Friday, May 14, 2010

Phase IV (1974)

What can you write about a movie thats actually perfect? Perfect for what it is, a movie about killer-ants. But Phase IV is far from something that Irwin Allen would make, even further from what maestro Bert I. Gordon would produce. This is the only movie Saul Bass, the famous title designer of many classic movies, directed. Shot on location in some desert somewhere, and in Pinewood Studios, UK, this is probably the most underrated movie I've seen. Why is it so underrated? Well, I have the answer to that: Mystery Science Theater 3000. But more on that later.

Michael Murphy and Nigel Davenport plays two scientists, Lesko and Hubbs, working outside in the desert in a special lab, built to study the strange behavior of the ants in the area. The ants are ruining farm after farm, eating the crops and even starts making some kind of crop circles in the fields. They have also built five-six strange towers of earth and dust, who seem to be a command center. The scientists is getting prisoners in their own lab, while the ants are testing them, trying to figure out a way to torture them by sunlight and with psychological warfare. But the question is if it's worth fighting back, or are they already in phase 4?

I will be honest and say I've never seen the famous episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where they trash this movie. And I never will. Because how the fuck could they even joke about a movie like this? Strange as it sounds, the story is intelligent and realistic, the visuals of it is stunning. Saul Bass direction is minimalistic and very competent, every camera angle, every movement by ant or man feels planned. It's low budget, but has ambitions like few other movies. There's nothing to joke about. And if they found any jokes they had to be very low, like... "hehe, she has nice tits" or "hehe, look... he has a huge beard". Ya know? Believe me, I can't find anything funny with it.

The movie is probably most famous for it's fantastic macro-footage of ants. And honestly, I have no idea how they shot it or directed those darn insects. It's like watching something animated, because theres no chance in hell that the could get those ants to do this stuff. Or? Yeah, obviously they did, and it's very impressive. The further the movie goes, the more existential it gets. Lesko is communication with them through radio waves and lines drawn on paper, Hubbs is getting more and more mad and sick from a ant-bite and between them two is the young girl, played by Lynne Frededrick, who confused are trapped with them in the lab after watching her grandparents get killed by the ants.

It gets better and better, weirder and weirder... and the ending, phase IV is far out, man. Really far out. And I love how it ended. It's both absurd, and very clever.

Phase IV is the 2001: A Space Odyssey of Ant-movies. There, I said it. And so it will be.


dfordoom said...

I don't like that whole Mystery Science Theater 3000 type of thing. Or the Michael Medved "50 Worst Movies of All time" thing either.

All too often it's an excuse for people with unadventurous tastes to make fun of movies they don't understand.

Crippa said...

Man, you really made me want to see this one. Will have to check it out!

daniel said...

DVD from where? This sounds right up my alley.

Ninja Dixon said...

Crippa, I'm sure you will love it!

Daniel: Legend Films has released it on DVD in the US. Recommended!

Ray Virzi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ray Virzi said...

I have this one in my vintage collection. Always thought it was quite cool. I have a write-up on it at my blog if you're intrested: http:\\\phase-iv.html