One of the first giant monster movies, this film is well written and takes advantage of a decent budget. UK R2 DVD release.
1950s were good years for big monster movies, almost every species at
some point becoming excessively large and terrorising a small desert
town, but like most movie trends, there was a decent film that started
it all off - in this case it was Them. The
mysterious destruction of a caravan and a general store; a little
girl, the only survivor, terrified by the smell of formic acid - when
the US Government send in a man from their Agricultural Department to
look into the case, something must be up. Radiation from the US
military atomic bomb tests in the 1940s has mutated a queen ant to
giant proportions and she has laid eggs. They quickly track down the
nest and destroy the colony inside, but two queen ants have taken to
the skies. One of them finds her way to Los Angeles and sets
up nest in the storm drain system leading to a final confrontation
between the army and giant ants inside the storm drains.
While most of the big monster movies from the period look pretty terrible now, THEM actually
holds up pretty well. Firstly, the creatures themselves look very good,
far from the usual tactic of putting a regular sized animal on a model
set; the massive ants in THEM
were really there thanks to some very large scale mechanical model
making. This means that the creatures and cast can appear at the same
time without any obvious blue-screen work - including the ants grabbing
humans; and that when the ants get torched (as several do later
on) the scale of the flames does not look out of place as it often will
with small scale models. A modern film using CGI would be hard pushed
to have similar realism in its monsters.
The script is pretty smart
as well, and avoids many of the genre clichés that were to come.
We still get the absent minded older scientist with young, attractive
scientist daughter, but we don't get any real distracting/padding
romantic subplot. The 30 minute build-up to the ant's arrival works
well, the police are not the bumbling sort and are seriously trying to
work out what could have caused the damage seen. The choice of ants as
the enlarged creatures also works well - living primarily underground
during the day they are unlikely to have been seen, and the fact that
queen ants take flight allows for a plausible shift in the film from
small desert town to big city. Ants are also vicious creatures
that would attack if prompted, and their large scale makes them deadly
to humans. The film does have some very grim sequences, and is
certainly not as fun as some of the later entries. The direction is
competent although nothing radical. The use black and white, the result
of a sudden budget cut before filming started, is effective in making
the film seem darker and fits the B-movie atmosphere well. The music is
pretty average fare, not yet reaching the synthesiser scores that would
appear in similar movies later on in the decade. Overall a very good
film that has aged pretty well. The best of the big monster movies from
the period, and one of the best sci-fi films as well.
Interestingly this film does have a lot of parallels with Godzilla
(1954) which was released in the same year, although not in the USA
until two years later. Both concern creatures threats caused by nuclear
tests, and both end with a very similar moral message. It is very
indicative of the concerns of the era that two such similar films would
come out, unconnected, in the same year.
Anyone famous in it?
No-one of note.
Directed by anyone interesting?
Gordon Douglas, a relatively workman-like director, with no major films to his name.
Several people get killed, and the ants do a lot of damage, nothing violent in modern terms.
Is it scary?
There are some tense scenes, and the ants can be quite menacing.
Who is it for?
Of general interest. Fans of 1950s B-movies, or big
animal movies should certainly see this, as an example of how it could
be done right.
A standard light orchestral B-movie score.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1. Black and White (just the title card is in colour). Note: The film was matted to be shown in 1.66:1 in some cinemas. The picture quality is amazing, not a scratch or flicker in sight, totally watchable throughout.
Original English Dolby mono - sounds great, no hiss. Also includes German and Spanish dubs.
English HOH, German, German HOH, Spanish, Finnish, French, Icelandic,
Swedish, Czech, Greek, Polish, Turkish, Dutch - subtitles for movie
The disc includes:
Original trailer, in good condition.
Still Gallery - short manually navigatable collection of images from the filming and poster art.
Outakes - 3 minute reel of footage from the filming, showing the ants being controlled.
Snapper case (may now be re-released in Amaray case)
Region 2 - PAL
Identical R2 releases in Europe. American R1 edition also includes liner notes about the film. All versions uncut.
A very good film that has aged well. A strong script goes with still impressive special effects. One to watch.
Amazing looking print of the film with good audio. Extras are light.