'Puppet Masters' needs more mystery

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily wildcat

"The Puppet Masters" is an interesting movie from at least one perspective: it's a Hollywood film based on a science fiction novel. This is a rare occurrence. Most classic science fiction novels have never been filmed and the few that have, like Dune, were altered beyond recognition.

"The Puppet Masters" is based on a 1951 novel by celebrated author Robert A. Heinlein (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress). Unfortunately, The Puppet Masters isn't considered one of Heinlein's best efforts. It's a typical Cold War alien invasion story where the aliens take over human bodies and make everyone wonder who's "real" and who's not.

The movie begins with a spaceship landing in Iowa and some farmboys' discovery of it.

A government official, Andrew Nivens (Donald Sutherland), his son Sam (Eric Thal) and NASA scientist Mary Sefton (Julie Warner) investigate the landing sight. They discover that small, parasitic aliens have secretly attached themselves to the backs of various people. Using mind control, the aliens have taken over the town and are rapidly multiplying.

The movie deals with the government's efforts to understand and defeat the alien menace.

While "The Puppet Masters" is reasonably well-made, its subject matter is so familiar it fails to generate much suspense. The movie seems like one of the many remakes of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" with some gooey sets from "Alien" thrown in for good measure.

"The Puppet Masters" was directed by British filmmaker Stuarte Orme, who, until now, has worked primarily in British television. While he seems to have a strong visual sense, he could use a little restraint. A stronger sense of mystery would improve the movie. There's little suspense generated when "infected" characters walk around with blank faces and look obviously taken over.

Donald Sutherland ("Six Degrees of Separation") manages to lend the movie some dramatic weight with his controlled and subtle performance, but one wishes the rest of the movie was as carefully effective.

It's ironic that Sutherland is in this movie. He was also in Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," a stylish film that did justice to this type of material.

While it's good to see Hollywood acknowledge science fiction literature, this film's similarity to previous hits and its subsequent predictability keeps it a fairly mundane experience.

"The Puppet Masters" is at Century Gateway 12, 790-9000.

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