about everyone, not just the government - your boyfriend, the police, your co-workers, the unqualified self-help gurus of the world.
The film boasts an impressive cast and is directed by Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff, and more recently, the excellent Quills). And while it doesn't look particularly snazzy or involve any fantastic special effects, there is something about the stark 'plain' way in which the film is shot that works to it's advantage. Donald Sutherland is very good in his role as the hairy, cuddly sensitive 70's dude that, along with Brooke Adams, begins to notice that something is not quite right. It also features a young (but no less creepy) Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright (who would go on to play the girl in Alien who never, never stops crying) and Leonard Nimoy. There is also a weird and uncredited cameo from Robert Duvall in the film's opening scene that serves no real purpose.
If you are not familiar with the storyline, I'll sum it up quickly - aliens come from outer space and take over the bodies of the living. They grow from big pods and steal the "essence" of each body they replace, but live without fear, hate, or any other cumbersome emotion. In a brilliantly ironic twist, Leonard Nimoy's character, a self help "doctor" ala Dr. Phil, turns out to be a pod person who calmly and Spock-ly explains the benefits of living without emotion.
Despite it's lack of big scares, good special effects (the opening sequence is particularly bad as is the man-headed dog) and near total lack of blood, it all works because the story is so well done and performed. There is a real feeling of paranoia here and as the film builds to it's conclusion it gets pretty tense leading up to a great ending.
- Complaint Dept