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Ultra HD : Must Own
Release Date: March 26th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1974

Phase IV (1974) - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

4K UHD Review By: Sam Cohen
The sci-fi genre really had its heyday in the 1970s, with projects running the gamut between harebrained popcorn fun and downbeat, philosophical dirges. Saul Bass’ Phase IV belongs to the latter camp despite having some of the most engaging, astonishing visual effects put into any sci-fi film. The weirdos at Vinegar Syndrome have stretched out their antennae and delivered a 4K UHD release of this film that has pulled out all the stops for the ants to take over. The new 4K restoration is nothing short of a major upgrade over previous releases, plus the sought-after Preview Version is available for the first time on home video and looks terrific. This Must-Own release must be picked up posthaste. Just watch out for the ants.

Must Own
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
3-disc Set: 4K Ultra HD + Blu-Ray
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p/HEVC HDR
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English Mono
English SDH
Release Date:
March 26th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


In a way, Saul Bass’ Phase IV was the full realization of Bass’ filmmaking talents. He worked as a graphic designer and designed many different title cards for various famous films, incorporating live-action, stop-motion, and other animation techniques to deliver some of the best art ever seen in cinema, period. Many people even heaped praise on Bass’ work when the rest of the film wasn’t up to par, even going as far as to say that Bass’ title sequence was a better narrative delivery system than the rest of the film. That kind of praise wasn’t unwarranted, but it definitely spoke to what audiences truly wanted, a feature-length project helmed by Saul Bass.

After an eclipse-like solar event, scientists start to observe major behavioral changes in ants. The ants undergo rapid evolution, develop a hive mind and build several strange structures in the middle of the Arizona desert. Scientists James R. Lesko (Michael Murphy) and Dr. Ernest D. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) are on the case and they have a computerized lab at their disposal to fight against the ants, but what happens when the ant colony becomes more and more resistant to the lab’s chemical weapons? 

To this particular writer, Phase IV is every bit the sci-fi potboiler that critics derided it for not being upon initial release. Both James and Dr. Hubbs have different methods of dealing with the ants, and that speaks directly to the kind of engagement with the unknown that they exhibit. To James, his hardened exterior softens and he becomes fascinated by the ants, only wishing to communicate with them rather than destroy. It’s in the journey of understanding that mankind can evolve from. But to Dr. Hubbs, they must be destroyed with the power of science to prevent possible annihilation. The way their arcs play against actual footage of ants forming a colony and hive-mind is nothing short of astonishing. Bass famously spent months in post-production trying to make the story blunter to the viewer, but it’s the mastery of editing and movement within the frames that tells the story that Bass wanted initially.

The abstract finds a welcome home in the sci-fi genre, and Saul Bass belongs with peers like Stanley Kubrick and Douglas Trumbull as an artist who unlocks true imagination through the abstract. That’s part of why the excision of Bass’ original montage ending of Phase IV strikes so hard in history. Bass was constantly negotiating with Paramount executives and production partner Kaiser Aluminum to make the film more direct, even being bullied into removing the ending montage completely. That’s why test screenings originally found people completely befuddled by what they watched. The montage is among the most powerful works of sci-fi imagination to come out of Hollywood. Adding a narration to the montage didn’t help, either, and only created more turmoil during editing. 

You’ll find that Phase IV gracefully sidesteps its exploitative cover art of a hand with an open sore with an ant crawling out of it. Bass’ interest was to present the dichotomous relationship between human individuality and the power of community. The ants are as much a crucial part of the story as the humans, in that their behaviors are closely observed and augmented with Bass’ natural proclivity for in-camera effects and opticals. 

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
The world isn’t ready for Phase IV, presented here by Vinegar Syndrome with a three-disc set. A BD-66 for the 4K, BD-25 for the Blu-ray feature of the Theatrical Version, and a BD-50 for the Blu-ray feature of the Preview Version and accompanying supplements. The discs come housed in a standard Elite amaray case with reversible sleeve artwork. Also, inside is a small booklet with storyboards from Phase IV, plus the case is then housed in a limited-edition slipcover that then slides into a hard slipcase with an accompanying 40-page, perfect-bound essay book.

Video Review


Vinegar Syndrome upgrades Phase IV to stunning 4K Ultra HD with an HEVC-encoded 2160p presentation aided by HDR that’s sourced from a new 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. The result is the best the film has ever looked at home, with those 70s primaries saturated just enough to avoid being blown out by the HDR. Those exteriors of the desert (shot in Kenya) look marvelous with a somewhat-thick layer of grain and lush textures being revealed. As for all the optical effects used throughout the film, they’re resolved wonderfully despite the thicker grain field and less dynamic range to pull from, and they look remarkably congruent with the rest of the presentation. Even the micro photography that Bass used on some of the ant sequences looks astonishing, as if it resembles the sharpness and texture of a nature documentary made around the same period. 

Some have criticized VS’ restoration team for overbaked primaries in the past, though this is far from that line of thinking. Flesh tones are tuned just right and all the shadow play that Bass employs is heightened by enhanced contrast and black levels. The source looks to be in terrific condition as well. All the various “damage” marks I saw on the optical effects I’m sure were baked in, otherwise this is a very clean and filmic presentation through and through.

As for the sought-after 89-minute Preview Version, Vinegar Syndrome has gone above and beyond to reconstruct this version based upon the Bass’ original editing notes for 1973. This version more than just adds the montage ending, it also incorporates some numerous shots and sequences that were re-edited or removed from the first reel of the Theatrical Version. No reference print survives for this version; thus, a lot of work was put into reconstructing the Preview Version that played at previews in London and Los Angeles. The source used for this 1080p presentation is primarily the 4K restoration, with various short shots, sequences and the ending montage being sourced from surviving pre-print elements. That ending montage has definitely suffered from fade over time and has lot a bit of color, but boy howdy does it look incredible still here. All the optical effects cut against live-action photography and in-frame animations make for a completely different, disturbing experience than the Theatrical Version intended. Huge kudos to the VS team for doing their due diligence in reconstructing this cut, which is as close to Bass’ original vision as we’ll ever get.

Audio Review


As for audio options, we’re provided with the original English mono track presented in the DTS-HD MA codec for the Theatrical Version. The source seems to be in great condition with no damage or sibilance to note throughout, plus the dialogue and score are balanced very well here. The Preview Version, on the other hand, is presented with two audio options: London preview soundtrack (no narration) or California preview soundtrack (fully narrated). Which one you choose comes down to a matter of preference, although the unnarrated version is certainly the better choice to watch the ending montage with first. Those audio tracks are bit on the thinner side of fidelity in the montage sequence, but the encode handles it all remarkably well. For a film that’s missing sound elements, the VS team has done a great job at making everything sound as good as possible.

Special Features


Unsurprisingly, Vinegar Syndrome has also packed this release with some wonderful newly produced supplements, including two brand-new making-of docs that dive deep into Phase IV’s inception and production history. The huge get in this release, at least to me, is the deleted shots and sequences, plus the raw footage from the original ending montage sequence. The deleted shots and sequences are just short sections that are incomplete or damaged and couldn’t be incorporated into the Preview Version. As for the raw footage of the montage sequence, here you get over 16 minutes of alternate takes and variants sourced from elements provided by the Academy. For the sci-fi nerd in us all, these alternate takes and variants are essential, as they’re filled with the kind of optical composites and abstract artistry that Bass was unrivaled in. Another huge kudos to VS for offering a great balance between talking-head making-of featurettes and footage that has been recently unearthed.

Worth noting as well is the terrific booklet essay by Sean Savage, Senior Film Archivist at the Academy. Sean’s intimate knowledge of the versions of Phase IV in addition to the materials left from the Preview Version makes this essay an essential read. You won’t find a better, more technical essay on the film’s many issues and legacy. 

4K UHD Disc 

  • Commentary track with film historian Matthew Asprey Gear

Blu-ray Disc One (Theatrical Version)

  • Commentary track with film historian Matthew Asprey Gear

Blu-ray Disc Three (Preview Version) 

  • Preview Version With or Without Narration (HD 1:29:09)
  • “Evolutions: The Making of Phase IV” – New making-of doc by Elijah Drenner featuring interviews with original cast and crew (HD 47:46)
  • "Formicidae Sinfonia: The Music and Sounds of Phase IV” – Featurette with composer Brian Gascoigne and electronic music artist David Vorhaus (HD 14:51)
  • Deleted shots and sequences (HD 1:59)
  • Raw footage from Saul Bass’ original ending montage sequence (HD 16:34)
  • Theatrical trailer (HD 2:46)
  • Still gallery (HD 1:31)

After Phase IV, man will be no more. Vinegar Syndrome brings Saul Bass’ classic work of sci-fi, Phase IV, home to 4K Ultra HD with an absolutely stacked three-disc release that presents multiple versions of the film from brand-new restorations. What’s more, the supplements package is filled with insights from original cast and crew, plus industry experts with deep knowledge of the film’s legacy. Don’t just crawl like an ant, run to pick up this Must-Own release.