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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 38.46%
Average: 5.13%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 5.13%

2 reviews, 27 user ratings

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by Mel Valentin

"Get your giant, creepy, crawly ants right here!"
4 stars

During the 1950s, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union moved from the real world into the fictional world. Fears and anxieties about nuclear war made their way into pop culture, sometimes through self-consciously serious films like "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and its anti-war message, but more often through B-movies like "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms," the first film to feature an irradiated giant monster stomping through a major American city. Of course, "King Kong" got there first, 20 years earlier, but "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" was the first to combine a giant monster, atomic testing, and nuclear fallout. A year later, Toho Studios unleashed "Godzilla" on Japanese audiences. The same year, Warner Bros. released "Them!," the first in a seemingly endless series of giant insect flicks.

New Mexico. Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and his partner, Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake), discover a young, traumatized girl (Sandy Descher) wandering in the desert alone. Peterson and Blackburn find a station wagon and a trashed trailer three miles away. Thereís no sign, however, of the little girlís family. After leaving the girl with a medic, Peterson and Blackburn drive to a nearby general store, only to find the storeowner dead in the cellar. Blackburn stays behind while Peterson drives back to the state police headquarters. Blackburn, however, disappears. The FBI sends one of their local field agents, Robert Graham (James Arness), to help with the investigation.

Itís not until the Department of Agriculture sends two of their best scientists, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter, Patricia (Joan Weldon), to join the informal intergovernmental task force that Peterson and Graham learn the astonishing truth: atomic testing has created a giant ant colony. With the help of Brig. Gen. Robert O'Brien (Onslow Stevens), Maj. Kibbee (Sean McClory), and all the best technology the federal government can buy, Peterson, Graham, and the Medfords search for the ant colony. Finding the ant colony isnít enough. Stopping newly hatched queens from escaping and forming colonies elsewhere proves to be an even bigger problem.

Them! practically began the giant, irradiated carnivorous insect sub-genre. Almost immediately, other studios put giant insect movies into production, beginning with The Giant Spider a year later and continuing on with Beginning of the End (giant locusts) and The Deadly Mantis in 1957 and Earth vs. the Spider in 1958. More than thirty years after its theatrical release, Them! served as the inspiration for James Cameronís Aliens, from the little girl lost character, the raging sandstorms, the alien or insect queen who provides both films with a major pivot point, and the eggs the characters are forced to destroy with flamethrowers.

As directed by Gordon Douglas ( Skullduggery, The Detective, Tony Rome, In Like Flint), Them! moves at an impressively rapid clip, setting up character and plot with almost ruthless efficiency. Unfortunately, that means we learn nothing about the characters beyond what they do or, in the case of the Medfords, their biological relationship. With the exception of a presentation of documentary footage the Medfords to government officials, exposition is kept to a minimum. Douglas keeps tension and suspense high, wisely leaving the ants offscreen for the better part of an hour, letting our imagination free reign until the inevitable reveal of the giant ants in all of their glory (or lack thereof).

And therein lies one of, if not the, major obstacle for contemporary audiences: how to wring maximum entertainment value from a film with incredibly dated, unconvincing visual effects. Rather than rely on stop-motion animation popularized by King Kong thirty years earlier or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms released the previous year, Warner Bros. went the practical route, relying on their effects team to build and deploy the giant ants. As it is, the ants barely move and when they do, they move only short distances. We never see more than three or four ants at a time or see them in full shot. Of course, effects technology was severely limited back then (computer animation was thirty plus years away), so allowances should be made.

Although Them! exhibits the anti-intellectualism present in practically aspect of American society during the 1950s, itís less than that found in films like The Thing From Another World or Invaders from Mars. While science and scientific experimentation is responsible for creating genetic mutations, itís science, in the guise of Dr. Medford and his scientist daughter, that provide all the information necessary to destroy the ant colony. That only goes so far, though. Them! sticks close to the template and themes that defined science-fiction/horror in the 1950s, with the military cleaning up the lethal mess science has created (often with the same or similar weapons that caused the problem in the first place).

On a more positive note, the female lead, Patricia Medford, isnít just an assistant to a famous scientist or medical doctor, but a scientist in her own right (albeit one who works closely with her father-mentor). Sheís active in suggesting and finding solutions to an otherwise overwhelming problem. She also steps in as her fatherís representative when his advanced age and poor health preclude him from vigorous physical activity. Alas, Patriciaís active contribution to the storyline doesnít last long. As "Them!" switches locations from the deserts of New Mexico to the urban environs of Los Angeles, Patricia is relegated to the role of romantic interest for the stolid, dull Graham. Wedded bliss (or not-bliss) seems to be the only viable choice left for her by the end of "Them!," a choice she dutifully makes to give closure to the tepid romantic subplot.

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originally posted: 06/06/08 05:57:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2008 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell another cool creature feature 4 stars
3/14/10 brian MP Bartley says "It never becomes silly." Is he serious? Still, not horrible like some. 3 stars
12/18/08 Steve Mullins Played it for my skeptical wife and blase 10 year old daugther, creeped them right out. 5 stars
8/06/08 E K Zimmerman A classic I never tire of! 5 stars
7/05/08 David Cohen A 50's horror movie that has held up surprisingly well 4 stars
9/09/07 John Smith All about suspense. Amazing believability with good acting. 5 stars
3/09/07 David Pollastrini The ants look great in B & W color would have ruined it 5 stars
2/06/07 action movie fan better than average 50,s sci/fi 4 stars
10/07/06 John I was about 8 when I saw it. It stiill gives me the creeps. 5 stars
8/20/06 Luke Blackadder Hey Eric you suck, Them is the greatest 5 stars
4/30/06 WJ Frank Made before Hollywood decided all monster movies had to have stupid scripts 5 stars
4/18/06 AJ One of the great monster flicks of the 50's 4 stars
1/04/06 John D. Thr GG Man I still watch it...... 4 stars
11/13/05 Steven Brady Oh shut up Matthew, Godzilla is as good as Them! 5 stars
6/07/05 Mark Radburn Classic Sci-Fi movie, a must-see 5 stars
11/20/04 Mark Them! is the best Sci-Fi movie ever, but Godzilla is better than Them! 5 stars
10/26/04 lee jackson f.y.i. now i c y james is spokesman for miracle grow 5 stars
3/23/04 Dru VanVooris This movie blows 1 stars
2/06/04 Eric Nice Carboard Wings!!! 1 stars
8/08/03 3man Good monster movie 4 stars
7/11/01 Matthew Bartley Better than Godzilla, Starship Troopers etc 5 stars
3/28/01 Jesse L CLASSIC DRIVE IN MOVIE... Pass the popcorn! 4 stars
3/25/01 John N. De Santis Great old time drive in type movie 5 stars
2/24/01 R.W. Welch Tense, fun sci-fi with good FX for its time. 4 stars
1/31/01 Mr. Boj Maybe the best B-movie ever. "Buy me some booze, make me a sergeant!" 4 stars
1/14/01 Invader This movie is a classic b sci fi horror, with usual defects,given its era of production. 3 stars
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  02-Jun-1954 (NR)
  DVD: 02-Feb-2010



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