2/26/10

The Swarm (1978): Oh, No! Not the Bees! Not the Bees!

There are many things I’m afraid of. To begin the list you could start with snakes or spiders, but coming in at a close third you could put bees. I have no idea why I’m so scared of bees, but if I see one at a distance, I’ll immediately start planning on how to get away from it. My wife always tells me to keep still and they’ll ignore me, but to hell with that, I’m going to be out of there like The Roadrunner leaving only a smoky outline of myself. So the idea behind tonight’s film, The Swarm, is terrifying to me. An invasion of killer bees would rank up there with my worst nightmares, and some people warned me that the film itself might be pretty nightmarish. Still, I decided I should face my fear and the film that so many people had warned me about.

The Swarm was directed by the disaster movie impresario Irwin Allen who produced and co-directed the films The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). (His credit on IMDB for Inferno and Poseidon lists him as directing the action scenes, and, presumably, the other director handled the drama.)After the success of those two films, Allen was ready to have the canvas director’s chair all to himself, and so he chose to direct The Swarm without a partner. Like his other disaster epics, he assembled a deep cast of actors, Michael Caine, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, and Henry Fonda just to name a few. He even secured powerhouse composer Jerry Goldsmith and veteran cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp for the film. Everything seemed set for a repeat of his previous efforts, but little did Allen know that if you mess with The Swarm, you’re bound to get stung.

The film starts in the aftermath of a disaster at an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Silo where nearly everyone has been killed. When General Slater (Richard Widmark) and his men arrive at the silo, they find few survivors, but they also find entomologist Brad Crane (Michael Caine) lurking about. Much to the General’s chagrin, the culprit for the deaths seem to be a swarm of killer African bees, and the President personally puts Crane in charge of defeating the menace before they overrun the sleepy Texas town of Maryville. Crane calls in his scientist pals Dr. Hubbard (Chamberlain) and Dr. Krim (Fonda) to help him find a way to defeat the bees, but their efforts seem fruitless and the bees nearly level the small town before making their way to Houston.

That synopsis doesn’t even begin to cover the plot threads running though this film. I didn’t even get a chance to bring up Katherine Ross as Helena, Brad Crane’s love interest, or the elderly love triangle between Fred MacMurray, Ben Johnson, and Olivia de Havilland. The latter of these two storylines was the most forced, and the conclusion of that thread is spectacularly unsatisfying for how much time was spent on it. Now when I started watching the film (via Netflix instant view), I had the IMDB up as usual and saw it had a nearly two hour running time. After an hour and half, I started wondering how they were going to wrap this up and I checked where I was in the picture only to find I had another hour to go. The version I was lucky enough to see was the extended cut of The Swarm that runs nearly a half hour longer. Why or how this version happened (I assume it can’t be a director’s cut as Allen wouldn’t even talk about this film after it flopped), but I can assure you that you have no reason to track it down.

While I enjoyed a few of the performances, for the most part this movie is full of painful acting and more painful dialog. Michael Caine is saddled with lines like, ‘The bees have always been our friends.”, and by the second half of the film Richard Widmark’s General drops gems like “Will history blame me or the bees?”. It should also be noted that Widmark’s General spends the second half of the film dropping part of his foe’s name. While he starts off wanting to fight the “African killer bees“, by the end of the film he’s down to simply “the Africans”. The script was written by Stirling Silliphant (based on a book by Arthur Herzog Jr.) who is usually fairly dependable. Not only did he write Allen’s previous disaster epics, he also penned classics like Village of the Damned, In the Heat of the Night, and Circle of Iron. Again, it’s a mystery as to how such a stalwart writer penned such a travesty, but I suppose when you’re writing disaster one’s bound to happen to you eventually.

While overall the film was way to long, way to boring, and way too meandering, there was something about it I rather liked. It had this unintentional silliness that made it nearly come off as a parody of the ‘70’s disaster trend. It was also cool to see all those famous faces share the screen. I mean when the fate of the world is in the hands of Allen Quartermain, Jack Carter, and Abraham Lincoln you have to feel pretty safe. Also, for me at least, it contained some horrifying footage of bee attacks. I don’t care of they looked a little cheesy; they were harrowing to watch. I do have to say that the giant bee hallucinations that some people had after being stung were less cringe inducing and more laugh producing. Overall, The Swarm is not a movie I can’t with a clear conscience encourage people to watch, but I kind of had a good time watching it. Although I might have had a better time if it had been the regular version and not super sized. So if bees bug you or if you’re a big fan of any of the famous names involved, then check it out. Otherwise, I think you can buzz right by this one.

Bugg Rating

8 comments:

  1. I am a huge fan of this film too! Kind of an Irwin Allen apologist and completist. I'll see most anything he was involved with. THE TOWERING INFERNO is his masterpiece as far as I'm concerned, but I love this too. I just love disaster and animals attack films in general!

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  2. I love The Swarm, and I especially loved the dialogue!

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  3. simon zinc trumpet harrisFebruary 27, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    Danger, "PENNY" Robinson, Danger. "THE SWARM" is about to attack the Jupiter 2 because it knows that Maureen Robinson makes fantastic strawberry jam sandwiches.

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  4. I felt similarly about ANTS, I would have expected something more exciting from Allen

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  5. I have this in my queue, with the great cover that is all black and just says The Swarm on it. I'm now pretty torn as you have not recommended the film, but if you had a good time with it, then I certainly would want to check it out.

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  6. Wow I really can't believe how many responses this got. So I'll take ti from the top.

    @Mr Jeffery- I can't say it was good, but I was entertained.

    @Rupe- I LOVE me some Towering Inferno, but then again I am a HUGE Steve McQueen fan. Maybe if Steve had been in The Swarm I might have liked it better.

    @dfordoom- The absurdity of the dialog was probably my favorite thing about this film.

    @simon- I have no idea what you're talking about dude.

    @Carl- Yes, I would have expected more excitement as well, but I think its hard to structure scenes around a massive swarm of bees.

    @Matt- I did have a good time, though 2.5 hours is way way too long. In a way the entertainment value almost makes this a recommend even thought the film is generally pretty awful.

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  7. Is this little "Opus" classified as being in the public domain?

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