Philip Kaufman directed and W.D. Richter wrote the screenplay for this superb second interpretation of Finny’s story. This time we are in San Francisco in the ‘70’s when we meet health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and his work partner Elizabeth (Brooke Adams). Elizabeth begins to notice that her husband Geoffrey (Art Hindle) is acting strange of late; he is aloof and distant. When Elizabeth tells Matthew this he refers her to his psychiatrist friend Dr. Kibner (Leonard Nimoy). Kibner is a renowned and popular therapist who has published many self-help books on a variety of subjects. He tells Elizabeth that she is making up this fantasy of her husband acting strange in order to justify her subconscious need to end the relationship. As time passes Elizabeth’s worries are proven right when Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), friends of Matthew, find sleeping duplicates of themselves in their mud bathhouse. The rest of the film chronicles how our gloomy heroes attempt to outwit and escape the pod people. Much of this is present in the original but there are some minor differences such as the pod people’s terrifying screech when they encounter one who is unassimilated.
This time around Kaufman doesn’t mince on the political statements his film is trying to make. Not only does the film reflect the ‘70’s distrust and unease of authority, but the pod people can be seen as a metaphor for the wave of new-age self-help gurus that populated the bookshelves. It seemed that everyone and their mother had at least one self-help book under their belt in the ‘70’s, discussing everything from child rearing to finding the inner you. The perfect avatar for this would be Leonard Nimoy’s Dr. Kibner, a pompous know-it-all who dispenses gobbledygook pabulum that despite the moniker “self-help” doesn’t really help anyone. Nimoy’s performance is so wooden (predating Keanu Reeve’s career by at least twenty years) that one can surmise that it was acted that way on purpose; to show the cold fame driven self-help yuppies for what they really were. The unease of the time due to Watergate is also reflected all thought the film; gone is the idyllic Leave-It-to-Beaverness feel of the first movie and is instead replaced with a gloomy San Francisco that seems anything but gay.
– Andrew Perez