I LOVE THIS MOVIE!
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve seen the trailer a few times and wasn’t really expecting much out of this film, but I when I finally got around to watching this, I gotta tell you, I was pleasantly, pleasantly surprised with this movie. It’s wonderful! It’s so delightful, it’s left me speechless and I honestly don’t know where to begin.
Plotwise, this movie is just great. For a simple plot, quite a bit actually goes on, but the gist of it is, a bunch of mystery deaths and attacks take place in the American Southwest Desert. The police and FBI start looking into it and they don’t have many leads until they send in a footprint sample to Washington. Two scientists, a father and daughter, from the Department of Agriculture are sent in to investigate. They look at some clues, enough to let the viewer know what’s going on (especially if they watched the trailer), and before we know it, it’s revealed that the culprit of the attacks are none other than giant, radioactively mutated ants. So everyone involved starts a hush-hush attack on the ants’ nest and things go along great, until it’s revealed that two queen ants and their mates were able to escape before the nest was destroyed. Then about a third of the movie is spent as our two detective heroes go about searching for them, following various leads, with the help of the government who, upon the advice of one of the scientists, decides to keep everything top secret. Through exposition, we discover one set of ants is found at sea and they’re destroyed, while through some old fashioned detective work, we find that the other set of ants have set up a colony in the drain tunnels of L.A. Now the detectives, the scientists, and the military are in a race against time to destroy this colony before more queen ants are hatched and things spiral out of control.
So for our characters we got two stereotypical ‘40s/’50s military/cowboy type characters, one who works for the New Mexico State Police (who goes way beyond his jurisdiction in this movie, but whatever, it’s his case and his mystery and darnit, you know he’s gonna see it to the end) and the other is an FBI agent played by no other than James Freaking Arness. He’s best known as being the main protagonist and all around hero from the famous and long lived TV Western Gunsmoke, but what you might not know is that this isn’t even his first big role in a horror movie. He played the monster in 1951’s The Thing From Another World. Then we have the father daughter scientist team, with the father being a bit of an eccentric and the daughter being tough and independent and not afraid to put herself in danger for the sake of science. There’s even a dialog saying “That’s no place for a woman!” and she’s like “I’m the only one who knows how to do this job so I’m going whether you like it or not!” Love her. Those are really the only guys that matter, because they’re the main characters of the story and the only really interesting ones anyway. The rest are all basically your government/military types. Though there is one drunk loon who has one of the best lines in the movie, not because it’s that great of a line, but I love the way he says it. “Make me a Seargent in charge of the booze!” Dude practically sings it like a schoolyard taunt. Love him. The only downside is that honestly, no actor or character here comes across all that amazing.
Man, I have no idea how to do this movie justice. The pacing is great. We get a monster scare early on, but the monster is never shown, only the sound of its cries, gunfire, and the panicked scream of a man who meets his end. The father scientist, early on goes through clue after clue hinting to what might be behind the mysterious deaths, but for the sake of suspense, refuses to say what he and his daughter suspects until he is “absolutely certain.” It works in drawing the suspense out, but in a bit of an annoying way, and once you as a viewer start to get annoyed, it’s like the movie acknowledges it because one of the detectives tells the man to “stop being coy” and its like the open acknowledgment makes everything better again. Soon enough, there’s a full blown monster reveal, the ant nest is destroyed, and when our two detectives and the daughter scientist go into said nest to investigate, that’s when we find out about the two escaped queen ants. This is the part where I think the movie really carries itself well, because now we have everyone going through clues and leads trying to figure out where these two queen ants went. It’s a lot of talking. It’s a lot of jumping from scene to scene. With the exception of a scene where you see sailors under attack by the ants, there’s no action. This all could easily have gotten very boring very quickly, but it doesn’t. There’s enough happening, between new scenes and events, to carry the story along and none of it feels dull or forced. None of them linger on longer than they should and with the exception of maybe one or two, none of them feel unnecessary or out of place. Before you know it, we’re back to the final confrontation and back to the action and while it’s not an epic final confrontation like we expect from films today, it’s exciting and satisfying enough.
I just have to talk about the special effects in this movie. I love these giant ants. Yeah, they’re obviously puppets and not that well animated. They’re obviously string controlled, not that well mind you, and none of them move with any sense of weight or density. They’re floaty, floaty, floaty. So why do I love them? Because they’re not miniatures in stop motion animation and they’re not suitmation either. They are created and portrayed full sized and full blown. To the best that I can tell, every interaction the actors are having with these things, they’re interacting with the real things. It often doesn’t work well, at all, but I love it anyway just because it’s not often done and the filmmakers had the drive to go with it. That’s what gives them their charm, especially when our heroes are attacking them with flame throwers, they’re using real freaking fire and all. IT’S SO GREAT I CAN’T EXPRESS ENOUGH HOW MUCH I LOVE IT! I also loved, loved, loved, the scene in the ants’ nest where the egg clutch is discovered. The eggs not only look great, they’re translucent, and when flashlights are shined on them, you can see the ants inside them moving. Great touch. Loved it.
As an aside, I really enjoy movies from this era, because I get to see antiques I admire today being used as real items. The camera the lady scientist carries around and uses? I want one. It’s awesome.
UGH! THIS MOVIE IS SUCH A TREAT!
I give this movie a 4.5/5. Objectively, this movie probably doesn’t deserve so great of a score. It’s got flaws, it really does, but they’re so easy to ignore and forget because for me everything in this movie just clicks really, really well. Somehow, the sum here is much greater than the whole of its parts. This film is special. I’m gonna treasure it.