Film Review: Phase IV (1974)

Release Date: September, 1974
Directed by: Saul Bass
Written by: Mayo Simon
Music by: Brian Gascoigne, Stomu Yamashta, David Vorhaus, Desmond Briscoe
Cast: Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport, Lynne Frederick

Paramount Pictures, 84 Minutes


I never knew of this film’s existence until recently, when I was able to see some of the original episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was featured in the original first season that only appeared locally in Minneapolis before the show moved to a national cable network.

Phase IV is a very weird movie. It isn’t a particularly good film but it has some very strong positives, mostly on the visual side of things.

The film is about ants who develop a much higher intelligence. They find ways to communicate with one another, develop a language and decide to take over the planet. They build amazing structures and even set up elaborate traps for those trying to stop them.

Saul Bass, a graphic artist, directed the film. It was his only motion picture, probably due to the fact that this was a major failure for Paramount Pictures. It was a better-than-decent first effort and it would have been interesting to see what Bass could have done after this movie. It is better than the freshman efforts of many well-known directors.

The main issue with the film, is that despite its really interesting and stellar visual elements, it is fairly boring and uneventful. Also, Bass seemed more focused on creating a visual masterpiece and less time on developing a better story or improving the performances of the actors. The acting is far from awful but it is also just fairly average. The story, while interesting at first, doesn’t have a lot of depth as the movie rolls on.

There is a lot of time spent with the camera solely focused on large printers just printing lines. The lines are a representation of the ants’ language but it really isn’t that interesting.

The movie also featured close-up scenes of real ants doing all types of ant stuff. While it was interesting, at times, it really wasn’t that different from just watching a nature video.

Phase IV is one of those movies that started on a bit of a high note but really just went nowhere. It could probably benefit from someone revisiting the ideas and making a new film out of it. But really, at its core, it is just a 1970s version of the giant insect movies that ruled the 1950s. Except Phase IV lacks giant insects or anything truly exciting.

The film tried to be very cerebral and artistic but it failed to achieve either of those things.

Rating: 4/10