Now I'm all itchy. First some NPR program talks about the science behind itches - they're still kind of a mystery - and then I watch The Hive. In short, The Hive is about killer ants, but ant-horror is hard to do. You're probably scrolling all the way back to the '50s, and Them! While arguably the best killer ant movie ever, Them! isn't exactly a horror movie, and it rates pretty low on the scare-meter. So how does The Hive stack up against those other insects? Though souped-up by CGI and able to strip a corpse faster than Ed Gein, these creepy crawlers won't disturb even the most delicate of picnics.
Besides, don't ants live in colonies? I thought bees lived in hives? Oh well, so anyway, there's this massive ant-hive, the inhabitants of which frequently go all-rampage on a Thai village (supposedly Brazil). The rampages get so bad the military/ government complex calls in a super-extermination company called Thorax (you know, I'm not sure why I originally gave this movie the benefit of the doubt, writing this stuff down makes it seem far more ridiculous than a first viewing does). The Thorax guys quickly assimilate into military life, running through the jungle while eliminating seas of ants with plasma cannons and such. The hitch? Thorax founder Len (Kal Weber) has a past with bleeding-heart etymologist Claire, (Elizabeth Healy) a gal who wants us to 'get down on a level with the ants' and fight them mano a mano (a mano, mano, mano). Can Claire and Len renew their ideologically opposed love in the face of killer ants that are able to levitate into slithery ant-spouts? And why is exterminator Bill (Tom Wopat) so darn twitchy? Though far more engaging than it has a right to be, the answers The Hive doles out might leave you scratching your head.
Let's forget for a second that swarms of CGI insects will never be scary, no matter how 'realistic' they become. Just. Not. Scary. Still, when weird skittering sounds approach a Thai baby in her hut (as the film opens) the cruelty bar is set sky-high - an act of good will that makes the resultant weird-o sci-fi jaunt all the more confounding. Following scenes of massive red-ant-tides engulfing peasants and camouflaged soldiers running around screaming and spraying napalm invoke the recent tsunami disaster and the Vietnam War in equal measure - more promise, but in a wildly different direction. But as must happen in any low-budget sci-fi/ monster movie, soon enough the heads start sitting around talking. Seemingly key dialog is even lost under thick Thai accents, but it's all just boilerplate until the next ant rampage. That's when the plasma-bolts and stuff come in, cool also, but at yet another remove from what we're made to expect (check the Ruins-esque carnage on the DVD cover for more bait-and-switch tactics). Ultimately, when we're not being bored by (sexy, I'll admit) scientists staring into microscopes for hours at a time, we're treated to sub-par CGI ants forming computers in mid-air with their bodies. And then there's Wopat, with a bee in his bonnet (more or less) acting like a sweaty marionette controlled by an insensate master. It's the best performance in the movie, and I have no idea what it means.
The Hive lards all-over-the-map energy with plenty of talky slack spots. It's a better-than-average Sci-Fi Channel-style TV movie, due to a ferociously sincere attitude, but throwing everything in the blender with bad CGI - while fronting as a gory killer ants flick - still leads to confusion and disappointment.
The Hive is presented in a widescreen (1.78:1) ratio preserving the aspect of its original TV broadcast and enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The picture is acceptably sharp for its TV origins, with grain noticeable (but not glaringly so) throughout, and a decent level of detail. Swarms of ants are somewhat fuzzy and lacking in definition, as are scenes in the ant's underground lair (neither a hive nor a colony in this case, it's just a damn big cave). Overall, it's not the best DVD has to offer, but is OK for a TV show, and better than that out-of-print VHS copy of Empire Of The Ants.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo suffices for audio. Dialog is clear and understandable (except for those Thai military guys) but I found it to be mixed poorly with music and sound effects; those things seem to be at a much higher level, which could lead to a long night of riding the volume control if you don't want to wake your darn kid up.
As swarms of ants often do, this DVD seems to have been picked clean. No extras accept for a Promo for the Maneater series of which this is a part. A 70-minute best of, like an extended version of this promo, would be far more interesting than any of these films seem to be.
Though it reads poorly 'on paper,' The Hive is actually not quite as bad as it sounds. Don't expect a thrilling, gory, nature-on-the-rampage movie and you may be all right. Look instead for an odd mishmash of genres with a few decent performances and a severely whacked-out group of ants. The Hive has plenty of boring filler, but as a late-night snack it's kind of fun. For those that have to see everything, you might just want to Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com