Well now I know why the studio took control of Phase IV and removed most of Saul Bass’s original ending. It was almost like I was having a brief flashback to the first third of the movie Beyond the Black Rainbow–but without the same artistry.**
The downside is that while they removed as much of the 70’s psychedelic montage as possible (supposedly it was pulled because it didn’t test very well, but I personally felt it distracted from the way majority of the movie was filmed anyway), they still managed to cut out a few seconds that contained one of the most important pieces of the movie!
The way the movie was originally released–each phase is titled in the movie–with the exception of the the final phase. Because of this, I originally thought that the movie title “Phase IV” referred to the fourth step in the evolution of the ants; but once I saw the movie with the missing ending, I realized that I had it backwards.
Phase 1: The first phase was the unnamed cosmic event that triggered the ants’ intelligence and coming together of all different species of ants to work as one hive.
Phase 2: I’m mentally kicking myself right now because I can’t remember what the second phase was and that means I’ll have to watch the movie again soon.
Phase 3: This one was interesting because all it showed was the activity of normal desert animals – but without any of the animals being attacked by ants. And this is after we were previously told that the ants had chased out or killed off many of the other desert creatures. Once seeing the missing footage, including the unintentionally humorous bits with humans flying and interacting in other ways with animals, this segment makes a bit more sense. The third phase was the integration of other creatures into the hive way of life where all animals have their specialization or place in society.
And that brings us to Phase 4 and what I consider to be the most important few seconds of film footage cut out of the ending.
In the missing ending, right before the bizarre montage begins that shows the integration of humans into a similar hive society, the title “Phase IV” appears in the same place and in EXACTLY the same way as the previous three phases. That’s when I realized that humans joining the ant society was the fourth and final phase, and that eventually the entire planet would be one massive hive containing all life.
Why was the part with the final phase cut? Probably because once the rest was cut out, it would have left it appearing in the upper right hand corner showing the beginning of the fourth phase right before the final credits began, which also includes the title “Phase IV”. With everything else cut out, there was nothing between them and it would have looked like an odd duplication. I just wish they had put in a bit more of the montage, as it wasn’t all bad (just most of it), so that the final phase could have appeared correctly.
In a perfect world, a completely different ending should have been filmed. And I don’t mean changing the way the story ended–a vague, abstract ending is fine, but in all honesty, neither of the endings were very well done.
Do I still like this movie? Yes. And knowing how it was supposed to end makes it even better in my mind… as long as I never have to watch the missing footage again. I guess I’ll have to hunt down the novelization by Barry Malzberg so I can see how close I am to the real story.
**I didn’t find out until after watching the movie at the Alamo that Panos Cosmatos had mentioned in an interview that Phase IV had inspired the general look of Beyond the Black Rainbow. (I still haven’t decided whether I loved or hated that movie, but it really does deserve to eventually have its own post rather than simply being a footnote in this one.)