THE PUPPET MASTERS
Robert Heinleins The Puppet Masters (1951) is a classic work although perhaps not one of Heinleins true classics like Starship Troopers or Stranger in a Strange Land. One of the important historic notes about The Puppet Masters is that it prefigured the alien body snatchers fad that came in 1950s films such as Invaders from Mars (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). Many of these have rightly or wrongly been interpreted as allegories about Communism. Where the case to be made in the films is mostly an ambiguous one, Heinlein made it overt in The Puppet Masters while the setting for the story is the US, it is stated that the parasites have taken over the Communist countries well before this. The Puppet Masters was previously filmed during the 1950s as the very cheap body snatchers film The Brain Eaters (1958), although Heinlein received no credit and later sued the films producers for plagiarism. [The Puppet Masters should not in any way be confused with Full Moons Puppetmaster (1989) and any of its nine sequels about a horde of malevolent living puppets].
This film adaptation of The Puppet Masters came out amidst a new mini-fad of alien body snatcher films that emerged in the 1990s following the popularity of tvs uber-paranoid The X Files (1993-2002). There were a number of revivals of other classic body snatchers films during this time, including Abel Ferraras remake of Body Snatchers (1993), the tv mini-series revival of The Invaders (1995), It Came from Outer Space II (1995), John Carpenters remake of Village of the Damned (1995), the tv movie remake I Married a Monster (1998) and other original films such as The Arrival (1996) and Polymorph (1996) and mini-series like The Tommyknockers (1993), Invasion (1996), The Uninvited (1997) and Invasion: America (1998), before the genre was wittily spoofed in The Faculty (1998) (which also has a sly line acknowledging The Puppet Masters as the granddaddy of the genre).
Robert Heinleins book has been altered somewhat in its journey to the screen. The screenwriters keep faith and reasonably accurately replicate the main characters from the book and their relationships, although there are a number of noticeable changes. The book was set in the future where humanity had colonized the Solar System; the film has been set contemporary. There is also no reference made to the parasites coming from Saturns moon Titan. Most prominently gone is the means whereby it was decided that the only way humanity could be rid of the parasites was for the entire populace to walk around nude. The screenplay underwent numerous rewrites from different creative hands, including the creative duo of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (see below for Elliott and Rossios other films), with later rewriting performed by David S. Goyer, one of the finest genre screenwriters of the 1990s and beyond (see below for David S. Goyers other works). Terry Rossio detailed his frustrations with the development process of The Puppet Masters at his website Wordplayer.com, which makes for interesting reading, while director Stuart Orme later said the film was the one work he had made that he felt most disappointed with.
The Puppet Masters was not a huge success when it came out, although it conducts an occasionally worthwhile variant on the genre. The film tends to work more in individual moments than it does as an overall dramatic structure. One of the problems is that the story seems hurried and lacking in an effective build-up. Within the opening ten minutes, for instance, we go from a team of investigators exposing a cover-up about a UFO landing, detecting that peoples behaviour is changed (all because they do not look down a girls blouse), fighting off body snatching parasites and escaping from an entire alien-possessed town. A film like Invasion of the Body Snatchers by contrast took its entire 80-minute running time to cover all of this. The characters in the film seem to come post-informed by the body snatchers genre they automatically seem to know what it going on and are prepared to fight it and the rapidity of the progression is confusing. The film becomes far more interesting when it gets to the scenes with the agents chasing the parasite through the OSI offices. Thereafter there are some fine individual moments the scenes with the possessed monkey leaving a taunting message for Eric Thal or where the alien parasite possess Thal and threaten to stop his heartbeat and tauntingly tells Julie Warner what fantasies my host has of you.
Eventually, the rapid changes of the plot also end up confusing if not exhausting. It seems that every major character in the film ends being possessed at some point the effect is more like a game of musical chairs than films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Invaders from Mars, which end up progressively alienating through the accumulation of paranoid and unearthly mood. There are also plausibility holes the parasite ends up killing every other person it is attached to except when it comes to the heroes early on when taken over, Eric Thal seems to have a nervous breakdown but when it comes to the possession of Julie Warner and Donald Sutherland they are both cogent again in minutes. The father/son fight at the climax seems ineffectually tacked on it is a weak wrap-up that fails to let the film go out on a suitably big dramatic punch.
Other film adaptations of Robert A. Heinleins works include his co-writing Destination Moon (1950), based on his juvenile novel Rocketship Galileo (1947); co-writing the original Project Moon Base (1953); the animated tv mini-series Red Planet (1994) from Heinleins juvenile; Paul Verhoevens bludgeoning adaptation of Starship Troopers (1997); and the fine Predestination (2014) based on Heinleins classic time paradox short story All You Zombies (1959).
Director Stuart Orme was a British television director who had previously made the fine dark childrens fantasy The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) for cinematic release. The Puppet Masters was Stuart Ormes first and only venture into the American theatrical mainstream. Almost all of Ormes other work has been in British television. His other genre works have included:- the award-winning tv mini-series The Sculptress (1996) from the Minette Walters thriller; a tv mini-series adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyles The Lost World (2001); the mini-series The Last Train (1999) about a trainful of passengers who are cryogenically frozen; the childrens story adaptation Fungus the Bogeyman (2004); the serial killer thriller Cold Blood (2005-6) and its sequel Cold Blood: The Last Hurrah (2007) and the haunted submarine tv movie Ghostboat (2006).
Ted Elliott and Terry Rossios other screenplays include Little Monsters (1989), Disneys Aladdin (1992), the remake of Godzilla (1998), The Mask of Zorro (1998), Small Soldiers (1998), The Road to El Dorado (2000), Shrek (2001), Disneys Treasure Planet (2002), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest (2006), Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End (2007), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) and The Lone Ranger (2013). Terry Rossio on his own co-wrote Deja Vu (2006).
David S. Goyers other screenplays include the Jean-Claude Van Damme action film Death Warrant (1990), Full Moons Demonic Toys (1992) and Arcade (1994), The Crow: City of Angels (1996), Blade (1998), Dark City (1998), Nick Fury, Agent of Shield (tv pilot, 1998), Blade II (2002), Batman Begins (2005), Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), The Dark Knight (2008), Jumper (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), Man of Steel (2013) and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Goyer has also directed the excellent non-genre film ZigZag (2002) about an autistic boy, Blade Trinity (2004), The Invisible (2007) about a disembodied teenager and the possession film The Unborn (2009). Goyer has also produced the genre tv series Sleepwalkers (1997) about dream researchers; FreakyLinks (2000) about paranormal investigators; Threshold (2005) about the investigation of a UFO; the cinematic adaptation of the Marvel Comic Ghost Rider (2007); the tv series Flash Forward (2009-10) about a mysterious worldwide premonition; the tv series DaVincis Demons (2013-5) about a fantastical secret history of Leonardo Da Vinci; the tv version of Constantine (2014-5); and the ghost story The Forest (2016).
(Winner for Best Makeup Effects at this sites Best of 1994 Awards).