Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Day Thirty: Phase IV (1974) - Rank 5/5


The inclusion of my review for this film might be cheating a little, for I have seen this film before. However, my previous viewings originated from a battered, fuzzy cassette from the early eighties. When the film finally came to DVD after being out of print for almost twenty-five years, and with a restored, anamorphic wide-screen transfer, I declared to my computer screen, "Overnight that shit!" as I purchased it from Amazon.

I consider this film to be one of the greatest piece of true science-fiction ever put out by Hollywood. While the poster may make it seem cheesy, gory or B-grade, it is actually none of those. It is an "animal attack film," but it's about as erudite as entries in the subgenre of motion pictures get. The film opens with an unexplained astrological phenomenon, after which, all known species of ant stop fighting and begin working together. Using their combined forces, they chase everyone out of a rural, desert town. Why? That's what biologist Dr. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) wishes to learn. With a cryptographer in tow, who specializes in the decoding of languages between animals, he sets up base camp and begins tests to determine just how intelligent these ants have become. What they don't count on is the ants doing the exact same thing to them. A battle of wits between species then ensues and it soon becomes obvious that if the humans lose, then they will fall to the second rung of the evolutionary ladder.

The film is directed by Saul Bass, the man responsible for some of the most memorable credit sequences in history (from Hitchcock projects like "Psycho" to "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"). His knack for aesthetic imagery is very much present in this film, filling it with surreal visuals and almost hallucinatory sequences of ant interactions underground (and yes, every ant in the film was real and "trained," much to my astonishment). The DVD regrettably didn't have the much-fabled extended ending that is said to rival the ending for "2001: A Space Odyssey" in the department of metaphysical trippiness. Still, the original ending is dark and eerily ambiguous, guaranteed to leave you feeling unsettled long after completing the film.

Watch the Trailer and realize that you, too, must see this film.

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