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Empire of the Ants

Reviewed by Carl R.

Ant's Eye View ...


Empire of the Ants was one of those rare movies that rated two viewings by the Movie Club. After all, a couple of Charter members were absent from the first viewing, and the ant-haves among us had to bear the great burden of guilt over the ensuing trauma suffered by the absent ant-have-nots.

On top of that, the California contingent rolled into town unexpectedly, presenting the ant-haves with a precious opportunity to enlighten their ant-dispossessed comrades. And so it was. A second viewing of Empire of the Ants was arranged. Redemption. Deliverance. Freedom, at long last.  

And it is oh-so-necessary to add this thought;  Empire of the Ants was the only known antidote for the ant-dispossessed. An antidepressant of sorts. I'll stop now (actually, I can't.)

The opening scenes of Empire might have led one to believe they were watching "Land of the Leisure Suits" or "Shire of the Station Wagons".  But Empire was filmed in the 70's, and it simply screamed with visions of the most unsightly era in modern history. I half expected to see the ants in bell bottoms, but fortunately they had the good fashion sense to stick with the straight legs. If only Joan Collins could have exhibited the same good  sense.

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Oddly enough, Empire had a minor hole in the plot that now calls for some gentle probing. In the morning, a bunch of morons on a boat were tossing barrels of radioactive waste into the ocean.  Later that same morning, the radioactive barrels washed up on the shore of the fraudulent resort island and began to leak silver radioactive paint. Still later that same morning, some rather non-descript ants of average proportion came by and fed on the radioactive silver paint. And maybe a couple of hours after that, the first giant ants made their appearance. 
It gets worse, as you know, but we'll return to this line of thought after giving some of the other plot details an  appropriate level of scrutiny (but to tip you off just a bit, I was already rooting for the ants by this point.) 
Empire had the usual cast of disaster flick characters - the coward, the goat, the unlikely hero, the damsel in distress, the elderly couple, etc.  They all arrive on the fraudulent resort island expecting to receive a free meal (although some of them end up being a free meal.) Then the giant ants show up. The captain of the boat, however, just happens to a be an expert on ant behavior, and instructs the various cowards, goats, and damsels in distress to light a fire and stick close to it. 

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But rain puts the fire out, and the various cowards, goats and heroes can't find any dry wood in the nearby forest/dry wood depository, so they are forced to run into the woods amongst the giant ants, which they wouldn't have had to do if they had gone into the woods in the first place and got some dry wood and kept the fire burning (they could have used a phone, radio or some other communication device to call for help, but, well, you know.)
And then the fun begins.  The giant ants begin picking off victims, starting with the weak and unworthy, and working their way up the food chain. The remaining humans soon discover that the giant ants are herding them into a certain direction, so, the humans just kind of go with the flow and head straight for the danger. Before long, they wander into a Floridian town, who's sole economic support is the local sugar refinery. I didn't see any sugar refineries when I lived in Florida, but that's because I didn't visit any fraudulent resort islands (except for Disney World). 

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There they meet the Unbelieving Town Officials, but hah! There is a twist.  The Unbelieving Town Officials are actually Brainwashed Town Officials. They have been poofed!  A typical poofing goes like this:  

- The entire town lines up in the sugar refinery.

- The queen ant is seated in a giant telephone (poofing) booth.

- A town resident is led into the poofing both and instructed to stare at the queen ant.

- The queen ant takes a hit off the bong and blows the smoke through the glass into the face of the town resident.

- The freshly poofed town resident is led back to the sugar refinery and put back to work.

- The next town resident is placed in the poofing booth for poofing.

- The process is repeated until all the town residents are freshly poofed.

I don't know why this particular thought comes to mind, but if the town residents wanted to catch a buzz, there were probably easier ways to go about it. This is Florida, after all, and rumor has it that certain substances are readily available for those who don't want to face reality (although a former resident of Florida myself, I can't personally substantiate these rumors.)
But back to that minor hole in the plot I mentioned earlier, the one that called for a gentle probing. Let's just grant the whole business a giant leap of faith and suppose that ants can grow into giants after eating silver paint.  Let's also suppose that they can become intelligent enough to herd people into a particular location, and to permanently enslave them afterwards. 
And we'll also take it on faith that the giant ants can develop the intellectual capacity to efficiently manage the sugar refinery; i.e. fill out order forms, balance the books, take messages, pay the taxes, repair the machinery, pave the roads, interact with non-ants to cut deals for raw materials, manipulate the futures market, construct a poofing both, calculate debt to equity ratio, compute LIFO & FIFO inventory levels, etc., etc.  
Let's just buy all that for the moment.  But for the ants to accomplish all of the above in 24 hours or less, like so?:  

Day 1:

- The ants eat the radioactive silver paint.

- The ants turn into giant ants.

- The giant ants discover a sugar refinery.

- The giant ants wrest the sugar refinery away from its rightful owners.

- The giant ants permanently enslave every person in town. 

- The giant ants begin utilizing the enslaved workforce for the ongoing operation of the sugar refinery.

- Joan Collins & company arrive on the fraudulent resort island.

- Joan Collins & company spot the giant ants.

- The giant ants start herding Joan Collins & company toward the sugar refinery.

Day 2:

- The giant ants continue and complete the task of herding Joan Collins & company toward the sugar refinery.

That's what we the viewers are asked to believe. Sorry.  No way. No dice. No deal.  Nada. Dah. Nee. Nein. Nae. Ne. Nou. Nyet. Natha. Ni. Uh-uh. 
Listen, I've got a Business Degree.  Granted, it took me five years to get my four degree because I got poofed once or twice along the way, but I still have a fair idea of how long it takes to set up and run a business.  Even lacking specific experience in the fields of sugar refining and human enslavement, I can tell you that it takes somewhat longer than 24 hours to set up a sugar factory with a slave-based work force.

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Empire didn't really have an ending, so we were all able to choose our own. Mine? Seeing Joan Collins get mauled by a giant ant, which was almost as satisfying as seeing Bo Derek get mauled by a killer whale in Orca.   

Empire II?  Well, stranger things have not happened. But as long there's hope - and Joan Collins - the Movie Club will not yield to despair.


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