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THEM, 1954
Movie Review

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THEM MOVIE POSTER
THEM!, 1954
Movie Reviews

Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Wheldon, James Arness, Onslow Stevens
Review by Anthony Suen



SYNOPSIS:

Government agents and local police start an investigation to discover the causes of recent deaths and disappearances within the community. They soon find out that what they face is no ordinary killer, or human at all. It is a race against time as police officials team up with scientists in order the thwart the oncoming threat of gargantuan proportions.

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REVIEW:

A lot of what older films provide stems from the willingness to actually watch the thing, and being tolerant of its datedness. It’s a given fact that some films can stand the test of time and remain good as, or even better than they were at their original release. Many of the world’s top rated films share this quality. While a movie like ‘Them!’ may not possess such a prestige, my first point is showcased in the viewing of this film.

‘Them!’ has historical value. Without a doubt, it inspired lots of new beginnings for science fiction and horror cinema. ‘Big bugs’ probably started from success of ‘Them!,’ and you see it even today. While that kind of success is impressive, there’s a line that a certain audience lives on the other side of; that line is time, and this movie is on the opposite side.

Is this a bad movie? By no means. I’d prefer it over some science fiction I see today. Is it a B-movie? Considering it was nominated for an Oscar in special effects, I doubt it. If it was, then it only complements its success. But we come to a crossroads at appreciation and tolerance that seems to rarely reach a compromise. I can appreciate this film; it’s a revolutionary one, but can I tolerate its dated effects?

The problem is, most of us who are exposed to modern cinema expect very advanced technology to create realism. The use of puppeteers and props are a thing of the past. It’s a sad truth, because there are some films that still prove their special effects worth (‘The Thing’ being a perfect example).

I may be going off on a tangent here, talking about the nature of special effects in the general film industry, but in terms of the film, it really does fall into this state. I’m not an old man who tries to find cinema from his time, I’m part of a generation that’s grown up in a cinematic world filled with incredible technological capabilities. So when I view a film like ‘Them!,’ it’s impossible not to filter that kind of exposure into this movie. The end result is, frankly, the inability for me to take this film seriously.

Like I said, this doesn’t make it bad. If you’re getting that impression, let me reassure you, there’s lots that this movie offers and displays. I’ll emphasize again that it was one of the first, if not the first movie to feature big bugs as a significant trope to be used in science fiction. I need not tell you that this trope remains today. Nor do I need to repeat that this film was nominated for an Oscar in special effects, mainly because the technology it demonstrated was outstanding.

I may sound like I’m begging you to enjoy this film on the film’s behalf (which I kind of am). However, I’m doing this for good reason. Unfortunately, ‘Them!’ suffers from what most old movies do, which is a limited and exclusive audience. The film is not a notoriously famous oldie. Most sci-fi buffs will be aware of it and support its significance, but outside of that circle, it falls into the unknown. In terms of story, the film keeps us interested enough to reach the point where these big bugs are introduced, so it doesn’t fall short there. Everything else in the film, production-wise, is decent enough, and doesn’t affect the enjoyment of it in any significant way.

Another new approach is how the story is told to appeal to western and mainstream cinema audiences. Though the story was made to follow up from the first film and to introduce new audience members, the fact the film had a higher budget from Los Hooligans Production meant that the film’s narrative had to appeal for the wider audience for profit gain. Even though this is an independent film overall, the fact that it was aiming to be alongside other mainstream action films is definitely an achievement in it’s own right.

The only imperfection this film has, as I stated before, is its datedness; the cinematic effect of these ‘big bugs’ will surely not be the same as it was fifty years ago. The shame in all of it is you still might enjoy the movie, though only for the seemingly comical nature of these effects in the presence of our current era. Personally, I don’t think it’d do the film justice if audiences are cackling at gigantic bugs, instead of staring in awe and wonder at new and pioneering cinematic techniques.

If you are a sci-fi fan, you must see this film just to expose to yourself a timeline of the advancements special effects have gone through. ‘Them!’ is a respectable film, a significant film, and an innovative film in the sci-fi genre. For those others who may doubt an older film’s ability to entertain, there are many ways to start. ‘Them!,’ despite its limits, is well-deserved in this category. Think of it as the ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Close Encounters,’ or even ‘2001’ of its time. Suspend your disbelief or intolerance and give it some room. You might find out that it shows a lot of promise.

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