GiAnts (2003)

GiAnts review!Starring Mel Novak, Tina-Desiree Berg, Richard Rabago, Alden Villaverde, W. Colin McKay, Julio Urquidi, Steve Spry

Directed by Carribou Seto

I’ve been reading about the existence of this movie for five or six years now and honestly never thought it would ever actually see the light of day. Cine Excel Entertainment has been touting GiAnts for years, listed on the website in various stages of production, and even once it finally reached the status of being listed as “Ready For Delivery” it still sat unreleased for a good deal of time. I’ve been hearing about GiAnts about as long as I’ve been hearing about D-War. Yeah, that long. Now D-War is finally getting released and, sure enough, GiAnts finally makes it to DVD – but only in Japan. I plunked down far more money than I’d like to admit to purchase an import DVD of Cine Excel’s low-on-budget, high-on-ambition, “What the hell were they thinking?” giant ant flick.

I’ll say this right up front; GiAnts is either one of the worst put together movies I’ve ever seen or a truly amazing salvage job. I’m sure there’s one hell of a backstory explaining how this film came to be and I’m guessing that story involves it be shot in bits and pieces over a long period of time. That’s the only way I can explain why some of the transitions between scenes are jarring in how non-seamlessly they’re edited together. That’s the only way I can explain entire scenes that appear to be missing. That’s the only way I can figure they needed to keep relying on voiceover narration to explain stuff that I can only suspect would have been explained if they’d actually bothered filming those specific scenes. This is one of the most disjointed edit jobs you’ll ever see outside of an Ed Wood production.

The giant ants are brought to life with Orkin TV commercial quality CGI that’s perfectly passable in some scenes and “You’ve got to be kidding me!” unconvincing in others. We’re talking CGI that makes what’s seen in the typical Sci-Fi Channel original movie look like the creation of a big budget theatrical production. There aren’t too many scenes where the ants actually interact with the actors (for obvious budgetary reasons) and the few where they do appear to have somebody with their mandibles looks like they’re swinging about a digital rag doll. The filmmakers also seemed to have only so many ant animatics to work with – a set number of movements recycled with different lighting and settings. Sometimes they sway and spin about in a manner similar to a remote control toy car. And you’ll see it over and over and over and over and over…

GiAnts review!GiAnts opens with a lengthy voiceover detailing Earth having been thrashed by a meteor strike. To be more specific, a meteor hits another meteor and the meteorites generated by the rubble of that meteor then rains down onto our planet. Now mankind makes out alright in this scenario because we knew it was coming ahead of time and took proper precautions, although infrastructure would take quite a pounding, as seen in this opening prologue – the last time we ever see anything that appears to have been destroyed by meteors. But as Mr. Voiceover tells us, the meteorites proved to be the least of our worries since they would unleash a greater terror from deep within the bowels of the earth.

So meteors hitting the earth awakened giant ants living deep underground? Okay, I can live with that. But then another voiceover takes over to tell us…

Let me just pause for a second to state right now that The Creeping Terror may be the only other B-monster movie I’ve ever seen with this much voiceover narration used to further both plot points and character development, almost all of which occurs during the first half of the film. Do keep in mind that all-time classic bad movie had to rely on excess voiceover work because the sound equipment got destroyed before shooting began and they couldn’t afford to replace it.

Anyway, it turns out that the meteor strikes really didn’t have anything to do with the unleashing of giant ants after all. One of the meteors will come down in some mountains on property owned by an uber wealthy industrialist named Jack Niles who then airdropped in stock footage of skydivers to retrieve the remains of the meteor only form to discover a mountainous matte painting containing a prehistoric ant the size of an automobile frozen in a block of ice. The frozen ant is brought back and thawed out. The revived ant eventually escapes from its caged confines and proceeds to let out a loud a homing call that summons its fellow vehicular-sized ants to rise up from the depths the earth to terrorize the San Francisco area. Not sure why it had to wait until it escaped from its cage to do so. I’m also not sure how a human, even a scientist who specializes in insects, could instantly recognize the sound of a giant ant beckoning its insect brethren to come forth and attack.

Most importantly, I’ve no clue why they even bothered to include all the nonsense about Earth being pummeled by meteors given that we’re never shown anything that looks like destruction or fallout from it aside from special effects in the opening credits and despite the statements of the opening narration, the meteor strike really didn’t lead to the giant ants emerging. I suspect that has much to do with my theory of this being a long-term salvage job. The plot synopsis on Cine Excel’s own website bares little resemblance to the finished film. A meteor strikes a space lab and sends it crashing down where it strikes a nuclear power plant, global nuclear fallout eventually leads to giant ants emerging? That’s wasn’t in the film I just watched.

GiAnts review!This rich Niles guy will bring in John Caine (Richard Crenna look-a-like Mel Novak, although in a few scenes he looks more like Cliff Robertson), the world’s foremost entomologist, to study the big bug he’s got penned up. Caine gets one look at the giant ant and realizes any plans Niles has to exploit it for profit will only end in tragedy and thus refuses to assist him. Next thing you know the giant ant has escaped and begun killing people, while Jonathan and a small band of characters that appear from thin air and only get introduced in a voiceover find themselves on the run through the mountainside being pursued by not only the giant ant, but also Niles and his gun-toting henchmen. The Jack Niles character (who we’d never actually seen or heard from prior to this) has suddenly emerged as a villain straight out of a bad production of The Most Dangerous Game with no discernable reason why other than just because.

Bad guys try to kill John and his “Who are you again” allies, giant ant tries to kill everybody, and the film editors try to piece this series of events together in something resembling a coherent manner. One moment a wounded Jonathan is being saved from ant death by a Asian fellow named Kenji, who I swear looks like Frankenstein Conquers the World‘s grandpa, by laying him under a tree and having a single tree branch barely cover his shins – just enough apparently to throw off the ant’s scent – and then one awkward jump cut later, Kenji is in mid-air delivering a slow motion kung fu kick to one of Niles’ goons. Their fight ends with Kenji snapping the guy’s neck and then a giant ant shows up to eat the corpse. Despite having just heard the crack of the guy’s neck being snapped and watched him slump lifelessly to the ground, this supposedly dead guy screams his head off while being eaten by the ant.

This whole sequence set out in the mountainous woods feels completely extraneous from what will go on in the rest of the movie and aside from Jonathan, no other surviving character from it will ever been seen or referenced again afterwards. I noticed in the closing credits that the actors involved in this long stretch of the film’s first half aren’t even credited alongside the rest of the cast, instead being credited much later on in credits specifically labeled as “Mountain Sequences Starring…” This again leads me to suspect that all of this was filmed either much before or after the rest of the movie was shot and edited in.

And as God is my witness, I’d swear the film’s score featured the same cut of music from “Star Trek” when Kirk was forced to battle Spock.

Meanwhile, the ants have begun attacking San Francisco and wreaking as much destruction as the film’s miniscule budget will allow; mostly they just march down the streets. In a strange sort of way it’s almost like a modern micro-budget version of a Bert I. Gordon giant bug flick of old, what with computer animated ants superimposed over actual footage taken on the streets of San Francisco while stock footage of actual fighter jets in the air (mixed with makeshift cockpit footage of actors playing the pilots) attack the digital ants with computer generated missiles and explosions. This is the sort of thing you either find some entertaining schlock value from or are appalled to watch. I, for one, couldn’t help but be modestly amused.

GiAnts review!There are moments of inspired silliness to be found. One nifty turn-of-events has an ant on the Golden Gate Bridge getting blasted into the air only to land on top of one of the fighter jets that then tries desperately to shake it off. Another great sequence has a determined subway engineer using his subway train as a battering ram to take out individual ants blocking the rails. The banter between the engineer and a subway dispatcher is priceless in its seriousness, doubly so when the engineer who has been doing so to save the life of his passengers decides to go kamikaze into a hoard of ants, any thought of his passengers’ lives he’d also be sacrificing in the process seemed to escape him.

Caine’s somewhat estranged radio reporter daughter, Audrey (Tina-Desiree Berg, easily the film’s most accomplished actor), finds herself having to assist and make-up with her father, as well as the sometimes wrongheaded military, in dealing with the insect invasion.

Unfortunately, many of Audrey’s scenes also involve a pair of bug exterminating knuckleheads named Josh & Pud, a comic relief duo that look, act, and sound like characters leftover from one of the Three Ninjas movies. Their brutally unfunny shtick, mostly centered around wacky ideas for fighting off the ants, is like nails-on-the-chalkboard ratcheted up to the volume of a jackhammer. I detested these two with every fiber of my being.

The characters of Josh & Pud also represent the film’s serious identity crisis. Their humor is purely juvenile. Much of what occurs in the movie that doesn’t play like a throwback to a 1950’s monster movie is played for laughs squarely aimed at younger audiences, and yet this is also a movie where people get shot, beheaded, eaten alive, and mutilated. Who the hell is the target audience they’re aiming for with this one?

Drawn out and generally dull underground commando raids against the ants and a goofy aerial helicopter battle with the flying ant queen round out the film. I don’t know if I missed something or it was just another example of the movie’s frequent continuity problems but the final battle takes place around the Statue of Liberty despite the movie having up until then been set exclusively in the San Francisco area. By this point, after all the awkward transitions, continuity errors, and mishmash editing, complaining about such things seems moot.

GiAnts is nowhere close to being a good movie, but there is something of an Ed Wood entertainment aspect watching something so ambitiously misguided trying to be achieved on such an obviously low budget, in addition to having whole chunks of it feeling as if had been cobbled together in a post-production salvage job in such a manner to make the proceedings only barely lucid at times. Even with its cheapo production values and coasting by much of the time with a “must be seen to be believed” train wreck quality, I’d still dare call GiAnts more entertaining (often in spite of itself) than a lot of junk polluting DVD racks these days. Hey, if Ulli Lommel can get Lionsgate to release one of his crapfests every month why not GiAnts?

I found myself actually sort of admiring Cine Excel Entertainment’s moxie to a certain extent even as I was forced to deal with the true merits of the movie itself. Here’s this relatively small time production company that’s attempting to make a large scale giant bug flick with a budget that appears to be roughly equal to that of a Mexican telenovella. That takes gumption, folks. Being foolhardy also doesn’t hurt.

2 out of 5

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Jon Condit