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Review: Phase IV

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 18, 2008 12:33AM) (new)

Phase IV. (1974)

This film is, for me, a minor classic and I don’t write that lightly. As a fan of Science Fiction there are so many films with so many stars, major budgets and famous author associations to contend with and yet this little film manages to stir up everything I feel is important to and within the genre.
The premise is not original: a strange alignment in space triggers changes on Earth, the most important of which is only noticed by a handful of scientists; ants are beginning to communicate and coordinate with each other on a scale that confounds and disturbs those who know the true scale of their new collective intelligence.
After initial success with some basic signal communication experiments it all goes wrong for two scientists who find themselves isolated in a desert laboratory along with a lone survivor of an earlier encounter with the ants.

From the beginning the director, Saul Bass, wants us to change our expectations about his film. This is cleverly shown by the opening shots of a blurred silver sphere gleaming over the desert sands as it approaches us. As it comes into focus we realise that it is in fact a van and the director is well aware of his audience’s preconceptions.
There are some truly memorable images in this film, from the Monolith-like (2001 tribute?) ant nests that look like the Moai sentinels of Easter Island to the stunning psychedelic sunrises and sunsets; this was the only film that Bass directed though he did go on to work as a title designer with Scorsese and Scott amongst others.
This film wears its heart on its sleeve and it is easily identified as a landmark ‘Hippy’ entry into Science Fiction. Brian Gascoigne’s soundtrack is full of analog synthesisers repeating bleeps and eerie droning sine waves which layer the visuals with an alien voice that compliments the ants intelligence perfectly. The focus of the films philosophy is the ‘dawning’ of a new age, but not one that Man expected or may even be a part of! The dualistic concepts of death and birth come together at the films conclusion but if you want to know what I mean by that you’ll have to go and view it!

What makes the film succeed is that it stays serious throughout. The occasional cheesy line sneaks under the radar simply because the ambition of the film is not compromised and the only other minor flaw (in my opinion!) is one particular scene where the ants collective intelligence seems to break in order to convey a very human response to death.
Highly recommended.

message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 18, 2008 01:35AM) (new)

Btw, like '2001' the ambiguity of the film, particularly the ending, is more developed in the novel though both films probably benefit more from being seen as separate interpretations.

message 3: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 144 comments I remember seeing this in Jr high in the mid-late 70's
I thought it was a great thought provoking movie.
Over the years Ive wondered if it was really as great as I thought when I was 13?

In some ways Im reluctant to view it again. I sometimes wonder if it has aged well or if ts something to ridicule in our cynical times?

message 4: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
Wow, a science fiction film I've never heard of! Thanks Daveh! It sounds very interesting and I'm going to queue and review:)

message 5: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 144 comments Very philosophical ending.
It left you feeling as if something monumental was about to take place for the earth.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)


There were an additional four minutes intended and filmed for the ending and they were the most expensive shots in the entire film but the studio decided (maybe correctly for once) that they changed the entire tone of the movie.
As a result of his frustration Saul Bass decided never to direct anything he was not entirely in control of.
He went on to win the Oscar for best short film in 1980 having been nominated on two previous occasions.

message 7: by M (last edited Dec 22, 2008 05:33AM) (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) Thanks Daveh for this review! I never watch this science-fiction film. It sounds very interesting.

I do admit that I'm fascinated by the communication and the collective intelligence of "Ants"!

I'll watch and review "Phase IV", soon!

message 8: by Ubik (new)

Ubik | 101 comments Mod
Thanks for the review! I had heard of this one and was intending on seeing it. I understand its the only "mistake" MST3k made in that this is actually a *good* movie and shouldnt have been MSTd. If I get around to seeing it, Ill post my thoughts here...

message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 24, 2008 12:33AM) (new)


I only heard about that show recently but 'Phase IV' certainly LOOKS like a B-Movie, and, as I mentioned, sometimes the acting is hammy but I think the tone of the film in its approach to death and renewal in particular overcomes these restrictions.

message 10: by Phillip (last edited Dec 24, 2008 11:34AM) (new)

Phillip never heard of it. something else for the queue!

i was just in the sci-fi section of the video store the other night, a friend of mine and i wanted to watch some sci-fi. it's a shame there aren't more great films out there (that have come out in the past decade, for example). we rented The Fountain by Aaronovsky (sp?), but it was a let down. The script was bad, and stylistically, it was kind of all over the place. Even Ellen Burstyn (who rocks!) seemed to be treading on shaky ground. It starred Hugh Jackman, who works in some of the film, doesn't work in others (the film crosses centuries, and Jackman and Weiss play multiple parts). Rachel Weisz doesn't have much to do besides look good, which isn't hard for her, but mostly she seemed under-utilized.

I'm not recommending this one, but I wonder if anyone else saw it?

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)


I saw it and pretty much agree with what you write but I did find other aspects of it interesting.
The South American shamanistic imagery was brilliant; I happen to be an avid reader when it comes to this subject and it is only because of this interest that I recognised the subtlety of Aaronovskys attempts to imbue the film with these ancient and primal motifs, some of which are very specific and actually surprised me.
I also continue to think about each of the three sections with this in mind and I find it works each time.
The narrative is confused and distracting though; I understand why people are turned off the film.
Interestingly enough the comparison with 'Phase IV' in terms of higher intelligence and the expansion of consciousness through the holistic connectivity of life stands up too.

message 12: by Ubik (new)

Ubik | 101 comments Mod
My jaw dropped when you said that The Fountain was a let-down. Are you kidding me?!?!?!?!? I think The Fountain is one of the most beautiful films ever made! I cry every time. I cant even hear the score without tearing up, quoting lines, etc. I saw it in theatres, and since owning it, have seen it a half a dozen more times and it gets better with every viewing. I cant believe there is anyone out there who couldnt fall in love with it. Im shocked!

message 13: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
I also enjoyed THE FOUNTAIN. This is one of my older reviews so I may revisit and revise someday, but the feelings I express are true.

THE FOUNTAIN (Darren Aronofsky, 2006, USA) Here's a sobering thought: everyone reading this sentence will die. Everyone you know and love, every single person alive and breathing at this exact moment in time will cease to exist someday. And it's with this grim notion that THE FOUNTAIN begins its examination of the futile journey for immortality and the conquest of that fatal disease Death. This is a story of love but it's not a love story; this is about mortality and our fight against the dying of the light. As I became involved with the film I had a vision of a Kandinsky painting, and I began to experience it as a work of abstract art. The movie began to evoke an emotional response from me even though I could not yet understand the story and the more I watched, the deeper I became immersed into the whole experience. It was quite amazing. I could feel compassion for Thomas as he tried to cure his wife's brain tumor and empathize when he fails. As he reads and tries to finish his wife's manuscript titled THE FOUNTAIN he imagines (or does it really happen?) the past and future of the story as wish fulfilment where he and Izzi live again forever. We are taken on this journey and the line blurs between fantasy and reality as the story jumps backwards and forward in time. This is a haunting story of loss and denial of death and the toll it takes upon the living. We all die alone, and die we must. I'm not sure you watch this film as much as experience it. (B+)

message 14: by Tom (new)

Tom | 166 comments Didn't see THE FOUNTAIN. I was turned off Aronowsky after the amateurish PI and that REQUIEM thing.

message 15: by Phillip (new)

Phillip dear ubik,

please express my most sincere apology to your jaw.

message 16: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
Phillip, you are freakin' funny bro, love it!

message 17: by M (last edited Jan 11, 2009 02:54AM) (new)

M (wwwgoodreadscomprofilem) I have had some difficulties to find Phase IV, Daveh. I must wait one month to watch it. So, I'll review in February.

message 18: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
I'm re-reading Stephen King's Danse Macabre and he has a nice little review of PHASE IV, which is slowly crawling its way to the top of my queue.

message 19: by Phillip (new)

Phillip i tried to find it at my video store luck :(

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