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Invasion, The (2007) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2008
ImageWhen a space shuttle makes an unscheduled (and seemingly panicked) return to earth, it burns up on reentry and crashes across miles of open fields.  Investigators attempt to quarantine the area, but find many nearby townspeople have been in contact with debris from the ship.  Investigating scientists, in hazmat suits, tell visiting CDC biologist, Tucker Kaufman (Jeremy Northam), that pieces of the wreckage contains a virus that that has never been seen before, which managed to survive both the cold of space and the intense heat of reentry.  Immediately afterwards, in a scene that’s nonsensical and distracting, a young girl runs up to Tucker with a piece of debris that’s covered in infectious matter, so naturally, he grabs it with his bare hands, cuts his finger on it, then drops it, gets into his car and drives away, without another word. 

In Washington, D.C., Tucker’s ex-wife, Dr. Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman), starts to notices instances of panic among members of the population, who fear they are being pursued by some conspiracy.  Carol’s patient, Mrs. Lenk (Veronica Cartwright, who also appeared in the 1978 adaptation), tells her about the odd behavior of her normally abusive husband, and an unusually sedate-sounding Tucker calls and asks for her to drop off their son, Oliver (Jackson Bond), for the weekend. While trick-or-treating, Carol finds an odd patch of tissue and brings it to her boyfriend, Doctor Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig) and fellow doctor, Stephen (Jeffrey Wright).  Stephen analyses it and (rather too quickly) determines that it is a virus that invades another organism and rapidly takes control of its cells while it sleeps.  Events quickly escalate when they witness a colleague’s transformation after a dinner event, and find that nearly the entire population of Washington has been transformed overnight into a mass of seemingly emotionless automatons.  Carol and Ben attempt to rescue Oliver from his father and search for safe haven from the infection. 

“The Invasion” is the fourth filmed version of Jack Finney’s classic novel, “The Body Snatchers,” and is by far the least accomplished.  The film is a ragged, herky-jerky mess with some interesting ideas (that the takeover actually creates world peace for awhile), but a pace and tone that changes from scene-to-scene which constantly throws the audience off-kilter.  Certain scenes play out with a quiet suspenseful tone and pace, but other, expository scenes feel rushed and frenetic, and as a viewer, one isn’t pulled into the story, so much as shoved along by a barreling-forward narrative that occasionally slides into these quiet cul-de-sacs.  This struggle between action movie and suspense film, is the result of extensive post-production tampering at the behest of the studio.  The film was originally finished in early 2006 but was shelved for over a year while the studio extensively re-wrote, re-shot, and re-edited the movie.  When Oscar-nominated director, Oliver Hirschbiegel (“Downfall”), turned in his cut of the film, the studio complained that it was too slow and didn’t have enough action.  As a result, the Wachowski brothers (Andy and Larry) were brought in to rewrite David Kajganich’s script and director James McTiegue (“V for Vendetta”) came in and filmed three weeks of action-oriented re-shoots.  The final release was a box office disappointment and is as inconsistent as you’d expect: there’s a gratuitous amount of action; multiple car chase scenes that don’t serve any solid narrative purpose, a race to make a helicopter rendezvous, and a larger part for Daniel Craig.  Craig was cast as the new James Bond during principal photography, and one can clearly sense that his character has been rethought so that he can have a larger, more salable action-oriented presence.  He features in a pointless car chase late in the film, and also disguises himself as a cop, for no real reason.  The ending was also re-shot.  Whatever the original ending was, is a mystery, but what’s currently in the film is a limp, shaggy dog idea that fails to acknowledge the deaths that Carol is personally responsible for, and leaves the story free of direct consequences for the characters.

The cast is fairly strong and likable, but the inconsistency of the writing and story structure, leaves them appearing a bit out to sea at times.  The suspenseful build-up to a realization of what is happening feels truncated and rushed.  The scientists figure out what is going on so quickly and so fully, that there’s no evolution in their understanding of what the virus does, they just take a look at it and instantly have it all worked out.  The problem is that the central concept is not an action-movie idea, it’s a psychological one, and while the narrative traditionally builds towards chases and escapes, short-changing the buildup and development of an atmosphere of unsettling paranoia, robs the idea of its primary power.  The virus idea is a workable one, but having the aliens spray plague-filled vomit at people as a way to infect them, is gratuitous and laughable.

The HD DVD transfer is excellent.  The imagery is extremely stable with a clean, handsome image and accurate colors which convey a palette that tend toward grays, greens, and night scenes.  The source element is nearly spotless and detail is notably crisper than standard definition, but faces occasionally appear somewhat softer than the rest.

The TrueHD 5.1 audio track is a bold and beefy presentation of a very loud mix.  The intention of the studio to turn the film into an action picture is quite evident from the soundtrack, whose use of intense audio transitions is a bit hyperactive at times.  The film frequently intercuts with macro close-ups of the characters’ blood cells, to show the plague cells at work, so the audio tends to go “whoomph,” cut to cells, “whoomph” back to the character, “whoomph” back to the cells.  The constant usage of this “whoomph” sound effect gives the subwoofer an active role in the mix, but it feels a bit overdone and tends to prompt a distracting visceral response, that steamrollers over any intellectual or poetic ideas that may have been conveyed, if it was done with a bit more subtlety.  The TrueHD lossless encoding is flawless.  Dialogue is clean (though a bit low in the mix), and the sound effects and atmospherics are crisp and dynamically presented.  Surround usage is strong and highly active.

A film with as tangled and fascinating a production history as “The Invasion” has is screaming out for bonus materials that fully relate the shooting, reshooting, and the different stylistic approaches which produced this Heffalump.  The bonus materials make no mention of the film’s post-production history and the inadequate featurettes are far from satisfying.  Three of the featurettes are only three minutes long and are quite insubstantial.  “We’ve Been Snatched Before: Invasion in Media History” is an inaccurate title for a 20 minute featurette that almost entirely focuses on the viral idea behind the film.  It is interesting and the commentators are an intelligent bunch, but previous adaptations get nothing more than the most cursory of mentions.  All of the featurettes are in HD, which is welcome, but unfortunately, no trailers are included.  Instead of including a standard DVD version of the film on the flipside, a much more welcome inclusion would have been Oliver Hirschbiegel’s original cut.  One hopes that it will someday be available for an audience to see.  Until then, we can only guess where the seams are in this version, and speculate about what might have been.

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