Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Review: Phase IV

Book Review: 'Phase IV' by Barry Malzberg


2 / 5 Stars

This paperback novelization of the 1974 feature film 'Phase IV' was published in the UK by Pan books in 1973. It's based on the screenplay by Mayo Simon. 

The plot is relatively simple: after construction of a subdivision in the Arizona desert is halted due to an invasion of the site by an unusual species of ant, a team of two scientists - Ernest Hubbs and James Lesko - are installed in a futuristic laboratory near the subdivision, with the goal of studying the ants, and ultimately, eliminating them.

What Hubbs and Lesko do not know is that these ants have been 'melded' with an alien sentience from outer space; thus, the ants are endowed with special abilities - as Hubbs and Lesko will find out, to their dismay...........

What little I remember from seeing the film on cable TV during the early 80s is that it was a very low-budget affair, with the bulk of the film consisting largely of closeups of tense conversations between Hubbs and Lesko, along with grainy closeups of ants doing Ant Things (likely footage taken from documentaries). 

Those brief segments taking place in the grounds outside the laboratory also are filmed in closeup, presumably to avoid letting the viewer know how bare-bones the sets were. All of this means that Malzberg really didn't have much to work with in terms of creating a narrative of sufficient length for even a short (127 pp) novelization. 

Malzberg tries to impart some substance to his novelization by using both a first-person narrative, in the form of diary entries by Lesko, interspersed with a third-person narrative; but the diary entries tend to be rambling monologues, and their use as padding is very apparent.

The ending of the novelization shares the same ambiguity as the film, with Malzberg relying on some New Wave - style prose effects. Whether this is effective or not is up to the reader to decide, but I was underwhelmed.

Summing up, with his novelization of 'Phase IV', Malzberg does about all any author could do to try render the plot of a low budget film into something of lasting quality. But there are those times when the best intentions simply can't be realized, and that's the case with 'Phase IV'. This book is solely for the die-hard fans of the film; all others can pass it by. 

2 comments:

uglyradio said...

I recently watched this again. Despite its relatively low budget (this was pre-Star Wars 70s sci-fi, after all), it's fantastic. It's the sole directorial outing of world famous graphic designer Saul Bass, himself being responsible for many title sequences for some of the hugest films.
The subterranean ant scenes are pretty incredible, even if it does detract somewhat from the relatively bland human performances.
The soundtrack's pretty incredible, too.
I had no idea there was a novelization of it. I will be sure to check it out. Thanks for the fascinating review.

Humaun Kabir said...

What a great post. I’m really like it! Very, very dgdeeac good!

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