Tuesday, February 3, 2009

PHASE IV (Saul Bass, 1974, USA) Like Kubrick’s Australopithecus and its evolutionary push from some undefined alien source, disparate subfamilies of ants have become imbued with intelligence by some epic cosmic event. Director Saul Bass, best known for his title designs on PSYCHO, VERTIGO, and ANATOMY OF A MURDER, tells a fascinating story depicting the next stage of natural evolution where two scientists engage in a battle with tiny insects for world domination. Dr. Hubbs and mathematician James Lesko build their own chrome mausoleum in the scorching desert, relying on computers and observations to solve the enigma. As the budget tightens and Dr. Hubbs fears the project will be shut down, he destroys the ant’s beautifully designed dirt and mud towers, the architecture of a new world order. This sparks Armageddon: the battle is not fought on Tel Megiddo but in the arid Arizona desert. Dr. Hubbs rekindles the fiery spirit of Professor Bernard Quatermass with his adventurous physicality and grenade launching hubris, out to save the world once again, while his partner attempts communication instead of retaliation. Add Kendra, a beautiful young woman to the mix and the film veers close to parody but thankfully doesn’t resort to romance or melodrama. The cinematography is outstanding as the ants are dramatically filmed in close-up, capturing poses and gestures that seem to convey some malign ulterior motive, their actions an eerie premeditation. Many scenes are saturated with striking primary colors adding a surreal texture and suspense to the film. The electronic score reverberates with the uncanny hive language of this new society and becomes nature’s raw pulse. The universal language of mathematics is shared, its geometry processed as the two species attain intelligent contact. But the humans misunderstand the patterns and as Hubbs walks to his gruesome death, Lesko and Kendra rise together, like Lazarus from the sandy grave, to face the world anew: reborn and forever changed. (B-)

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