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Empire Of The Ants
review by Anthony D.
Starring Joan Collins, Robert Lansing
Retail Price: $14.98
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono,
French Mono, Spanish Mono, French Subtitles, Spanish
Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (16
Released: November 20th, 2001
"This is the ant...treat it with respect." Thus intones
the offscreen narrator as "Empire of the Ants" unreels. And
the ants in "Empire of the Ants" are unreal, to say the
least. They may have been photographed and blown-up to
screen proportions, but they are nevertheless unreal. The
credits say that the story belongs to H. G. Wells ("The Time
Machine" "War of the Worlds" "The Invisible Man"), but as a
film "Empire of the Ants" falls into the same category of so
bad that it's good films as "Food of the Gods;" which
believe it or not, is also a screen adaption of an H. G.
Wells tale. In the 1950's, movies like this came down the
pike and became classics: "Them!" which has killer ants
attacking Los Angeles is a modern marvel of science fiction
films. Of course, with a cold war going on, radiation and
its further down the road effects were in nearly every
American's daily thoughts; not to mention the Japanese, who
gave us the radiation-produced "Godzilla."
So I may treat the ant with respect, but filmmakers may
not, otherwise, we wouldn't have 1977's "Empire of the Ants"
to sit back and watch. Taken on its own slight terms, it
would still rank with the endless list of Golden Turkey
Award Winners. As the credits roll, we see the illegal
dumping of drums of radioactive waste being illegally dumped
into the ocean, but only one finds its way to shore. (What
are the odds of that happening?) That lone drum springs a
leak on the sands of the future site of Dreamland Shores, an
exclusive community-to-be, that is the dreamchild of realtor
Marilyn Fryser (the ever-so bitchy Joan Collins). It would
seem to be fated that the flow from the punctured drum would
attract ants on the same day the Ms. Fryser is taking a
boatload of prospective (and stereotypical) buyers out for a
view of the property. Oh, yes, we're talking about the
senior citizens who take these cruises because they have
nothing better to do now that they're old; the young
newlyweds who want to make a go of it on their own without
parental support; the life-long executive secretary looking
for a solid investment; the divorce who's looking for an
escape from his debts; the tough cookie who has dated too
many married men, and hocked her furs to have her own dream
house as well as the couple whose marriage could stay tied -
if hubby weren't too often straying. In the real world, none
of these people would even stay together on the boat to
Well, as Ms. Fryser begins to serve lunch, you might as
well call it a picnic, the ants begin to order ala carte
humans - - as the suspicious pair of Lawsons (Mr. And Mrs.)
try to find all the faults of the property. Well, having
ants twice the size of human beings would be considered a
major fault. The tour hasn't gone far when the Lawsons'
absence is noticed, and it isn't long before their bodies
are discovered. As fate would have it, the ants, after a
delicious meal of humans, are in the mood for a little boat
ride (I'm not kidding!) The group sees the ants marching
across the pier to the little boat which they had only
disembarked from several hours ago! The ship's captain
(Robert Lansing, who battled most of World War II on
television's "Combat") won't stand for any stowaways on his
vessel, and swims to the boat. With a little luck, and a
lack of brains, he blows up the boat to get rid of the ants.
Okay, this is where we get to see the monstrous conception
of the ants: being a low-budget film, the ants are only
one-third ant and two-thirds puppeteer, with the puppeteer
thrusting the ant head toward any human being in the same
frame. It's a howl, but I'm not sure that we're all laughing
for all the right reasons. (The process shots of real ants,
those non-interacting shots, are used sporadically
throughout the film in scenes which don't have physical
contact between the insects and their prey).
Now boatless, the main course must find a way to get
home. It's a long trek to a river (the script says 2 miles),
but fortunately there's a kindly old couple who warn them to
not go near the sugar refinery. Yeah, like two weird old
poops tell you that and your curiosity isn't stimulated
enough to head straight for the refinery! In a stolen car!
The refinery has become (in less than twenty-four hours)
Ant Central: the home base of the Queen Ant, who is turning
humans into aphids with her astonishing pheremone therapy.
This chemical, peculiar though it may seem, is a
mind-altering chemical which forces obligatory response.
It's how the Queen controls her drones, and our survivors
are about to be treated to this unusual display of the
animal kingdom at work. Oh, the Queen is like the other
ant-actors: one part model and two parts puppeteer - but
she's been given her own private booth in the refinery, and
dispenses her pheremones through a light dusting of talcum
powder. I know that viewers everywhere will delight in
seeing Joan Collins haughtily approach the Queen, only to be
powdered down. These poor persecuted humans must find a way
to destroy these super-smart insects ( I honestly thought
that the "Mars Attacks" method of playing Slim Whitman
records would come in handy here). That the film is only
ninety minutes long, and it has that much plot, will tell
you that whatever the denouement, it will be coming soon.
Will it be the end of the ants? Or will it be the end of the
world as we know it?
"Empire of the Ants" is presented in its original aspect
ratio of 1.85:1 with an enhancement for widescreen
televisions, and that my friends, is the good news. The
picture quality leaves a lot to be desired, as the whole
presentation looks shamefully wan. Its as if the whole
picture were processed to have the color removed, rather
than to embolden the colors. That said, the bloody scenes
read rather lifeless, and the actor's flesh tones' remain on
the ashen side (of course this was filmed immediately after
the actors realized what they had gotten themselves into).
The process shots are even softer leaving a murky mess of
moving antennae and legs flitting about. The two-shot
process shots, where there are actually humans in the same
shots as the film's six-legged stars, are no more passable
(or probable) as the rear projection used in 1960's tee-vee
I happened to have enjoyed the soundtrack, albeit
presented in Dolby Digital Mono. The music is cool in a
Muzak type way, but the eerie sound that signals the
approach of the ants is darned nifty. There's a tightness to
the high end, and bass is pretty much absent. The Spanish
mono track serves up a reminder of the old Mexican thrillers
seen on "Mystery Science Theater," while the French
mono...well, has there ever really been a bad French film?
(Rhetorical question, I assure you).
Count on MGM to approach their budget titles without an
inlay sleeve. The only extra involved is the ragged
theatrical trailer which manages to synopsize the
entire movie; a perfect antidote for the somewhat less than
For curiosity's sake, this is one to check out. You won't
find Joan donning any Nolan Miller gowns for this one,
though she does get to get down and dirty clad by K-Mart.
MGM's Midnite Movies continue to be a mixed bag of excellent
titles and drek, "Empire of the Ants" (obviously) falls into
the latter category.
(1.5/5 - NOT included in
(2.5/5, NOT an average)