Phase IV (1974)

Phase IV capsule first published by SciFiNow

Famous for designing the iconic opening credits of many a Hitchcock film, Saul Bass directed only one feature: this cerebral sci-fi which begins with a strange celestial alignment, before shifting to the inner space of Earth’s ant communities (shot in extraordinary close-up by Ken Middleham). With increasing alarm, biologist Ernest Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) and game theorist James Lesko (Michael Murphy) observe these rapidly organising and evolving insects from within an experimental station in the Arizona desert.

“This is a serious game,” insists Hubbs, declaring war on the ants where Lesko just wants to communicate with them. Yet the ants both emulate and outplay the humans in moves that are conducted with giant chess piece-like structures (and a queen). This graduated series of first contacts falls somewhere between the previous The Andromeda Strain (1971) and the later Starship Troopers (1997) and Arrival (2016), and ends merely hinting at a fourth phase in which humans merge with ants. Bass’ alternative ending – included in this Limited Edition Blu-ray from 101 Films – offers an extended freakout vision of life in such a hivemind. 

Strap: Saul Bass’ only feature sees humans fast losing a chess game to evolving ants 

© Anton Bitel