Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Saul Bass|
|Produced by||Paul Radin|
|Written by||Mayo Simon|
|Edited by||Willy Kemplen|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Phase IV is a 1974 British-American science fiction horror film. The only feature-length film directed by graphic designer and filmmaker Saul Bass, it stars Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport and Lynne Frederick.
The interiors of the film were shot at Pinewood Studios in England and the exterior locations were shot in Kenya, though the film is set in the Arizona desert in the United States. It was produced by Alced Productions and Paramount Pictures.
The film was a box office disappointment and as a result this was the only feature film directed by Bass. It has since gained a cult following due to TV airings beginning in 1975 and also being shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during the KTMA era.
A novelization of the script, written by Barry N. Malzberg, was published as Phase IV in November, 1973.
Due to an unknown cosmic event, listed in "phases", ants have undergone rapid evolution and developed a hive mind. A scientific team begins investigating strange towers and geometrically perfect designs that ants have built in the desert. Except for one family, the local human population flees the strangely acting ants. Scientists James Lesko and Ernest Hubbs set up a computerized lab in a sealed dome located in an area of significant ant activity in Arizona. The ant colony and the scientific team, along with the holdout family, fight each other, though the ants are the more effective aggressors.
The narrative uses the scientific team as the main protagonists, but there are also ant protagonists going about their duties in the colony. The ants immunize themselves to the humans' chemical weapons and soon infiltrate their lab. Teams of ants penetrate the computers of the lab and short them out. After Lesko decodes an ant message, Kendra Eldrige (a young woman who has taken refuge with the scientists), becomes convinced that her actions have enraged the ants. Seeking to save the two scientists, she abandons the lab and apparently sacrifices herself.
Hubbs and Lesko begin to have different plans for dealing with the ants. While Lesko thinks he can communicate with the ants by means of messages written in mathematics, Hubbs plans to wipe out a hill he believes to be the ants' central hive. Delirious from a venomous ant sting, Hubbs can barely get his boots on but is determined to attack the hive and kill the ant queen. Instead, Hubbs literally falls into a trap – a deep pit that the ants fill with earth. Helpless to save Hubbs and convinced that the ants will soon move into desert areas where their growth will exceed man's ability to control them, Lesko chooses to follow Hubbs's plan. He sets out to the hive with a canister of poison. Descending into the hive, Lesko hunts for the queen, but instead finds Kendra (in a scene reminiscent of one in the 1956 film The Mole People) reaching out from under the sand. The two embrace, and Lesko realizes that far from destroying the human race, the ants' plan is to adapt the human race and make them a part of the ants' world. In voice-over, Lesko states that he does not know what plans the ants have, but he is awaiting instruction.
- Nigel Davenport as Dr. Ernest D. Hubbs
- Michael Murphy as James R. Lesko
- Lynne Frederick as Kendra Eldridge
- Alan Gifford as Mr. Eldridge
- Robert Henderson as Clete
- Helen Horton as Mildred Eldridge
- David Healy as Radio Announcer (voice, uncredited)
Ken Middleham, the wildlife photographer who shot the insect sequences for Phase IV, also shot the insect sequences for the documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle. Both feature extensive use of close-up photography of insects.
According to the book Future Tense, "Bass originally filmed a spectacular, surreal montage lasting four minutes, showing what life would be like on the 'new' Earth, but this was cut by the distributor." The montage was intended to suggest that the two surviving characters were altered by the ants' creation of the next step in evolution for humanity and insects. Shots from the original montage sequence appear in the theatrical trailer, which was likely prepared before cuts were made to the film.
In early 2012, a faded print of the original ending sequence was found in the Saul Bass Collection at the Academy Film Archive in a preview version of the film, which was originally shown to test audiences in 1973. In June 2012, this excerpt was screened to the public in Los Angeles at the Cinefamily cinematheque following a showing of the theatrical version. The Academy Film Archive was able to find the original film elements for the montage, a set of separation masters, in Paramount Studio's archives. The archive staff recombined the separations, color-timed them for presentation, and had them digitally scanned. This recovered montage ending, along with a brand new 35mm print of the theatrical version, premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, as a part of a full day of films by Saul Bass in December 2012, before being shown at select art-house theaters in other cities.
Thie film was released on VHS by Paramount Pictures, the studio that made the movie. A DVD was released by Legend Films in 2008, and a Blu-ray was released by Olive Films in 2015. All of these releases are barebones versions and do not include any special features, such as the original theatrical trailer or the scenes cut from the original version of the film.
Brian Gascoigne was the chief composer, and Stomu Yamashta was responsible for the music in the final montage sequence, which was cut from the theatrical release. David Vorhaus and Desmond Briscoe composed the electronic music. Waxwork Records released the soundtrack on vinyl in March 2015. It does not include the cut final sequence montage music by Stomu Yamashta. It was the first release of the soundtrack in any format.
Upon its initial theatrical release, the film had mixed reviews. In a generally positive review, Jay Cocks of Time saw the film as "good, eerie entertainment, with interludes of such haunted visual intensity that it becomes, at its best, a nightmare incarnate". In a negative review, Variety wrote that this ecological monster film "didn't get the bugs worked out before release". Time Out London wrote that the special effects take priority over the ideas. A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote, "For all of its good, scientific and human intentions, 'Phase IV' cries for a Phase V of fuller explanations."
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 83% of six surveyed critics gave the film a positive review, the average rating being 6.6/10. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club described it as "designed more than directed, and edited around principles of color and line, rather than around performance or plot". Bill Gibron of PopMatters rated it 7/10 stars and wrote that "for every hackneyed hole-punch moment there’s an engaging scope enhanced by the film’s visual wonders". David Cornelius of DVD Talk rated it 4.5/5 stars and wrote, "Watch it late at night with the lights out, and you'll get plenty freaked."
This is the first film to depict a geometric crop circle, in this case created by super-intelligent ants. The film predates by two years the first modern reports of crop circles in the United Kingdom, and it has been cited as a possible inspiration or influence on the pranksters who started this phenomenon.
The film has been a significant influence on a recent generation of science fiction film directors and other visual media artists. In an interview, the Argentine director Nicolas Goldbart described Phase IV as having had a profound cinematic influence on him. In his science fiction film Phase 7, Phase IV is playing on a television in the apartment of the protagonists. The writer/director Panos Cosmatos described Phase IV as having been a very significant influence on the look and feel of his science fiction film Beyond the Black Rainbow.
In January 1989, Phase IV was featured on one of the very early episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
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- Pilkington, Mark (2010) "History, the Hive Mind, and Agrarian Art". In The Anomalist, Vol. 14. http://www.thewire.co.uk/articles/4106/
- Interview on 10/15/2011 with Nicolas Goldbart[permanent dead link] Scifiandsqueam.com. Retrieved 6-28-12
- Interview on 6/18/2012 with Panos Cosmatos Chud.com. Retrieved 6-28-12
- Radical Friend’s Yeasayer "Ambling Alp" video and Phase IV Archived 2013-06-05 at the Wayback Machine. theinternets.com.au/blog. Retrieved 6-30-12