PHASE IV is the only feature length film directed by Oscar winning title designer Saul Bass. You may remember some of his work from title sequences such as SPARTACUS, SAINT JOAN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST to name a scant few. PHASE IV greets us with some shots of outer space (must be heard with the echo for full 70s effect) and a voiceover narrator promptly tells us there is something weird going on and that the only thing affected were the ants… During a 6 or 7 minute sequence of ant activity a Richard Attenborough like narrator named Dr. Hubbs speaks some bio-babble at the viewer and proposes his plan of action. To study the ants at the loci of this phenomena which is a valley in Arizona. He utters “speed is of the essence” which along with some dramatic music connotes impending ant danger.
This isn’t EMPIRE OF THE ANTS. These ants don’t do something as mundane as control humans to accomplish their whims nor are they gigantic radioactive monstrosities. They are now vastly intelligent and do things themselves. Necessity is the queen of ant-invention and these tiny terrors need to get rid of the increasingly unstable Dr. Hubbs.
The ants have constructed a series of towers and when they don’t behave like the scientists want ant henge gets blown up with grenades because all scientists have grenades and yellow chemistry. This provokes the ants into an innovative and violent response that ends up getting a local family killed in the crossfire between the science base and the ants.
The ants attack the good doctor’s biodome base by, get this, blowing up their truck and knocking out the generator. Hubbs in his infinite foresight left the truck out to tempt the ants into an attack… Luckily enough he has something yellow to stop them. No explanation what just 100% yellow. As the Dr in his ivory tower uses this spray he unwittingly kills the local rancher and his family with their death throes artistically interspersed with those of the ants.
It is easy to see how PHASE IV is Saul Bass’ only feature film. It is a fun but mediocre trippy film lost in a tidal wave of mid 1970s fun but mediocre trippy films. Although this has some major positives. Among them are Mrs. Peter Sellers IV (maybe she’s Phase IV?), ant henge, ant vision, livestock massacres, ant crop circles, nebulous missions and the minor fact that the ants were merely grooming humanity to live in the new ant dominated world! PHASE IV may be a tad shaky on story but it does provide some very entertaining visuals.
If you’ve watched it to the end you find out that Phase IV has started. If anyone has any idea what Phases I through Phase 4 are please leave a comment letting me know because I have no frigging idea.
The picture quality is middling and the sound is seventies good but don’t expect any special features on the Legend Pictures disc. PHASE IV is a fun flick for a tired Saturday afternoon. Check it out if you can for cheap.