Phase IV

Vincent Resh is a professor of entomology at UC Berkeley. He teaches the course Society and the Movies: How Film Reflects Society's Fears About Science.

Twenty years after Them! someone realized size does matter-smaller is smarter, so they downsized the ants' dimensions, but upgraded their intelligence. Millions of calculating crawlers are the teeming ant-agonists of Phase IV, the only film directed by the renowned graphic artist Saul Bass. When an uncanny imbalance in the ecology of the Arizona desert occurs, a British biologist (Nigel Davenport) and his able assistant (Michael Murphy) arrive with their geodesic lab in tow. What they discover is that all the immediate predators of the family of Formicidae are gone and a new ant, an Adam ant, has arisen. Backed by Ken Middleham's exquisite insect photography, Bass's ecological parable is filled with striking but nightmarish imagery, more frightful because of the faceless nature of the threat. The cluster of Stonehenge-like earthen towers where the colony resides seems to augur some implacable new power of accelerated adaptation. If the ants have their way, the future is going to be a picnic . . . theirs.

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