Look! Held together with saliva!–Pat Medford
Them! is not terrible a terrible move, just a dull one. It was the first “big bug” movie, and had I seen
it in 1956, no doubt it would have seemed a good deal more original and perhaps more exciting as well. As it stands now though, it’s hard to see the 100% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes or even the 76% audience rating.
One problem, ironically enough, is of scale. Giant creatures from movies of this period are generally seen as a metaphor for the release of uncontrollable forces brought on by the atomic age. Like Godzilla, the ants of “Them!” are an a-bomb mutation. Unlike Godzilla though, the biggest things these monsters destroy are a small general store and a travel trailer. For being an uncontrollable force, they actually wind up being relatively easily controlled.
The special effects were impressive for the time (the film was nominated for a special effects Oscar), but they haven’t aged well. One reviewer describes the ants as “about as threatening as the Care Bears.” I don’t know. Teletubbies maybe.
The biggest problem, though, isn’t the effects or the small scale destruction, it’s the storyline. There just isn’t much of an arc to it. Once the giant ants are identified, an attempt is made to gas the mound. Some ants escape, and the rest of the story simply follows two of the main characters as they attempt to relocate the ants’ hiding place. There is a love interest in the form of Joan Weldon, who plays Pat Medford, but it is pursued only half-heartedly, and Weldon’s function–as a scientist, mind you–is limited to giving the guys a nice set of gams to look at as she departs the plane and being there to be lectured about getting into situations that are too dangerous for her. Maybe I missed something, but the thrills in Them! I think could benefit from a little radiation exposure themselves.