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THEM!

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Man, do I love fifties sci-fi movies. The fifties were probably the greatest single decade for the science fiction genre. Looking back on the 1950s, one would find such classics as FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, WAR OF THE WORLDS, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, THE BLOB, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE FLY and the list goes on and on and on. During the fifties, there were a number of films that speculated on the possible side effects of radioactive fallout from atomic bombs; however, the greatest of these, was a movie with the ambiguous title- THEM!.

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THEM! opens in the New Mexico desert, with two police officers investigating a report of a small girl wandering alone across the arid landscape. When they find the girl, she is in shock- staring blankly and walking aimlessly towards oblivion. Searching for the girl's parents, the officers discover a ravaged mobile home that appears to have been pried open as easily as a tin can. A short distance up the highway, the police find that the local general store has suffered a similar fate, however this time there is a body. Turning all of the evidence over to the FBI, the government dispatches two scientists to the scene. The scientist are reluctant to release any information to the police or the FBI, that is, until they confirm their shocking theory- when they discover a nest of radiation mutated giant ants near the crime scenes. THEM! stars James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Onslow Stevens, Sean McClory, Fess Parker and Olin Howlin. Genre fans should keep an eye out for an incredibly young Leonard Nimoy in a bit role.

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Warner Home Video has made THEM! available on DVD in a spectacular looking black and white transfer that presents the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. Obviously, Warner has taken great pains to digitally restore THEM! for DVD because this nearly sixty year old film looks incredible. There isn't a single blemish anywhere, and I seriously doubt that any film element from the fifties could be preserved this well. Another nicety of this presentation is the color title on this black and white film, which must have been part of the original theatrical presentation, since it has never been part of the television prints that I sat through countless times during childhood.

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The image on the DVD itself is truly gorgeous. Crisp, clean and finely detailed- the picture truly sparkles for almost all of the ninety-two minute running time. Only the dust storm sequence ventures away from demonstration quality, and this is due to limitations in MPEG-2 compression algorithms, which cannot keep up with the swirling masses of particles in the image. Otherwise, this DVD rates amongst the finest black and white presentations currently available on DVD. The blacks appear velvety and the white are clean and completely stable. There is wonderful variety and nuance in the grayscale, which reminds one that black and white cinematography is an art form that was sadly allowed to die by Hollywood. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed, except for the instance that I noted above.

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THEM! features a Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack, and considering the age of the material, it sounds quite good. Sure, there are the expected frequency limitations that restrict the music and certain sound effects, but Warner has done a great job cleaning up the track to minimize traces of background hiss and surface noise. The track is definitely worth amplifying for the giant ant sound effects, which enhances the popcorn value of this classic sci-fi flick. Dialogue is crisply rendered throughout the movie, with every line coming across with complete intelligibility. No other language soundtracks are provided, although English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Japanese subtitles are encoded onto the DVD.

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The basic interactive menus for THEM! are really nicely designed with the appearance of sensationalistic tabloid. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some extras. Included on the DVD is some outtake footage showing the operation of the giant ants, as well as a theatrical trailer, a brief text essay on giant bug movies and a short cast & crew listing.

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The 1950s was the decade where science fiction movies reigned supreme and THEM! is definitely a classic offering from that period. Warner Home Video has done a superb job with their presentation of THEM! on DVD- making this disc a must have for genre fans, movie buffs and anyone that appreciates the beauty of black and white cinematography.

 
THEM! 


Them! (1954)

 


DVD reviews are Copyright 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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