The Daily Ant is establishing an intermittent ant film series, Theatre Thursdays. This inaugural installment is by our Film Correspondant Derek Langston. Enjoy!
Six-legged Celluloid Presents…
A review of Empire of the Ants: “Ant Misbehavin!”
Directed by Bert I. Gordon, Empire of the Ants is one of many films among Gordon’s giant/mutated/deformed abominations against humanity genre. It is based on a short story of the same name by H.G. Wells. Gordon has also filmed 2 other movies based on Wells’ works including Village of the Giants (starrring Beau Bridges and Ron Howard) and one of my childhood favorites, The Food of the Gods (starring literally no one you have ever heard of), both based on “The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth”. Interesting side note: The Food of the Gods was unfairly awarded the title of “Worst Rodent Movie of All Time” by the Golden Turkey Awards. Though in all fairness this was before the release of the highly overrated Pixar film Ratatouille (Yes I said it, Food of the Gods is better than Ratatouille). However, I digress.
Empire of the Ants was released in 1977, and starred sqeeky-voiced helium addict Joan Collins (of Dynasty fame), poor man’s Grizzly Adams Robert Lansing (of Gunsmoke fame), and man with the onscreen presence and emotional complexity of a corn flake John David Carson (of absolutely no fame). Having not seen this movie since I was a very small child, I went into this viewing expecting your typical Big Vertebrate progaganda film, like what Birth of a Nation would have been if D.W. Griffith had been a vertebrate supremacist rather than a white supremacist. However, upon further examination, I realized it is actually a biting invertebrate commentary on many of the worst evils of vertebrate culture like pollution, greed, hubris, and realtors of beach front property.
The opening sequence begins with a narrator delivering a pro-invertebrate message, “This is the ant, treat it with respect. For it may very well be the next dominant life form of our planet.” The narrator then proceeds to rattle off a list of reasons why ants are awesome, many of which you may have already heard of thanks to the intrepid journalistic efforts of The Daily Ant (fungal foraging, aphid herding, ant societal roles, high intellect, communication via pheromones, etc).
The film takes place in Florida (illustrating yet another reason not to live in that Godforsaken place), and the main body of the film begins with humans being terrible and dumping toxic waste into the ocean, which cause the native ants to grow to enormous size and become highly aggressive for reasons we as the viewers are not privy to. Then we are treated to several sequences of the main cast of antagonists (for the sake of this review all human characters will be assumed antagonists unless otherwise specified) demonstrating why they deserve what is about to happen to them.
The real thorax kicking comes around the 23-minute mark, when our formic heroes start sinking boats, hunting down their vertebrate oppressors, and culling the herd. The film includes pretty standard fare for the genre as people scream, run, get eaten – rinse wash repeat. Director Gordon even made sure to include the classic woman-breaking-her-ankles-whilst-running shtick.
Much of the film utilizes truly awful visual effects that amount to someone recording ants walking across a polaroid of the setting, or superimposed over a screen shot of the actors, an effect so poorly done that at times ants can be seen crawling through thin air. This is a shame, as the practical special effects are not the worst I have ever seen, and there is even a short sequence filmed in a swamp that has a certain claustrophobic element to it and some frenetic camera work that manages to build an inkling of suspense. However, most of the film is laughable scenes of people running from unseen threats with the special effects leaving you longing for the days of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion monsters (See Mighty Joe Young, Jason and the Argonauts, etc).
At around the 52-minute mark, Gordon makes a sharp right angle into a sort of Vertebrates of the Corn storyline when (*spoiler alert*) the ants use their heightened pheromone powers to induce mind control over the local yokels. I will not ruin the rest of the film for those Daily Ant readers who missed it during its initial run in the theaters, but this one does have a sad ending (somewhere along the sadness continuum between Old Yeller and The Mission).
So is this a good film? No, no it is not. But does it add something new to the genre? Also, no.
In the end, Empire leaves more questions unanswered than answered. For instance: Are ants vicious carnivores? Can they perform cross-species mind control with their pheromones? Do they make high pitched squealing noises to warn would-be victims of impending attacks? Can they climb vertically through thin air? Nobody knows, and there is no way of finding out. If only there was a specialty field of science that dealt with ants and ant behavior…
In conclusion, Empire of the Ants is neither the best formic-centered film I have ever seen, nor the worst. We here at Six-Legged Celluloid (really, it is just me) give Empire of the Ants a rating of 2.5 oral-anal trophallaxis out of 5.
Derek Langston was born in Georgia and currently lives in North Carolina, but was a long time resident of the Midwest. He graduated with a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Northwestern University in 2010. He divides his time between his hobby of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and watching T.V./films. He recently decided to intentionally pick up the pen after decades of being an avid reader and fan of cinema. He has also accidentally picked up the pen a few other times in the past, for example here and here.