Scene 37: In Texas, the pilot has been isolated and is agitated and angry about being labeled as nuts. In Brownsville, the small plane pilot reports exactly what happened, to the concerned faces, and is relieved when Pat tell him that they believe him completely. He shares that the last he saw of the three UFOs, they were headed westward.
After promising to speak to the doctors about letting pilot-guy go, Robert turns around and orders the doctor to hold pilot-guy indefinitely with no outside contact until further notice.
Commentary: I understand the thinking behind keeping things under wraps, but this still bugged the hell out of me. It's just really douchey to keep Texan Pilot in a mental hospital, for whatever reason, without at least telling him that he's being kept temporarily as a National Security matter. The poor guy is thinking that Robert is working to get him released as not crazy, and Bob didn't have the decency to tell him otherwise. It strikes me as realistic, but shitty nonetheless.
Scene 38: Back in Washington, Harold uses this new information to plot a search area... but it is extensive. He also suggests informing the Mexican authorities [yah -- I'm sure that'll happen] in case the queens have drifted southward with the winds.
A call comes into the office, and Harold is excited by whatever he hears. He goes rushing off, leaving Pat and Bob to wonder how they'll find the Queens before they get established.
Scene 39: In a makeshift telegraph room, we find out the call came from the General who pilots scientists in remote deserts personally. The operator is typing up an incoming report. It's from the S.S. Viking, a ship reporting the navigator dead and they're under attack.
Scene 40: We skip across the sea to the doomed ship. As the radio man continues to transmit an SOS, a pair of giant ants decimate the crewmen firing pistols ineffectively.
Commentary: Right. The Queen managed to land on a cargo ship, squirrel herself away, drop at least one egg - if not two, and then those giant ants managed to somehow rage through cramped hallways to take over the ship. They're like Ninja Giant Ants with SuperSpeed Hatching Ability. This is easily the most ridiculous part of this whole scenario... even more than... well, we'll see.
Scene 41: Back in Washington, the Navy reports that two surviving seamen were rescued at sea. The responding ship, U.S.S. Milwaukee was unable to board the Viking due to an infestation of giant ants, and the stricken ship was then sunk with naval gunfire.
One of the suits evinces the same disbelief that I have about a Giant Ant colony being started onboard a cargo ship. Harold turns the floor over to Pat who gives them a briefing about Viking. It had been docked in Acapulco for several days with one of the hatches left open and only a skeleton crew aboard as the rest had shoreleave. They surmise the queen chose the open hold as a suitable place to settle down.
Suit wants to begin informing the public, figuring that the entire crew of Milwaukee now knows about the threat and secrecy will be impossible to maintain. However, Naval Admiral assures everyone that Milwaukee will remain far out to sea until the crisis is resolved -- presumably holding the two survivors from Viking against their will at the same time.
Pat then informs the room that Bob and Ben have been dispatched to L.A. to investigate a mysterious theft of 40 tons of sugar.
Commentary: And apparently did so utterly silently and nobody noticed her there during final inspections before getting underway, when presumably the hatch would've been sealed for the voyage. Yeah... no, not buying it - but nice try, Drs. Medford.
On the other hand, I'm appreciating that in Pat's briefing it is obvious that several weeks, up to two months have passed - so it isn't like the Giant Ants also had insta-adult growth.
Scene 42: In Los Angeles, Bob and Ben investigate a train yard. A box car had been torn open holding the sugar.
Scene 43: Later, they meet the yard watchmen who is being held by local PD for grand theft sugar. He insists that stealing sugar would be among the dumbest ideas ever and he had nothing to do with the disappearance. He also says he heard nothing Friday night when the theft took place.
[Which, it's hard not to sympathize with the local PD detective -- the box car's side was torn out; How does that not make a ton of noise? Unless the Ants put those Ninja skills to use again... and managed to time the break in with the arrival or departure of a freight train. Ninja Stealth & Good Planning? We're doomed.]
As Robert is listening to the night watchman's story, Ben comes out of a back room, where a woman is crying heavily. She had just recently identified the body of her missing husband.
Ben tells Bob they need to go to the coroner's.
Scene 44: There, they view a corpse [being the 1950's, we do not] in which the coroner describes the damage -- torn arm at the shoulder, deep laceration across the chest and mutilated face.
The victim ran off the road, but not in an accident bad enough to cause those wounds. In addition, the gentleman had his two kids with him and they're currently missing.
Scene 45: Robert then turns attention to questioning victim's wife about where her husband could've been taking the boys that morning, when the incident occurred. She's not sure, because her husband was in the habit of taking the boys to different places to spend a few hours playing around before he went off to his extra job. Sunday mornings were the only time he had to spend with his sons.
[The High Sad Violins of Trauma was a bit much in this scene and the music wasn't shoved into the background quite enough to not be intrusive. I think it was the only real slip in the film's soundtrack.]
Scene 46: In the outer office, Ben introduces Robert to the two officers who found the victim. They report that the location where they found the mutilated man was a far distance from any place where he could've been entertaining the kids. And due to the victim's condition, he couldn't have driven very far from the site of his attack before fatally bleeding out.
Bob turns attention to the other arrests the officers made on their beat that morning, hoping against slim chance that somebody they picked up seen something that might help them.
Scene 47: A bit of time later, they have a pair of drunks in the office and Bob is exasperated. A woman is there as well, who was picked up for excessive speeding, but none of them are of any help.
One of the officer's tells Robert that the other drunk they picked up is in the hospital detoxing.
Scene 48: Desperate, they head to the hospital to question the "nearly a permanent resident". [Hey, and if I'm not mistaken this guy's hard life will end with a blobby space slime consuming first his hand and then his whole body!]
It's obvious that the constant alcohol poisoning his damaged his mind [and made him a scene stealer], but through his rambling he mentions toy airplanes and giant ants. They've been using the aqueduct system as a convenient highway and tunnel system and have been there establishing themselves at least five months.
Commentary: It just takes longer than that sentence to get through it his "nutter" act. It's tedious, overacted, hyperactive and extremely annoying.
Scene 49: Next stop is the system, seen from the high hospital window. Among other debris in the basin, they locate both a model airplane and tire tracks.
The kicker is a foot print in the mud matching those from the desert, confirming that THEM have taken up residence in L.A.
Obvs, they'll have to check out L.A.'s extensive tunnel system, which is horribly daunting.
Scene 50: With the ant's spread into a highly populated area, the time for secrecy has ended and a special press conference is immediately arranged which includes General Pilot and Dr. Medford, the senior.
The President, the Governor and the Mayor agree to place L.A. under martial law with a curfew of 6pm. The details of the ants is spilled to explain their drastic action.
[Insert a lot of "military arriving in force" scenes.]
Later that night, everyone is gathered to begin the tunnel sweeps. There is brief discussion of filling the tunnel system with gasoline and burning the ants out. Ben and Robert object to this course of action before they know whether the victim's kids are alive or dead, while Harold's is a more practical objection: He simply wants them to wait until they can confirm whether any new queens have hatched so they're not taken by dreadful surprise later.
Scene 51: The military troops begin their section by section sweep. Pat, Ben and Bob are naturally in the forefront of the sweep because of reasons.
[Insert lots of jeeps with search lights driving through water in the expansive tunnel system and slightly irritating "exciting" horns -- second misstep of the soundtrack.]
The teams break up into smaller and smaller units as they separate to cover the various branches and sub-branches of tunnels. Meanwhile outside, Mrs. Victim awaits anxiously for word of her children's fates and Harold waits for Pat to tell him whether the crisis is over or if Queens are even now spreading out across the countryside.
Scene 52: During Ben's search, he hears a rhythmic tapping sound and goes to check it out. He suits up with a flame thrower and crawls down a tight feeder tube toward an unfinished main drain under construction.
He finds the kids, alive, but trapped and menaced by two ants. Further, he smells a strong scent of formic acid indicating the nest is close by. He's unable to use his flamethrower due to the kids being too close to the line of fire. The troops are called in to converge on the location, as Ben tries to figure out a way to get to the two kids before the ants break through the timbers holding up the ceiling.
He crawls out of the feeder pipe in order to get a better angle of attack and flame throws the pair of ants menacing the brats.
With this done, he lifts the kids into the feeder pipe he just used, but in the background we can see another giant ant approaching with the characteristic chirp-whirr. Ben sees the other ant charging, but uses the time he has to lift the second child up into the drain.
Alas, there isn't enough time for him to get into the pipe and he's grabbed by the Giant Ant's mandibles and crushed.
[Yes - our main character dies.]
Commentary: Okay, I admit, this totally took me by surprise. In this vintage of horror, the hero always makes it with an inspirational last word at the end. I also have to say that I was unexpectedly bummed out with Ben's fate. I liked the character - even though his continuing to be front and center seems more than a bit iffy after the team leave New Mexico.
It's a good send off -- I have a thing for valiant self-sacrifice... but I could've been just as happy if Ben hadn't died.
Even more unexpectedly, Ben's not killed off immediately, but spends several moments of screen time screaming and yelling as he's crushed. Ugh, I'm feeling all sad-face, now.
Scene 53: Bob arrives with his team and through shooting, the ant drops Ben, but he's left writhing in agony on the ground as the soldiers and Robert have to turn attention to other ants coming from the unfinished portion.
[They shoot grenades! In a tunnel system! A tunnel that is under construction!!]
Scene 54: As Bob's team continues to fire on the ants, he runs the short distance to Ben's side. Ben is barely hanging on. He asks after the kids and Ben is able to confirm he's sent them through the pipe before expiring from his wounds.
[And no, shockingly, I have nothing slash-related to say about this scene.]
Commentary: It's also nicely short, to the point, and avoids being maudlin with a big speech. Nicely done, well acted and realistic rather than having the action stop so that we can hear Ben soliloquy. I also appreciate that Robert isn't given two minutes of screen time to mourn during a supposed attack. Instead, he simply waves at a random soldier to move Ben out, while he returns to the unit that is currently shooting at the ants -- the battle continuing without any let up to focus on Ben's fate.
Scene 55: Dr. Medford, Senior arrives and orders the men to stop firing explosives until they can reach the egg chamber and confirm whether there are signs of queens hatching. The men are forced to advance with rifles and reserve flame units only.
Collapse is also a concern as one unlucky, random screamer finds out. For reasons, Bob leads the troops onward, as Pat arrives behind her father.
There is another tunnel collapse that seals Robert off from everybody else on the wrong side of the now-closed off nest. As the soldiers dig through, Bob is left to fight for his life with a submachine gun.
Scene 56: There is a near miss of Bob being snatched up and going the way of Ben, but with a [rather dire and funny] scream and a dodge, such a fate is avoided.
He finds himself cornered, though and has to open desperate fire and hope for the best [while wearing his goofiest face that he can manage].
Bob finds himself retreating to tighter and tighter quarters as the ants advance, but before they can run him out of space to fight back, the soldiers break through, and open combined fire.
Scene 57: With the group now within sight of the main nest, the Medfords are called forward to confirm that they're in time. There are ants with wings waiting to be destroyed. The elder Doctor Medford confirms they're gazing at the egg chamber and that they appear to have reached it in time to stop the newly hatched queens from taking off on them.
The order is given to "burn 'em out".
As this nest is destroyed, Bob brings up what else may be going on due to atomic bomb tests. This allows Harold to share his "last words of worry for the future" with us.
We go to black with the burning ants writhing around.
The Good: First, I really like the opening theme music for the film and except for a few very minor moments, the soundtrack in general.
The actors do a really good job throughout, so I want to give general kudos, but also a special mention to child actor, Sandy Descher. Kids can be a real bane on a film, but not her. She's stellar.
I want to give a kudo to the special effects, as well. The ant puppetry is very good and the fire effects are numerous and well filmed.
I really like how the Sandy Ellinson sits up in the background when she hears the ants out in the desert, but then lies back down calmly when it passes, all without ambulance driver and Ben noticing so they can grasp the significance at the time.
As you can tell by the commentary, I was really taken with the elder Dr. Medford's habit of addressing his daughter as Doctor while they're working.
I do like the first reveal of the Giant Ant problem with Pat, even though you could see the set up coming from a mile away.
The sets for the ant tunnel at the beginning and the L.A. tunnel system is great, with the practical effects interacting with the actors and props around them some truly great work from the crew.
I always welcome when a film surprises me. This one did so twice: First, with Ben's fate. And second, with out ending the movie with an actual ending... there wasn't any last minute kicker scene with the chirp-whirr to let us know "IT ISN'T OVER". That was nice.
The Bad: Well, there are a few logic problems that stand out in regards to the ants. The first is that the Ellinson's shouldn't have been killed if they were in the trailer -- there is simply not enough damage to the side of it for them to have been able to get in. I also find it extremely suspect that ants as huge as these would even notice the piddling amount of sugar cubes in that tiny box. There's also the issue of the ants managing to hide aboard the cargo ship and managing to kill nearly the entire crew for the same reasons.
The only practical effect I feel I need to slam is the ending Queen Ants. The wings on the them, though necessary for dramatic purposes, really points out how there is no way in hell those giant creatures would ever get off the ground. It probably would've been better to just show them as being larger and darker in color, rather than paste wings onto their backs for the reveal... or simply had them be much smaller - as if only hatched, and had the wings be shriveled with Medford mentioning that they hadn't had time to air dry yet.
Drunk Guy in the hospital was nerve-grating and his scene couldn't end fast enough.
Other Thoughts: The only issue I have with any of the Ellinson girl scenes is her final scene in which we get a combination of her spouting the ridiculously coy, "THEM!" over and over, instead of something like "Monsters!" or "The Ants!" or even the helpful "Giant Ants!" and her unfortunate fake-crying sobs.
I wanted to give a prop to the younger kid in L.A. who gets trapped with his brother. While the older kid looks a little bored and unsure what to do, younger kid really acts like somebody who saw his father attacked and had to run and hide for his life in a tunnel.
Another thing that bugged (hah!) a bit was the habit of the ants to stay silent until dramatically impactful and then to start the chirp-whirr noises in earnest.
Pacing is generally handled well in this film, but there are two examples contrary (covered in the review) that keeps me from putting that aspect in The Good. But, I place it here because I did want to mention that overall, the film keeps moving along nicely.
The Score: I really like this movie!
4.0 out of 5 stars.
Next Up: Well the next three reviews, actually. I'm just not sure what order they'll be posted in: BTVS, Season 9, Issue 20; Angel & Faith, (Season 7) Issue 20; The Walking Dead, Season 1 "Wildfire".