FEBRUARY 18, 2008
One sort of nice thing about owning a 16:9 TV is you see EXACTLY how much movie you are missing (at least, for non scope/2.35:1 films) when you watch a full frame transfer. Basically, where there's black on the left and right, there should be image. So it was kind of a bummer that TCM aired Them! in a full frame version, when they usually air letterboxed prints. While not as crippling as say, watching Halloween on a cropped transfer, the film still felt cramped. The moral of the story is, whenever you hear someone complaining about the black bars on the top and bottom, remind them that the ones on the side are far more intrusive. And that they're stupid.
In a way it's actually kind of fitting for this film, which was originally supposed to be a full color 3D film, but last minute budget cuts forced them to strip away these frivolous expenses. But I'm glad they chose to make the same movie rather than lose action scenes/effects to cover the budget cuts, because for a film of the era, this one has a lot more action than I expected. In the first half hour, there's already like 3 attack scenes, with a few explosions (mainly caused by a bazooka that apparently never needs to be reloaded, nor does it have a recoil) and more than a couple dead giant ants. Yeah! Usually with these old monster movies, it's just folks talking for a good hour and then finally some shit happens.
On the flipside, the middle of the film is... well, folks talking. After the initial burst of ant action, there's a long spell where they try to find the remaining queen. While not as stupid as Godzilla 98's "we lost him!" portion, it's still a bit odd to see our heroes talk to a few drunks and some guy's mistress to get information on a giant ant's whereabouts. But then it picks up again, and even has a surprising death of a major character.
My only real disappointment with the film was, again, a description that is only about the film's finale. "Giant ants terrorize Los Angeles", explains the cable synopsis. This is, of course, a lie, as the ants don't even get to LA until the final half hour, and they don't terrorize a goddamn thing, just two kids in the sewer. I was hoping to see some assholes get mawed on La Brea or something, but other than a few establishing shots, the entire Los Angeles section of the film is kept to the river (the one seen in EVERY LOS ANGELES MOVIE EVER) and adjoining sewer tunnels. Oh well.
There's also a bit of inadvertent hilarity when someone says "It's every scientist's dream come true" over a shot of giant ants about to go terrorizing. She's referring to the discovery and all that good stuff, but when you're an asshole like me, you take as many things out of context as humanly possible in order to amuse yourself.
Good cast in this one. In addition to James Arness (who sounds a lot like Charles Grodin, which is a bummer for one of them, just not sure which one), James Whitmore also appears as the most versatile beat cop in film history. You may know Whitmore from his role in the TNT original film Shawshank Redemption, where he played the guy who depresses the hell out of every viewer: Brooks, who can't find his bird so he hangs himself (this is a subplot made even MORE depressing in the script/deleted scenes, which include a scene where Andy finds the poor bird impaled on some barbed wire at the prison. Christ.). Also in a small role is Fess Parker, who went on to kill himself a "bar" when he was only three.
Of all the 50s "Let's make a monster movie about radiation fears" movies that I've seen, this is definitely one of the better ones. Good pace, good cast, and even good effects. Nice job all around!
What say you?