Visual genius Saul Bass' sole directorial feature film Phase IV (1974) is an interesting low-key science-fiction venture about how after an anomalous event in space, the ants of the world get together and decide to take over. In some ways, it is reminiscent of that amazing HG Wells story 'Empire of the Ants'.
The main action is focused on a small research station where 2 researchers (including Nigel Davenport as a lower-rent James Mason style cold bastard and Michael Murphy as his more human colleague) study some intimidating ant towers: With the help of some cutting edge 70's tracking equipment and mathematical predictions they try to figure out what's on the collective mind of their invertebrate adversaries. Soon they are joined by a young girl barely escaping death by ants (Lynne Fredrick, who apparently was forced into a painful corset and a strict diet to appear underage). While fending off attacks on their station (the critters take out their generator and their air-conditioning) Murphy is trying to send a message out to the ants to convince them that humans are an intelligent life form to co-exist with, while Davenport has a bee in his bonnet about taking out the all-important Queen.
Most of Phase IV is a chamber piece with 3 humans, but it's mixed up with some incredible insect footage. Heck, it's nearly 10 min into the movie before the first human characters appear on screen, and it's a testament to Bass' visual acuity that an engaging narrative emerges with Brian Gascoigne's moody electronic score accompanying shots of ants moving through sinister mud corridors and appearing to be in group conversations about taking over the world. Given that insects cannot directly be trained to follow instructions, they must have employed some ingenious techniques to get them to do stuff that blends with the on-screen narrative. The film ends on the kind of ambitious, ambiguous note 70's Hollywood SF movies specialized in before Star Wars came and fucked everything up.
I recall first watching Phase IV on a ratty looking rip decades ago. Compared to that the blu-ray from 101 films (based on a restoration by the Academy Film Archive) is a revelation. Mind, this is still a low-budget film and a lot of the insect footage shot in dim lighting, but it now has a palpable quality like those vintage BBC documentaries. Looking forward to visiting the Saul Bass short films included on the second disc.