THE PUPPET MASTERS (1994)
I’m not sure what story was written first, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or THE PUPPET MASTERS. There are definitely similarities to the two, although they’re different stories. And the movies for both are also similar, but different tales entirely.
Donald Sutherland, one of the stars of a version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, leads a group of scientists to study a race of stingray-like aliens that latch onto a person’s spine and, while leaving their bodies alive, take control of their minds. Unlike BODY SNATCHERS, the PUPPET MASTERS alien possession is totally reversible, albeit painful. At some point in the movie, all three main characters (and countless secondary characters) experience the alien takeover and, thus, have a unique perspective on how to defeat them. Great battles ensue.
I’m guessing that the original Heinlein story has subtext and symbolism. There is none in THE PUPPET MASTERS. Rather, it is a science fiction action movie. It knows this, makes no pretenses about it, and goes full speed ahead toward being the best sci-fi action flick it can be. The performances were good—if you’re looking for the subtlety of BODY SNATCHERS, it isn’t here. But they don’t need to be. The dialogue and script are just realistic enough to keep us from thinking too hard about the preposterous aspects of the story. THE PUPPET MASTERS is a glorious celebration of suspended disbelief and, if you let yourself not think about it too hard, you can have a fun ride.
The only thing I found distracting was simply Donald Sutherland’s presence. It was minor, but when watching him in a movie, I can’t stop seeing Donald Sutherland and start seeing the character. Instead of seeing Andrew Nivens, I see Donald Sutherland As Andrew Nivens. It’s not enough to ruin the movie for me, and it might just be me reacting that way, but after seeing him in great roles in great movies from ANIMAL HOUSE to JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, I can no longer separate the man from his roles.
All in all, though, THE PUPPET MASTERS is a fun movie to watch if you just want to have fun. Don’t think about the plot holes, don’t think about faulty science, just sit back with some popcorn and a delicious beverage and have a good time.
THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert A. Heinlein (1951)
The Puppet Masters is one of the best, most influential alien invasion stories written during the pulp era.
There are two common options for the alien invasion storyline; the first involves an overt action attempting to subjugate or kill the human race. These stories are typically written during the combat or years later on a world that has already been affected by the past conflict. They are almost always directly violent in tone and activity (although Mankind Under the Leash / The Puppies of Terra by Disch successfully bucked that trend). The second involves covert activity, in which one man or woman discovers the great conspiracy and attempts to unmask the infiltrating aliens who are taking over.
This story falls firmly into both categories. The invaders act covertly, but as they are discovered they shift the combat into a more direct approach. Their form is gelid, almost sluglike, and they nestle on any large mammalian body's spinal cord. Once there, they have access to their victim's knowledge and skills, and the victim is relegated to the position of willing servant. They are thus able to infiltrate anywhere, arranging circumstances to best allow for the transmission of more aliens and the enslavement of more people.
Three people in particular have the ability to stop the invasion: an older man who runs a secret intelligence operation and two of his agents, a man and a woman. In traditional Heinlein pulp fashion, the two operatives fall in love with each other. That is simply the backdrop of the story, because the real story is about the invasion, and how the people and congress react.
Five stars out of five.