February 2, 2015

Movie Review: Phase IV (1974)

I love discovering awesome movies by accident, and that is just how I stumbled across Phase IV. At some point I added it to my Netflix queue, and there is sat until I noticed it was about to expire. So, with nothing else planned to watch, I selected it, pressed play, and sat back. What I experienced was nothing like what I expected and pretty much everything I liked. All I really knew about the film was that it was from 1974 and was a man versus nature film, specifically ants. I mistakenly thought the film was going to be more along the lines of Them!, but was pleasantly surprised to find something wholly different.

Phase IV was directed by Saul Bass. Now, if that name sounds familiar, it should. The man was a legendary poster designer and title sequence creator. He was a supremely gifted graphic designer, who decided to try his hand at making a feature film. He only made one, but it is as memorable as its director's designs. The movie itself was written by Mayo Simon, who also wrote Marooned (the science fiction film with Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman) and Futureworld (sequel to Westworld).

As the movie begins, we learn that there is a bizarre cosmic event bathing the Earth in a strange radiation. There are fears that this radiation would have some massive negative effect on humanity, but nothing happens. Then it is discovered that the ants out in the desert are beginning to communicate, developing some form of collaborative intelligence. Two scientists are charged with uncovering just what it is they are up to.

While it is a pretty simple set up, the movie is rather involving. The scientists, as well as a holdout family wage war with the ants. The ants prove to be a formidable opponent, finding a way to survive the poison, infiltrate the science outpost and short out the computers. It is fascinating watching the ants work and how the two scientists differ in their approach. Attempts to communicate are made, but it comes down to an assault on the ants hive. Will they succeed?

Phase IV is not your usual pulpy B-monster movie. Sure, it has those elements, but it is dealt with in a more intelligent, surreal fashion. The cause of the phenomenon is never really explored, but the idea of nature rising up to contend with humanity is an interesting one, again, not exactly original, but this proves it can all be in the execution.

Apparently, Bass had a different, more surrealistic, ending in mind, but the final minutes were trimmed by a distributor. I would be curious to see what he originally intended. In any case, Phase IV is a fantastic film that does not seem to get the respect or recognition it deserves. It is well worth checking out.

Highly Recommended.

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