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Click above to purchase "Empire Of The Ants" at amazon.com

 

Empire Of The Ants

review by Anthony D.

 

 

Starring Joan Collins, Robert Lansing

 

Studio: MGM

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 Scenes)

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 Dreamland Shores!

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 shows.

 

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 masochistic viewer.

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 final score)

(2/5)

(2/5)

(.5/5)

(2.5/5, NOT an average)

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