Let me start out by saying that I am very fond of the original movie of 1956. But the biggest difference between the two films is the handling of the characters and the use of camera angles that ring of film noir. The characters of the 1956 offering are just a little bit generic. Dr Miles Bennell is an "ordinary" doctor in an ordinary town. Handsome and amiable, he does seem a bit "typical". The two couples that become the main focus are a little bit less defined, which was true of B-movie horrorSF flicks of the 1940's and 1950's in which the horror of the plot trumped character development. By the 1970's, horror had to some degree become more mainstream, and character development became nearly as important as the shock value in some of the higher-budgeted offerings. "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist" come to mind.
The four characters of the 1978 film are quite distinctive individuals. Matthew Bennell (played by Donald Sutherland and essentially the equivalent character to Miles Bennell) is a bureaucratic FDA inspector who gets his car windshield smashed when he tags a restaurant for sub-standard quality. His best friend is Elizabeth Driscoll (Brook Adams) who is a fun-loving woman with a rye sense of humor and married to a sports fanatic.
Both of the Jack Bellicec characters are writers, although in the 1978 offering, Jeff Goldblum's take on the role is as a very frustrated writerpoet who is jealous of the likes of Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), pop-psychologist, writer and lecturer. Jack attends one of Kibner's lectures and book-signings. Nimoy plays his character to the hilt, acting like he has the answer to all people's problems. Goldblum at one point says "His ideas are garbage. Pure garbage." response: "How can you say that about a man like Kibner?" Goldblum: "Not a man like Kibner. I'm saying it about Kibner." We never find out what the character wrote about in the 1956 offering. Nancy Bellicec played by the incomparable Veronica Cartwright in the newer offering becomes a much more important character than in the 1956 film. She's the one, not Bennell, who realizes how to fool the "snatched" people by exhibiting no emotions. She has one of the best lines when she says "Well why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?
Their lives start to fall apart when Elizabeth Driscoll claims her husband Geoffrey is not her husband. Before he is snatched, he is an amiable guy who enjoys watching sports events with headphones to hear the announcers. After he's snatched, all he watches on the television is a video of a stop-watch, as if for him life has stopped, and he's just marking time. She recounts to Sutherland how she followed him and that he was meeting all these strange people. Sutherland encounters others with similar dilemmas, particularly an older Asian couple who own a Laundromat. The older man claims "she not my wife." The build-up in the 1978 offering is a little slower and more deliberate.
Jack's wife, Nancy Bellicec (Cartwright), discovers a duplicate body of Jack in a back room of their mud bath. At first the body seems to have almost no detail. But gradually it begins to look like Goldblum. Is there any connection with this body and this epidemic of people claiming that their loved ones are not their loved ones? In a particularly brilliant if not disturbing sequence, Bennell tries to call some of his contacts in the US government. The camera angles work well to literally dizzying affect as Bennell begins to realize the snatchers have infiltrated the government.
An incredible take on Jack Finney's original novel about the horror of losing one's identity to an emotionless collective, sort of akin to what it would be like to have to spend eternity with either Jehovah Witnesses or Beaurocrats! You are no longer you but simply a clone among the collective, a terrifying thought.
Review by classicalsteve from the Internet Movie Database.