The Puppet Masters (1994)

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Released 18-Nov-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 104:27
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (53:09) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Stuart Orme

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Donald Sutherland
Eric Thal
Julie Warner
Yaphet Kotto
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Colin Towns

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish Titling
French Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Robert Heinlein was one of the greatest science fiction authors of his time and probably in the top ten list of the best authors of all time. Six of his stories have been used as source material for eight films or TV shows. The most recent is of course Starship Troopers (1997), which in my opinion is the worst interpretation of a novel that has ever been produced. Every premise was either left out, twisted or completely reversed. Working in reverse time order, next would be Red Planet (1994), which was turned into an animated TV mini-series. This film (1994) was based on The Puppet Masters. The Brain Eaters (1959) was based again on The Puppet Masters. Project Moonbase was not based on a book but co-written with Jack Seaman in 1953. Tom Corbet, Space Cadet (TV Series 1950) was based on Space Cadet, and the earliest Destination Moon (1950) was based on Rocketship Galileo.

    Heinlein had two major sub-genres with his novels. The first sub-genre was aimed at the teen boy market. In the other sub-genre comes the material that was to set his claim on the top ten listing: Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, Number of the Beast, Starship Troopers and I Will Fear No Evil. His later works in my opinion do not stand as tall as the earlier works. In fact, they get more than a little strange.

    All the novels that were used as source material, except Starship Troopers and Puppet Masters, come from the teen fiction sub-genre.

    Heinlein's work is basically nothing short of brilliant and he was far ahead of the society in which he lived. At least one of his novels had to be shelved because it was believed that American society simply would not have accepted the concepts that it contained. In the past I have made allowances for the difficulty of converting a novel where you have thousands of words to get your concepts across along with the ability to espouse the characters' thoughts as well as words. This stopped with the brilliant translation of The Lord of The Rings. If they can successfully translate a novel of that size, complexity and depth into a fantastic film then all bets are off.

    One particular slant that Hollywood seems to have taken recently with its novel or series conversions to film is the complete destruction of the underlying theme of the original work. A classic example of this is with the movies based on the series Mission Impossible. The original series had as a main theme the concept of teamwork. While there was a leader, each team member contributed and the mission would not have been a success without the team. What did Hollywood do? Within sixty seconds they had destroyed the team and turned it into a hero worship piece. There is a similar problem with this film. In the book the two main characters are both highly trained secret agents, Sam and Mary. In this film Mary has been relegated to being a scientist and not part of the action team, and while she does get into the action a little, what is it about an equally strong action role for the leading woman that frightens Hollywood so much?

    I am going to wrap a comparison between the storyline in the film and the novel in spoilers as there will be a few plot reveals.

    (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) There are some real differences between the film and the novel. Some of these are probably influenced by the cost of producing the original story, particularly the special effects that would have been required. The film is set in current society (i.e. 1994) as opposed to some time into the future. This means that a whole swag of changes have been made. The transport in the future is by way of flying cars - there are no flying cars in 1994, and no space travel amongst the planets, which changes a major plot point. In the book, the Puppet Masters have been visiting Earth for some time and have been kidnapping people. On their home planet, the atmosphere is different and they need to breed a new version of themselves that can live amongst oxygen breathers. Mary was living on Venus at the time of one of these raids and had actually been kidnapped as a little girl. The aliens returned to Venus with Mary in tow to set up an advance colony. While there, something wiped them out. The discovery of what wiped them out through examining Mary's memory of the time is how the disease that would kill the Masters but not the host is discovered. For what are fairly obvious reasons, Operation Bareback and Suntan have been left out. These were the two operations that were used to contain the Masters in the areas that they had already taken over. The first involved everyone stripping down to the waist and the second stripping down to minimum G-strings. To help compress the story into a time frame that works for a film, they have removed most of the sequence where Sam is under the Master's control. They have also removed the entire sequence where he is forced to wear his Master for a second time. Sam and Mary do not get their little holiday in the mountains, but the cat sequence remains in much shortened form, albeit with a major departure in that Mary escapes while still under her Master's control and Sam has to go to the 'hive' and rescue her. This part matches up with the above complaint that they had to have a heroine in distress and a hero to rescue her. In the film, the Masters have a central hive that the story maintains they must return to every so often to commune - this is certainly not in the book. Another innovation in the film is that people ridden by a Master have raised body temperatures, enabling them to be seen as different from a satellite image or with heat sensitive goggles. This was a bit of a disappointment, as a key piece of the novel was the fear caused by the fact that there was no easy way to spot someone that was under a Master's control. The invasion in the film is limited to one state, so the rest of America and also the world are not involved in the storyline. There are many other differences but this covers the main departures from the book. They did manage to bring back the final sequence, not in a flying car but in a helicopter. My only complaint about this is that a helicopter autopilot is a device that I am pretty sure does not exist. The character development is probably the most disappointing part of the conversion - there is simply not nearly the depth in either Sam and Mary's relationship or that of Sam and his father. There is also none of the philosophy or examination of the human condition that we get in the book.

    This may be one of those films where you need to have read the novel in order to understand what is going on, but having done so you will be disappointed with the film. The best example of this is the movie Dune. Taken alone without knowledge of the novel I think that this film is still a good solid piece of science fiction and an enjoyable film.

    The plot as in the film goes something like this:

    Andrew Nivens (Donald Sutherland) heads up a secret agency of which his son Sam Nivens (Eric Thal) is an agent. A report of a flying saucer comes in and after a number of hours and two agents that don't return, the agency still knows nothing about the event. Andrew and Sam, along with a scientist from outside the agency, head off to see what is happening at the landing site. The scientist's name is Mary (Julie Warner) and when they arrive at the site, which has been turned into a tourist attraction compete with a fake flying saucer, she notices that the men around the site do not seem to be interested in her rather nice womanly attributes. This convinces Andrew that there is more here than meets the eye and they head off to the local TV station, the one that first reported the landing.

    While talking to the station manager, they discover that the aliens have really landed and that they have the ability to attach themselves to a human host and take control of that person's mind. They narrowly escape back to headquarters with a captured specimen which they proceed to dissect. The masters start to spread and take over the state surrounding Des Moines. The Army is sent in but a mistake in the estimation of the number of the masters results in the conversion of the entire force. Somewhere about this time, Mary is brain-napped and taken off to the hive and Sam sets out to rescue her. While there, he makes a discovery that will change the direction of the war.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


     Overall, this is quite a nice transfer. The only problem is that the dynamic range of the video seems to have been compressed and the whites are not really bright. The overall impression is of a video rather than film source despite it being originally film.

    Presented at what is probably its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is pretty sharp and shadow detail is good. There is no low level noise. The problem with the brightness mentioned above is the only real problem.

    The colours are also a little drab but overall they are solid and the skin tones are accurate.

    There are no MPEG artefacts present, nor are there any film-to-video artefacts. Film artefacts are limited to the occasional fleck or mark, and there is very little visible grain.

    The subtitles are easy to read and reasonably accurate.

    This is a dual layered disc with the layer change at 53:09, cleverly placed in a fade-to-black making it invisible.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     A solid surround encoded soundtrack accompanies the film.

    There are three Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtracks on this disc; English, French and Spanish.

    There are no problems with the dialogue quality nor with the audio sync.

    The music is pretty standard fare for this sort of film, building tension and getting louder at the appropriate moments. It works well overall.

    The surrounds are as good as a surround encoded audio track gets. The soundstage surrounds you quite nicely and there are some quite good surround effects included. I particularly liked the audio in the hive scenes.

    The subwoofer was used in some scenes and supported the movie well, but was nothing earth shattering.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is a static picture with the three main characters in front of a scene from the hive. Presented at 2.35:1 with no audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Other than the inclusion of the French and Spanish soundtracks on our version and closed captions rather than subtitles, the R1 and R4 discs look identically specified.


    Leaving aside the comparison to the book, here we have a good solid Saturday Afternoon matinee science fiction movie that should entertain. One can only hope that Heinlein's material will one day receive the treatment that it deserves, which should make for some absolutely fantastic films.

    The video is good.

    The audio is very good.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Monday, December 01, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252q CRT Projector, Screen Technics matte white screen 16:9 (223cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR800
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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