Sunday, February 3, 2013
The Puppet Masters (1994)
I like the early nineties. It was a time when the production companies strove to produce slick, not-too-original genre movies with a dash of gore and good production values. The X-Files had just taken over the world and now was the time to make movies in the same genre. One of the now forgotten mainstream attempts was The Puppet Masters, based on the Robert A. Heinlein story. An earlier film adaption was The Brain Eaters from 1958, which is quite good. What I really like about this version is that it easily could have been a feature film length episode of The X-Files. The characters of Sam (Eric Thal) and Mary (Julie Warner) is similar to Mulder and Scully and Donald Sutherland is a mix of all the dark, complex, father-figures inhabiting the X-Files universe around the main characters.
This time a UFO lands far out on the countryside and it's passengers, which is parasitical creatures consisting of 60 % brain and belong to one big hive mind, takes over the bodies of three teen boys who witnesses the landing. Soon the infection, if you can call it that, spreads among the citizens of this sleepy little town and Sam, an agent, Mary, a doctor and Sam's father, who's the boss of the organization, is sent out to investigate. It won't take long until the parasites has taken control over the whole town and now they want to spread even further. But who's infected and who's clean, who can they trust? The paranoia is growing for each day and the aliens seem to have an uncanny talent for sticking their tentacles into the necks of even the most unexpected people...
The Puppet Masters is a daman fine little sci-fi movie. A lot better than I remember it to be. Sure, it's hardly original and we've seen it many times before. But the stylish production reminds us of The X-Files and it makes us feel safe. We know this is gonna be a tense little experience without going downright silly with spaceships and laser guns. It's down to earth and the focus is on the paranoia and some delicious slimly creature effects, which is a mix I like a lot. It's not as good as Philip Kaufman's brilliant 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is a more brooding and dark film. This is more a bright, expensive TV-movie without any deeper allegories but with a lot of entertainment. This also means it's more focused on cost-effective chases and not so complicated-action, instead of advanced animatronics and early computer animation (and it has quite much of the animatronics, really good stuff also). The stunts is great, old-school, gags. Car-chases, fight in helicopter, falling down stairs, something out of a PM Entertainment movie, except with no martial arts and less explosions.
Donald Sutherland is also one reason to watch this film. I've always been a fan of his work (which reminds me, he's also in Invasion of the Body Snatchers!). He's one of those actors who can work in any crappy production and still (with maybe the exception of Baltic Storm) come off as edgy and very in to his part. He works a lot with very small facial gestures and when he in this film, during a short scene, stops doing that he looks like he's over-acting like hell, but he's just acting like a normal actor would work - a bit on the nose. Here it serves an important purpose and it's a brilliant trick of the mind from an excellent actor.
The script has some problems, very minor ones. I have a hard time believing that alien parasites wouldn't notice if anyone of them was killed, especially when they're attached to a human being. The hive mind is powerful and if one of the "citizens" suddenly disappeared from the radar in the middle of the night, on the street when they expect to be attacked it's likely that they would notice this death, because it's a part of them all. This happens from time to time, and it's not something that bothers me - but I thought about it and it's rarely I give a shit about contradictions in the movie I'm watching - because it's... just a movie.
The Puppet Masters is out on a cheap blu-ray, together with Stephen Sommer's brilliant monster film Deep Rising on the same disc. A great double feature, two fine movies for very little money.