Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PHASE IV (1974)

On the twenty-ninth day of Halloween, my boo love gave to me ... twenty-nine billion pissy solarized world-dominating Stonehenge-building ants!


A vengeful ant-hater, a loopy semi-retarded farm girl, the distinct absence of Yukon Cornelius, Warren Worthington II, and the smartest ants since this guy.

More details here.


Some strange cosmic event has a profound effect on the ants inhabiting the earth. They begin to display ominous signs of intelligence, build monolithic structures in the desert, and attack predators, large animals, and humans with increasing ferocity. Soon an entire town is driven out by the aggressive pests and the government responds to the threat by sending two dudes in a jeep and silo filled with Raid. One’s a grizzled grumpy scientist and the other a young etymologist who finds a way to communicate with the insects. Housing themselves in a steel structure with computers and analysis tools, the scientists try to learn everything they can about this new menace. The ants quickly learn to adapt after the researchers douse them with green gooey insect killer. Unfortunately, the goo also kills a nearby farmer, his wife, and dopey ranch hand. The only survivor, their equally dopey daughter, joins the science guys, gets angry at the bugs, and never takes her top off. The ants display more signs of intelligence including a militaristic tenacity, an expedient evolutionary cycle, and a knack for adobe architecture. The old guy gets bitten and loses a few appendages, the girl loses her mind, the young guy loses control of the situation, and the ants send an alarming message that could mean the end of mankind and a whole lotta picnics.


Director Saul Bass is best known as a graphic artist, animator, and producer whose amazing visual work has been seen in some of the coolest title sequences in cinema including Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Scorsese’s Cape Fear. But most people will probably remember Saul as the Bass in Rankin/Bass, producers of stop-motion animated holiday favorites such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Phase IV is the only film he ever directed which is a shame because this film is an astonishing visual piece, less a horror movie and more a contemplative, psychological, mind-bending work of science fiction. Bass captures the moody, desolate, almost hopeless atmosphere with a dreary scientific coldness. But the real star of the film is the spectacular cinematography which captures the ants’ behavior in minute macro-lensed detail. Some of this stuff is amazing to look at and could have been viewed without the framework of the plot and still remain fascinating. It’s like looking at tiny ant actors perfectly responding to Bass’ commands. Technology translated into artistry is typical Saul Bass. Sadly, there were no extras on the DVD and this film begs for a more detailed scrutiny and breakdown, especially of the specialized photography. Phase IV is definitely worth checking out, but myrmecophobics should beware!


Anonymous said...

Just a heads up. It was Jules, not Saul who was the Bass of Rankin/Bass

El Tremendo said...

I stand corrected. I just assumed it was Saul. Thanks for the info!