We live in a cinematic age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginings. Even new movies like The Hobbit feel like pictures that have gone before. This is hardly a new experience. Long before he became President Snow in The Hunger Games, Donald Sutherland starred in one of the best remakes of them all, the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers could be a metaphor for the movie remake. Unwanted and unexpected, new creatures arrive in search of a suitable host. Sending out feelers in the darkness, they target the DNA of an existing, vibrant organism. In an accelerated period of development, a carbon copy grows to full adulthood in an absurdly short period of time. Although the double is ostensibly the same as the original being, something is missing. The new doppelgänger is rather more wooden, lacking in emotion and working to the unheard commands of some distant, invisible force (the movie industry). While we watch these alien twins potter about in the same clothes, doing the same jobs and mouthing the same phrases as the original, we wonder why they are not like the real McCoy. The newcomer is not so fun and lively: the arrivals have taken everything from their host, except their soul.
Although dated and rather slow to modern viewers, the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is still a terrific remake. With its tale of scattered survivors fleeing a population transformed into monsters, it is also a forerunner of modern zombie movies.
Director Philip Kaufman’s remake takes advantage of new technology (the shift from black and white to colour) but it also retains a story that resounds across generations. The remake works because it retains the deeper message of the 1956 original. A recent equivalent might be 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is partly a reimagining of 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.
In both cases, the stories plug into a similar fear that human domination of the planet might be usurped, with us replaced at the head of the food chain. Since the end of the Cold War, the collapse of society has become almost the default setting for the horror end of the SF spectrum. Non-fiction authors have also been getting in on the action, as shown by best-selling books like lan Weisman’s The World Without Us.
Capturing the mood of the original film is the trick to creating a great remake. A compelling story is always a justification for a retelling of a old tale. It will also create a much better cinematic experience than simply replacing monsters of latex and wire with CGI equivalents. When done properly, the remakes can take on a life of their own, as is now happening with the rebooted Apes franchise. In pre-production now, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be appearing in theaters soon, possibly as early as 2014: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2103281/?ref_=sr_2.