Phase IV (1974)


Year 1974

Starring

Nigel Davenport   as  Ernest Hubbs
Michael Murphy as Lesko
Pierce Brosnan as Guy Shepherd
Lynne Frederick as   Kendra
 
Director - Saul Bass
Screenwriter - Mayo Simon
Cinematographers   - Dick Bush
  - Ken Middleham  

This is the movie about ants. I guess the name Phase IV is also the title of some Dean Cain and Brian Bosworth dreck. This is NOT that movie. This is a decidedly B-movie, like the kind that used to play on "Chiller Theater" or "Adventure Theater" but it's a cut above the usual.

Every boy is fascinated by ants. You can watch them for hours scurrying back and forth on a pavement. Sometimes they're hauling meat from a dead beetle, sometimes they're going off to war with a neighboring colony, and sometimes they're just foraging. You can burn them with sunlight and listen to them pop. You can flatten their mounds and watch them rebuild. You can drag your finger across their pheromone laden trail and watch them mill about in confusion until the path is re-established. Their mindless dedication is uncannily entrancing.

What would happen if all of this devotion and energy could be directed? What if ants suddenly had a higher purpose than merely to survive? What if ants decided to start molding their surroundings to suit them? It's not really a new theme. Clifford D. Simak won the 1953 International Fantasy Award for his novel City which includes such a scenario. But the movie shows it.

For most of movie, the viewer is unsure of exactly what's happening. This is a good thing. Rather than spoon feeding the audience, the writer chooses to parcel things out in a satisfying manner.

The movie starts off with a lot of mumbo-jumbo about cosmic events and that they affected some creatures on Earth. But the nonsense explanation is over quickly. Accept this at the beginning and no more silly explanations will be required to be unpleasantly digested. In fact, that's one of the reasons that I like this movie. After you buy into the premise, everything else is true to the fiction. That happens rarely in movies and it's another of the positives.

Still another positive is that when the ants gain higher consciousness, they don't become people in ants' bodies. They're still ants. This is what keeps you watching. From the odd towers that the ants construct to their inherent willingness to die for their ruler, the ants are alien. What is their motivation? You need to keep watching for some clue.

I can't say enough of the photography. Special effects are thankfully limited. (They're pretty bad.) But the photography! This movie should have been nominated for an Academy Award. Seriously. There are many scenes where ants seem to be taking cues. Against a black back-drop, there's a scene of a brightly lit large ant communicating with a smaller one using antennae. There's a fight between an ant and a preying mantis. (Great drama, believe it or not. You feel for the mantis being dragged by its leg towards its electrocution.) There are shots of ants moving through tunnels. All are clean, crisp, and believable. Why? Because there are no special effects for these shots.

There are few actors in this film and this works towards establishing the isolation of the humans surrounded by ants. Michael Murphy is in the movie. Why do I always think that he's a porn star gone mainstream? I think of him mostly with roles like that in Count Yorga, Vampire. He's a good actor, so I'm doing him a disservice, but I can't help it.

The music is pretty good, too. It tries to be unnerving without being too futuristic. You know the type of bad vision music where everything is a theremin played atonally? This music is much better than that and fits the movie.

What's bad about Phase IV? Well, it's slow. If you're not a person who finds ants and insects interesting, then you'll be bored. The biggest problem is the simple plot. If you knew everything early on, you'd find the movie a waste of time. But as it unravels at a decent rate, it'll keep you interested.

The movie is also dated. Even for 1974, the movie seems a bit passť. Still, I like the mood and the attention to detail. Most of all, I like the camera work.

There's no nudity, profanity or blasphemy. There's some chick flick potential if she's a budding entomologist.


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