Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Karen Black, James Karen, Louise Fletcher, Laraine Newman, Bud Cort
I have a lot of love for this movie because I grew up watching it. When this film was released, I was about 11 years old or something, I didn’t even know it was a remake back then. I just knew that I loved those goofy aliens. I guess I just watched this movie at the right age and time, I connected with the little kid in the movie and his feeling of paranoia, after all, who doesn’t feel that there’s sometimes something slightly ‘off’ about the world they live in right? Hell, I still feel that way today! Weird thing is that as time passes by, I like this movie even more! Last night I screened it, and the crowd stayed glued to it all the way to the end, I guess that says something about the kind of spectacle that Tobe Hooper created with this film.
Invaders from Mars is all about David Gardner, a little kid who actually sees an alien spaceship land on the hill, just behind his house. Is his mind playing tricks on him? Did he dream it? Soon after that, David noticing that people are acting weird all over town, even his mom and pops are talking in this weird tone and doing weird things like putting tic-tacs in their coffee and eating burnt bacon. What gives with everyone in town? Are they all being controlled by Martians like David suspects? Can David stop the Martians from taking over his town?
So yeah, this is that kind of movie. The kind in which everyone in town starts acting strange, as if they were all telepathically connected in a hive like mentality, not unlike the plot we can find in films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) which has an extremely similar structure. If we take in consideration the type of atmosphere that Americans were living back in those days, it makes perfect sense that films like these were being made. You see, back in the 50’s, Americans hated and feared communism. Communism was like this decease that had to be eradicated from society. This mentality bled into films such as these, as mentalities often do. We can easily say that they Martians in the 1950’s version of this film represented the fear Americans had for communism and the fear that this mentality might spread somehow. In the film, Martians were secretly gathering and plotting against the humans, the same way Americans thought that there were communists amongst them secretly gather and plotting against capitalism and the American way of life. Of course, it’s the American military that saves the day in the film! The film makes a whole lot more sense when we see it from that perspective don’t it? Suddenly, it’s not just a film about an alien invasion. Fast forward a few decades and here comes the 1980’s version of the film, did it still hold the same meaning it did in the 50’s? Would this remake still be about the fears of communism?
The way I see it, Hooper's remake takes a slightly different route with its meanings. Now it’s not so much about communism, to me it’s more about the evils of the powers that be controlling the masses with lies. The leader of the Martians is called the “Supreme Intelligence” and it is essentially a giant talking brain. The Supreme Intelligence injects a needle into the brains of humans in order to control them and use them for world dominating purposes, so while yeah, it’s still about plotting against the humans, it’s also a plea against controlling the minds of the masses. It’s a film about letting the people think for themselves, about letting people make their own choices in life instead of manipulating their perceptions with lies. In one pivotal scene David Gardner actually begs the aliens not to control people. It’s wrong, he tells them, they never did anything wrong, he pleas. This film actually has something to say as opposed to what a lot of people might think about it, it isn’t as empty as you might think! The beauty of the film is that it delivers these deep themes through an awesome and entertaining spectacle and an otherworldly story about Martians wanting to take over our minds, and our planet.
This remake pays its respects to the original film with a few homages here and there, while still offering welcomed new elements. For example, there’s a scene in which two cops come over to David’s house because he files a complaint, well, one of the cops is the original actor who played David Gardner in the original film! As the cop inspects the hill, he says “I haven’t been up here since I was a kid”, which is true of course. The update on the Martians is a welcomed element, they were designed by the great Stan Winston, and trust me, they are a real highlight of the film, The Supreme Intelligence is an awesome creation that looks alive, it pulsates, it breathes! It’s so refreshing to see creatures that are actually physically there and not computer generated, I miss this kind of physical effect on films. Finally, there’s this sense of wonder throughout the whole film because we see everything through the eyes of a child, everything happens because of this kid, and for once the adults actually listen to the kid! This is one of those '80’s Kid Movies', where the pre-teens are the main characters of the show. Sadly, the only weak link in the film is the kid himself, played by Hunter Carson. Still, it’s about the only bad thing I can say about this film. In an interesting turn of events, Hunter Carson the kid who played David Gardner was actually acting next to his mom, actress Karen Black, who plays the nurse in the film. It’s interesting to see them acting side by side. And speaking about the acting, I’d say it’s Louise Fletcher the actress who plays Mrs. McKeltch, the evil teacher whom the Martians take control of, that steals the show, she plays a memorable villain here.
Ultimately, what we get with Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars is a loving homage to the original. This was one of Tobe Hooper’s favorite films, he says that the original film burned holes in his memory. This was obviously a film that made an impression on him when he was a child. What Hooper did with this remake was recreate some of the images that the original director William Cameron Menzies had created in the original film, by using the original film as a very definite foundation, but embellishing the classic imagery, making it bigger, flashier. Hooper took the classic film and amplified it. I’d say he achieved this quite well because the remake feels familiar, yet more spectacular in a lot of ways. It’s certainly flashier and louder than the original; the visual and make up effects were obviously improved upon. It was Stan Winston’s intention to create aliens that didn’t feel like a man in a suit. The design of the aliens surpasses anything we saw in the original film by leaps and bounds. So this film comes to us from a crew of people who really loved the original film and wanted to pay their respects to it by keeping what worked so well in the original, while improving the effects and visuals, that makes it, in my book an excellent remake.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Tobe Hooper (extreme left) on the set of Invaders from Mars (1986)