Invaders from Mars (1986)
Friends of mine have accused me of being inconsistent regarding my view on remakes. I can understand how this opinion can be formed. There are times when I hail a remake is the obligation of each generation to make a classic story their own retelling through the lens of their own experiences. Other times my feelings run more towards remakes being unnecessary, running the gamut from a lack of imagination to sacrilegious. It all comes down to whether or not the source material is constructed upon themes that are so fundamental human experience every generation should be permitted to reinterpret. One of the best examples of this category can frequently be found in the works of Shakespeare. This place felt the essence of humanity; young love, sibling rivalry, betrayal and lust for power. Reworking ‘Romeo and Juliet’ teenagers affiliated with rival street guidance on the side of New York City is not only a drawing exercise in imagination but it managed to tell the story to a different vantage point while retaining the essence of his humanity. Then there are movies like the one on the consideration here; 1986 remake ‘Invaders from Mars’. The original film released in 1953 remains a classic science fiction represent the epitome of how the genre was expressed during that decade. Do freely admit to a bias regarding this film, the original that is. When I first watched it I was a child just beginning to become interested in science fiction. I had already read some of the seminal science-fiction authors such as Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein, but this movie made a different impact on me. Since the movie is 62 years old I guess referring to the end he cannot be considered a spoiler. David McLean awakens and realizes his experience was a horrible dream as he glances to the window only to see the alien ship once again landing in the marsh behind his house. For young boy with an active imagination it may be doubt the line between dreams and reality. That movie opened my eyes to the fact that film, particularly science-fiction, can take your imagination on some wild journeys.
In the original story, the young boy serving as the protagonist was named David MacLean, which being my surname added a little extra to the halo effect. Here, the inquisitive young lad is named, David Gardner (Hunter Carson). David had planned to stay up late that evening in order to watch a meteor shower that would be visible in the night sky. What he saw was a lot more than he expected; the craft of obvious extraterrestrial origins landed behind his house. He tells his parents what he witnessed unfortunately there loving and supportive and didn’t dismisses story is crazy. George (Timothy Bottoms) and Ellen Gardner (Lorraine Newman) were textbook example of an ideal family. However, after examining the area you saw the ship land this parents appeared changed, distant flattened affect. Same thing happen with a pair police officers dispatched to investigate came back is changed, distant flattened affect. Despite his young age, David was able to discern a horrible pattern; people who went out to the sandpit where the ship landed returned giving David with their personalities erased and something embedded in the back of the necks. The boy watched helplessly as more and more people brought out to the sandpit returning as something frightening.
When David gets to school notices that his teacher, Mrs. McKeltch (Louise Fletcher), who exhibit the same symptoms, a small back of the neck and a change in personality. It seems as though the teacher had never been a ray of sunshine but the race she’s acting this morning was noticeably different. Mrs. McKeltch brands David’s curiosity is disruptive behavior and send them to nurse, Linda Magnusson (Karen Black). My wife was always very upset the change made to this typical character. In the original film the woman that David goes to help was a medical doctor and an official of the public health department. In the remake she was changed to a school nurse. The point that my late wife was making would not undermine the noble profession of nurses. She was more upset with the fact that the most important female character of the film was reduced from a position of authority that demanded respect and compliance even from the chief of police. This is an example of a change made apparently just for the sake of differentiating it from the original. There was no pressing need to dilute the authority of the one adult believes what David is saying.
What aspect of the story that I always found rather incredulous that in a strange way comforting is that a boy was able to get the attention of the US military and have troops mobilized. The character of Sergeant Major Rinaldi had been one that helped to give the 1953 version the considerable round of heart and pathos. The faithful Sergeant, rifle cradled in his rifle in his arms as he crawled on his belly towards the mysterious spot in the sand that swallows people. The actor playing the role in the updated version is no stranger to the science fiction community, Eric Pierpoint, who played an extraterrestrial police detective on ‘Alien Nation´. Another choice in casting is an obvious stunt that does work in an amusing way. The police chief is portrayed by Jimmy Hunt, the same actor that played David MacLean in 1953. Even gets the playfully tease the audience with a line of dialogue that makes the connection obvious. As he approaches the sandpit returns to the office accompanying him and states, "Gee, I haven't been up here since I was a kid". Overall this remake fails even approach the craftsmanship of its predecessor; I do have to give it points with some amusing ingenuity. Another instance that provided a chuckle is that the transformed mom uses the voice reminiscent of one of Lorraine Newman’s most memorable characters from her tenure on ‘Saturday Night Live’, one of the Coneheads.
I realize that up to this point it might seem that most of the issues I have with this film come down to a sentimental prejudice favoring the original. While I can’t deny that this is a valid point if I pulled back consider the movie cinematic marriage, I arrived at the same conclusions. The original was directed by a filmmaker with an incredible grasp on telling a story through imagery. He was one of the groundbreaking directors in the genre having helmed the iconic films as the H.G. Wells dystopian classic, Shake Things to Come’. Working with one of the best cinematographers in the early years, John F. Seitz’, they crafted a film that was visually stunning. The use of elongated shadows and false perspective teasing the audience by not allowing us to trust what we’re seeing. Even a simple scene like approaching the desk Sergeant in the police station is transformed into a surreal image of an elongated room and a stark contrast between shadow and light. Mr. Seitz brought a lot of experience to the table having worked on such memorable films as ‘Double Indemnity’. One thing that I do find troubling to remake is that it did have exceptionally talented people working on it. The director,
The director, Tobe Hooper, is a certified Master of Horror so it is understandable that he approached the film as a horror story more than science-fiction. In 1953 United States was in the grips of McCarthyism, fearful of communist infiltration. The original movie was part of a series of films that highlighted this public dread of being taken over in a science fiction venue. Even for someone too young to understand the political ramifications can still be affected by the inherent fear that David experiences. Based on familiarity with both versions I can only come to the conclusion that the story is far more conducive to a scary science-fiction film than a horror movie with science-fiction overtones. This is not only one of the less impressive efforts for Mr. Hooper, but the screenplay lacked the drive and sharp wit usually associated with something authored by Dan O'Bannon. Mr. O'Bannon is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and well-known screenwriters responsible for scripts for such classics as the Alien franchise, both versions of ‘Total Recall’ in the high-tech helicopter movie, ‘Blue Thunder’. The collaboration of these two highly respected men should have yielded something significantly more coherent and tightly presented. This most current release is part of a trend of Blu-ray editions.