Phase IV was a memorable and unusual sci-fi / horror film from 1973. It was directed by Saul Bass. It is best described as being a cross between Them! and The Andromeda Strain - like the former, the plot involves human beings battling ants (although they are of normal size); like the latter, it is ponderous, serious, good-looking, and set largely in a laboratory. It appears to be currently unavailable on DVD or video. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Bryan Goeres' 2001 Phase IV, an entirely different film.

On the good side, it features some striking photography of the ant world, and the central idea is considerably more chilling than that of Them!. The ants initially appear to pose no threat at all, but working en masse and learning from experience, they manage to consistently outwit the human protagonists. At the end of the film there seems to be no doubt that the balance of nature has shifted from mammals to insects. The images of monolithic ant towers seem to have stepped from the kind of abstract sci-fi book covers that were popular in the 1960s and the photography and design - by John Barry, of Dr Strangelove and the late-70s Bond films - is never less than interesting.

On the bad side, the film gives the impression that, having gone to the trouble of making real ants act, Bass was not particularly interested in the people - a dull bunch of scientists and local folk. The pace is glacial, and the ending is an unforgivably trippy thing which stops dead, leaving one feeling unsatisfied (witness, for an example of how this can be done correctly, The Quiet Earth). Nonetheless it is a fascinating oddity, a confluence of the mid-70s 'revenge of nature' / dystopian post-2001, pre-Star Wars sci-fi which sticks in the mind rather like Zardoz or A Boy and His Dog.

All in all, it's the kind of film that works best when seen late at night. It is not quite famous enough to have a cult following. The film has an almost obligatory psycho-trip-a-rama sequence (cf. 2001, The Parallax View, Silent Running), this time at the very end.

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