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Revenge of the Pod People | The Nation

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Revenge of the Pod People

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Nobody asked me to spend my weekend watching movies about alien invasions--so for all I know, I might have been acting on promptings from an otherworldly force. From which part of the galaxy did it emanate? Maybe the Senate chamber.

About the Author

Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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An openly extra-senatorial creature had taken possession of that body only days before my glut began, materializing in the form of a "Mr. Hyde." (Even the name was borrowed from a sci-fi source.) Speaking in strangely robotic cadences, "Mr. Hyde" declared it a grave offense for officials to lie about nongovernmental matters--in contrast to cover-ups of state crimes (such as the illegal prosecution of a war in Central America), which ought to be excused. This assertion was eerie enough, but then came an echoing of news commentators, hypnotically repeating (in robotic cadences of their own) that the Extra-Senatorial had made "a powerful case."

Clearly, rays of hideous mind control were rippling outward from the Capitol. But then arose evidence of a second transmitter. It was located in a personage who loudly assured us he was human, all too human. Yet when asked where he had come from, this "President" claimed to have arrived from "Hope"--everywhere and nowhere.

As mysterious as the figure's point of origin was the source of his popularity, which was said (by news commentators) to approach the universal. Such near-unanimity seemed to me suspect, especially when I considered how this "Man from Hope" had received unthinking endorsement for his program of turning Iraq into a firing range. For certain creatures with verifiable origins on Earth, the consequences were painful. According to Reuters, the December bombings had destroyed an agricultural school, damaged at least a dozen other schools and hospitals, blown up a storehouse holding 2,600 tons of rice and left 300,000 people in Baghdad without water. Yet who (other than the Iraqis) had complained of this devastation?

Strange to say, one of the few protests I heard (outside the pages of this magazine) was registered through a network of filmoids. The Reuters report came to my attention via e-mail, forwarded to me and four dozen other movie types under the heading, "All This for a Few Days' Delay in the Impeachment Vote." My suspicions deepened. Why should the celluloid-obsessed, of all people, be incited to raise our voices? Maybe we were being used. Maybe, by protesting, we'd give the mind-controllers an opportunity to reassure Earthlings: "See? It's only a movie."

Shaken to the core, I went off to watch The Faculty and Virus.

As I'd guessed, the latter turned out to be one of those embarrassments that distributors dump in January, without the risk of advance screenings. It's a terrible movie: nothing but dark close-ups of Jamie Lee Curtis pretending to be endangered, intercut with shots of a stunt double running down narrow corridors. In hot pursuit of her comes a red light accompanied by clanking noises, which are revealed (at climactic moments) to come from the most menacing contraption ever built with an Erector set. Meanwhile, a toy boat rocks in a tub of water, conveying the impression of a Russian research vessel caught in a typhoon off Australia. It seems that a disembodied force from Outer Space has beamed down from the Mir space station to this ship, where it already has killed off almost all of the crew. Now it mistakenly thinks it can do in Jamie Lee Curtis, who with half a dozen merchant sailors has discovered the ship and boarded her.

But why am I telling you all this? Only because Virus represents an oddly mechanistic version of the threat from Outer Space. I'd even be tempted to call it old-fashioned, except for the existence of far more sophisticated films from the fifties, such as The Thing and Forbidden Planet. In those pictures, when isolated humans had to struggle against a disembodied force, it stayed disembodied. Such were the truly old-fashioned films, in which the alien menace was intangible, malleable, intimate. Virus (directed by John Bruno, based on a comic-book series by Chuck Pfarrer) is actually newfangled. Here, as in the Borg stories from Star Trek: The Next Generation--one of the few precedents I can call up--the instruments of mind control are cybernetic and surgical; the ultimate horror, a blood-soaked marriage between the human body and alien-directed machinery.

Forces from beyond never used to require so much metal--let alone vinyl tubing--just to take possession of a human's mind and body. The trick used to be done quite readily by mesmerism or (if sterner measures were wanted) through infection, as when a dog passes on rabies. I wonder at today's need for cruder interventions. Perhaps they're meant to flatter us, now that we've grown so proud of our skepticism. An audience that knows the government lied about Roswell and its aliens is an audience too tough-minded to believe it could be penetrated by mere brainwaves. We want something solid now; we want to see electrodes.

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