Thursday, May 29, 2008

Invasion of the Bottle Snatchers

Few people are aware that the 1956 sci-fi/horror movie classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, was actually based on a short fictional piece that appeared in the now defunct Wine Examiner magazine in 1953.

It’s also commonly believed, and mistakenly so, that the movie was a thinly veiled criticism of the McCarthy era. The truth is the Wine Examiner article was amazingly prescient, focusing on a controversy that rages today over what some have termed the “Parkerization” of wines.

Parkerization” is a reference to the actions of some winemakers to vinify their wines in such a way as to gain the favor of Robert M. Parker Jr., considered by many to be the world’s most influential wine critic. By making their wines in a style that he apparently favors, wine producers hope to have high praise and high scores heaped on their wines by Mr. Parker, which in turn translates to high demand and high dollars for the wines.

Of course the Wine Examiner article is not referring to Mr. Parker since he was only six years old at the time it was published, but the article itself is rather spooky since it foretold of an era in which wines would lose their individuality and be tailored to please a “Mr. Big,” the grand-master of all wine in the known world.

In fact, the original plans were to make a movie from the original article and even use the original title, “Invasion of the Bottle Snatchers.” At the last minute the idea was canned because studio executives felt that the subject of wine was not popular enough to draw sufficient crowds to the theater. Thus, the original cast was retained but the script was rewritten to change what had been large seed pods containing bottles of wine into huge seed pods containing artificial humans.

In the original article, Miles Bennell (played by Kevin McCarthy) is the owner of a wine shop. He prides himself on the wide variety of wines he keeps in stock, ones that reflect the true characteristics of the grape variety as well as the region in which they were grown.

Miles returns to town after a lengthy vacation and finds that business has increased tremendously at a competitor’s store. The owner of the store, Jack Belicec (played by King Donovan) is a good friend of Miles and they engage in friendly competition with the utmost respect for each other’s wine and business acumen.

Miles and his girlfriend Becky Driscoll (played by Dana Wynter) are headed out the door of Mile’s house to see Jack when they see Jack and his wife, Teddy (Carolyn Jones) approaching, walking up the steps and appearing very nervous.

Below is a snippet from the screenplay as it was originally written:

Miles: Hi Jack, Teddy.. we were just coming to see you.

Jack: I guess we beat you to it, Miles. Welcome back from vacation.

Becky: Business is booming at your store, Jack. We were headed over to congratulate you and find out why all of a sudden the crowds.

Jack: That’s why we’re here. Crazy thing. The customers are buying up all my wine like crazy and I can’t figure it out. I opened a few bottles to taste them and.. (shakes head and stops talking).

Miles: And?

Teddy: Tell him, Jack.

Jack: (still shaking head) No, it’s crazy.

Teddy: Tell him! Go ahead. Miles is your best friend.

Jack: Well, it’s crazy. Those aren’t my wines.

Miles: What? What are you talking about?

Jack: What I mean is, yes they’re my wines but they aren’t. I know that sounds goofy. Let me try to explain. They’re the bottles I bought, with the right labels, and the wine tastes like the grape listed on the label but it.. it’s just not the same wine.

Becky: What do you mean, Jack? How can it not be the same? You mean it’s counterfeit?

Jack: No, not counterfeit. I mean, it’s the wine it is supposed to be, but I know it isn’t. It’s uh, missing something. I can’t explain it but it just isn’t right. The Cheval Blanc tastes like a Cheval Blanc and I would immediately recognize it, but there’s something missing from it.

Miles: I don’t get it.

Teddy: We don’t get it either! But you’ve got to taste the wines and see for yourself.

Jack: Except they’re all gone. I’m sold out of every single bottle, if you can believe that. The whole store is empty. Miles, am I crazy?

Miles: Jack, I’ve known you too long. If you say there’s something not right, then I believe you. I wish I could try one myself.

And that’s how the story originally began. As the days pass, more and more wine is brought into Jack’s store and it sells out right away. With each successive shipment, Jack finds that all the different wines taste more and more alike. Meanwhile, Miles’ inventory just sits there with nary a taker.

As the story progresses, the protagonists are horrified to discover a sinister plot in which wine is being transformed into muted specimens that lack all traces of individuality so that it is impossible to differentiate one from another. This seems to be spreading, from their little shop in Sierra Madre, California, throughout the state.

Miles for some reason has been able to retain wines that express their individuality, and refuses to submit to the evil forces that advocate stripping them of their unique traits. Here is another scene from the script, in which Miles has a chilling encounter with a wine rep who represents the evil side:

Rep: Look, Miles, you know I’ve been working with you for what – 14 years now? And have I ever steered you wrong? You know I’ve supplied you with the best I’ve had.

Miles: That’s true, but what happened to you? You’re not the same rep I remember from just a few months ago.

Rep: Miles, accept it. The world is changing. Wine is changing. What you sell now – do you really think people are going to want this stuff? Just come over to our side. Buy a few of the samples I’m offering and see for yourself. Jack did, and look at him now. Driving a Cadillac and living in that mansion. Drinking Lafite every night..

Miles: That’s not Lafite! It’s.. it’s some monster! And why would you want to drink that every single night? (shakes head angrily) Jack! My friend Jack! How could you do that to him?

Rep: I didn’t do anything to Jack. He chose to see the light and it paid off. It was painless. It’ll be painless for you, too. Here – just take these cases and see.

Miles: Get out! Get out of here! I will never lose my individuality or the individuality of my wines! You hear me??

Rep: I hear you, Miles. That’s what they all say. Jack said it, too. But sooner or later, they all came around. You will, too.

Miles: Never. I don’t want any part of it.

Rep: You’re forgetting something, Miles.

Miles: Huh?

Rep: You don’t have a choice.

Miles stands frozen as the statement from the rep sinks in. Suddenly he grabs a bottle of wine off the shelf, first checking to make sure it isn’t a first growth, and clubs the rep over the head then runs out of the store.

Unfortunately, footage from the movie as originally intended is practically non-existent. Parts of it were deemed to be just as relevant to the discovery of life-sucking seed pods from outer space as it was to discovering wine was losing its individuality and soul, so it was spliced into the trailer, however. These parts also appear in some sections of the altered version that became the theater version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Watch the trailer below and see if you can figure out which parts came from the original Invasion of the Bottle Snatchers version. If you can't see the trailer, please click here.

See the DVD product page at Inavasion of the Body Snatchers

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