Most helpful positive review
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2011
The fragments of information surrounding this production spells sort of a tragedy, I think. I was given the impression that Saul Bass (Director) had been eager to create films of his own, was afforded very little opportunity to do so, and exhausted many of his connections to assemble and fund Phase VI, which ended up a commercial failure and was later relegated to late night TV reruns and low rating time-slots, soon after it's theatrical stagnation and fiscal no-show. Saul is quite famous for his visual acuity, creating title sequences for several dozen films, many of them impressive, and designing movie posters, mostly. In his resume are a few short films as well, one being a promotional film for Solar Energy, which can be found on Youtube, along with several interviews. He also worked with Hitchcock on Psycho and one can find some interesting controversies surrounding the production of that film, specifically regarding accreditation for certain scenes.
Subsequently lost to Phase IV was a Kubrick-like montage, tailing the film and comprising the ending, which had been removed from the original film without consultation with Saul himself and which the studio felt muddled the effect of the ending or confused the audience. This was done prior to release for purely commercial reasons and as one would expect outraged the director. Unfortunately, this sequence is not included on the DVD, nor can it be found online, although fragments can be viewed in the trailer of the film.
Also of note: this DVD offers little in the way of extras, presumably there aren't many regardless, but this isn't quite the selling point. For a while Phase IV has basked in obscurity, and it's a blessing to see it in such relatively high quality on the DVD format. As far as I know the aspect ratio of the original film differs from the 1.78:1 format found on the DVD, but the ratios were close enough for a beautiful transfer. The picture is adequately clear, surprising considering how little the source material was likely valued by its keepers, and the packaging is what one would expect, and is minimal, hardly an issue for me personally.
Visually, as in from an artistic standpoint, the film is a mixed bag. Scenes on the farm plot are a bit mediocre but the insect sequences, the desert landscapes, the geometrically abstract, seemingly Easter Island inspired monoliths and the clever use of macro lenses, the color palette and desolate feel of the yellow poison sequences and set designs are all beautifully done and inspiring. Good things can be said for the hard-suit designs as well, which contrast nicely with the environment and alien undertones. I believe there's a lot of merit in the film just from a visual standpoint, and although clunky and somewhat campy at times, the dialogue is dry enough to suspend disbelief if one is forgiving of certain lines and shortcomings, which do tend to interject themselves, specifically regarding the sonic messages delivered by the ants a la geometrical symbolism: the interpretation there is just a tad bit far fetched and the revelations in the thinking-out-loud mind of the biologist a bit beyond belief and awkward. Also, the romantic interest involved is a bit contrived, hyper-developed, unfortunately tacked on, which is not a new thing in Hollywood trends and tends to be expected. The film still manages to be believable. This is mainly due to the excellent sound design, the music especially being stellar, the very moderate and mostly implied presence of the insects "out there" and only a few examples of direct confrontation, and the general feeling of dread maintained mostly throughout (whilst the insects are shown, direct human-insect interaction is thankfully moderate and therefore we get less a sense of disbelief, such as one gets with movies involving murderous dolls or toys). This is what low budgets tend to do sometimes, in the hands of a skilled director, budgetary restraints can actually increase the value of the film, as scenes are well planned and tasteful, rather than absurd and DIRECTLY impacting. The terror is mostly psychological.
Regardless of the flaws in the script, and regardless of some banal scenes mucking up what is otherwise an inspired visual poem, I love this film. I'm very glad it was finally released and that I can relive some memories of my childhood, watching a taped version of this, or whenever it aired on TV. I've grown to appreciate the film much more since then, and would recommend it to any forgiving person interested in brooding science fiction or inspired visual design, or in the possible tragedy of Saul's stunted career as a director, which might have been exceptional.