They're here and nothing can stop them!
Filmmaker/producer Irwin Allen sure has made a prolific career out of creating more disaster than Dennis the Menace on crack. In The Poseidon Adventure, Allen threw a batch of mismatched characters together on a boat and flipped it upside down. The Towering Inferno featured Steve McQueen and Paul Newman battling a surging blaze in a newly constructed high rise. In 1978, Allen took an age-old nemesis, the African killer bee, and pitted it against our country's best defense: Michael Caine. Like Allen's previous productions, The Swarm features a virtual cornucopia of stars both past and present, including Katharine Ross (The Graduate), Richard Widmark (How the West was Won), Richard Chamberlain (Allen's The Towering Inferno), Olivia de Havilland (Airport '77), Ben Johnson (The Wild Bunch), Lee Grant (Damien: Omen II), Patty Duke (TV's The Patty Duke Show), Slim Pickens (Allen's Beyond the Poseidon Adventure), José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac), Fred MacMurray (The Apartment), and Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond). While the movie may not be Jaws, it sure does entertain. The Swarm invades DVD players everywhere care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
We always knew they'd come for us. It was only a matter of time. And now they're here…and there's nothing we can do to stop them! Yes, you guessed it…the killer bees have come for us after all those years of stealing their honey, and this time it's really, really personal!
Michael Caine plays entomologist Brad Crane, the only man who seems to have any extensive knowledge about the deadly yellow and black menace. After a group of military workers are attacked and killed inside of a governmental compound, General Slater (Widmark) and his soldiers find Dr. Crane and his van filled with equipment parked outside. Crane quickly explains the situation to everyone ("Bees! They're coming and we've got to stop them!") and is put in charge of the situation by the President of the United States. As the bees continue their rampage across the country, Crane and his group of elite scientists (including Henry Fonda as the aging Dr. Krim and a bearded Richard Chamberlain) desperately try to come up with an antidote for the bees' sting. Along the way, we meet all kinds of nutty characters including two love-struck rivals (MacMurray and Johnson) and the object of their affection (de Havilland), a stubborn nuclear power plant operator (Ferrer), and Crane's doting love interest (Ross).
As mass panic grips the nation, Crane pushes forward to find a way to stop the African killer bees before all mankind is engulfed in their Swarm!
The wacky disaster pictures from the 1970s are some of the most entertaining films ever produced. The acting is often so hammy that it could be mistaken for an Easter dinner. Ever notice that whenever the all-important scientist is introduced, without exception he's elderly and wheelchair bound? And why is it that in the midst of chaos the filmmakers always think that we, the audience, are really going to care about a love triangle between three people whose combined ages total around 275? Two old guys pining for an elderly schoolteacher just isn't as fascinating as one might think. But oh my Lord, look at all the bees! Not a penny was spared to bring the viewer more insects than you could shake a hive at.
This is exactly what you get with The Swarm, a B-movie—pun intended—that thinks it's an A-level drama. Producer Irwin Allen (who took over the directing reins this time around) always makes sure that his movies feature the exact same themes and ideas: humanity must overcome some horrific natural adversary (Mother Nature, fire, insects) while children, lovers, and old people run for cover. This time around, we have a very nerdy Michael Caine (those who lived in the '70s are welcome to email me and please explain his sex appeal) running around spouting sentences that sound roughly like this: "I won't spread pesticides around and kill the bees! No, no, NO! I won't do it! I WON'T!" Often this is followed by someone in the military yelling something derogatory back at Caine, then both men being interrupted by a solider informing them that the bees have attacked again. It's all very exhilarating.
The Swarm is the type of movie that dares to include such laughable dialogue as "General, you should know that the enemy is always expected to do the unexpected." Apparently, the general was surprised that the enemy didn't do what he anticipated. This brings into question just how this man was able to move up in rank. As the swarm of bees invade and sting their victims, the symptoms include sweating, rapid heartbeat, and visions of a giant bee. Apparently, the bees' venom not only kills, but also produces the same hallucinatory effects as a Grateful Dead concert.
The cast is made up of many famous faces from the 1970s. Some of them seem right at home in this film (Slim Pickins was made for a movie about killer bees) while others seem to be around for marquee value (Henry Fonda, what in tar'nations are you doing in this movie?). While it's fun to see all the different actors from eras past trampling on stage, we never invest any emotional stock in them. Since this is a typical Allen disaster flick, you can bet your sweet Mary's molasses that more than half of these folks will end up on the slab by the end. I salute any movie that's willing to kill off the "Absent Minded Professor" in a fiery train accident caused by bees.
As for the evil insects, it's somewhat refreshing to see actual bees on the screen instead of computer generated effects (as would be the case if The Swarm was made today). I have no idea how the filmmakers managed to coerce the actors into working with the bees, but God bless them for their perseverance. Of course, many of the shots involving the actual swarm are just matte shots or fancy effects. Some are sufficient, while others appear downright cheesy. It's too bad there wasn't any extra footage letting us know how many stings each actor received in the course of the filming.
If you enjoyed The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno, chances are you'll have a few laughs at The Swarm's expense. While the film may not have heavy "buzz" around it among moviegoers, it's still a fun little flick filled with thousands of bees and Michael Caine. I'll let you decide who ends up giving the better performance.
The Swarm is presented in glorious 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I was fairly impressed with how good this transfer looks. Since the image is almost 25 years old, I was surprised to find a decent, bright image with bold colors and dark black levels. While the transfer certainly isn't perfect (there is some grain to be found, and the occasional muted color), overall this is an above average picture that captures and frames those evil killer bees perfectly.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 in English. While the dialogue, effects, and music are mostly clear of hiss or distortion, overall this is a boring, flat soundtrack that features no directional effects in the mix. How cool would it have been to have heard all those bees buzzing in 5.1 Surround while attacking all those helpless victims? I guess it just wasn't meant to be.
Also included on this disc are English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
As for supplements, Warner hasn't come up with a whole lotta stuff except for a "Behind-the-Scenes" featurette that lasts roughly 20 minutes. This documentary was produced for the film's theatrical release in 1977 and features the typical stiff-voiced narrator and interviews with stars like Henry Fonda, Michael Caine, and others pontificating about killer bees and The Swarm's historical impact on cinema. It's entertaining in a not-so-informative kind of way. Also included on this disc is a theatrical trailer for the film.
Sadly, a commentary track by actor Michael Caine was excluded from this DVD at the last minute. While I am sure it would have been a fun listen, I can't image what Caine could have covered for a lengthy 2 1/2 hours ("Uh, here you see us getting attacked by bees. And here are more bees. In this next scene, I do a lot of yelling, then we're all attacked by bees again…").
Never in my lifetime did I ever expect to hear this phrase spoken in film: "You wonder, don't you? [The city of] Houston on fire. Will history blame me or the bees?" Ah, the chintzy wonder of the '70s. Okay, so I admit it—The Swarm is pretty hokey movie making. That being said, it's also entertaining, goofy and a lot of fun if you turn your brain switch to "off." Warner's work on this disc is passable, though more supplements and a better sound mix would have been preferred.
Against my better judgment I'm letting The Swarm go free…to kill, kill, KILL!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Behind the Scenes Featurette
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