Tuesday, May 15, 2018
DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: The Swarm (1978)
Circus” – pretty easy to guess what that would've been about – was “The Swarm.” Based on a novel by Arthur Herzog, the film would attempt to capitalize on America's hysteria over the ever-encroaching killer bee. Allen would direct the movie himself, his first directorial credit in sixteen years. By the time “The Swarm” actually arrived in theaters in 1978, the public's interest in disaster movies was waning. Despite a big budget, an all-star cast, and a catchy premise, the film would flop hard. The reviews were vitriolic, causing “The Swarm” to quickly be regarded as a laughing stock. The film's failure would signal the end of the disaster movie era.
A military investigation marches into a missile base. Everyone inside is mysteriously dead, save for Dr. Bradford Crane. Crane is an entomologist – an expert in insect – and blames the attack on a swarm of Africanized honey bees. His theory is proven true when a cloud of bees destroys two helicopters. Soon, the killer bees are descending on the small town of Marysville, Texas. This is but the first of many highly fatal attacks. The hyper-aggressive bees are hard to ward off and their venom is incredibly deadly. Soon, the entire American south-west is overtaken by the bees. The military, led by Dr. Crane, attempts desperately to come up with some way to defeat the swarm.
I guess we're winning. “The Swarm” does, sometimes, successfully build on those hysterical fears. The scenes of the bees swarming over a picnicking family, killing the mother and father, are effectively grim. The scenes of the bees invading Marysville, leading to much mayhem, generate some okay panic. Later scenes, where an attempt to fight the swarm with flamethrowers, feature exploding ambulances and airplanes, work well. The film's production utilized a lot of real bees, which does provide a genuine squeamishness to some scenes.
For the moments that work as intended, there are many that do not. “The Swarm” frequently veers into the world of unintentional comedy. Survivors of the attacks, still delirious from bee venom, frequently hallucinate giant bees hovering over them. In one sequence, a giant bee seems to leap out of Michael Caine's eye, a real laugher of a moment. The bees are resilient enough to work their way into a military facility but, in one scene, a trio of young boy foils them with an aluminum trash can. The scenes of Michael Caine arguing with various military officials about what to do get so overheated, so quickly, that they make the audience laugh. Scenes of people screaming in slow-motion as the bees cloud the room, sometimes resulting in a nuclear explosion, result in giggles, not screams.
“The Swarm” features many veterans of the disaster genre. Lee Grant and Olivia de Havilland both survived “Airport '77,” to appear here as a news reporter and a resident of the small town. Henry Fonda, as the Marysville doctor, and Richard Widmark, as a military official, return from “Rollercoaster.” Jose Ferrer, after appearing in “The Big Bus,” plays a scientist in a squeaky wheelchair here. Even the small roles are occupied by recognizable faces like Ben Johnson, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, and Cameron Mitchell. Starring in the film is Michael Caine and Katharine Ross. Caine's best qualities are crushed by the melodramatic script. Ross, meanwhile, isn't given much to do but stare in shock at the chaos around her.
a nearly three hour long extended cut was released on Laserdisc in the nineties and remains the most widely available version. This painfully long version presumably gives more attention to utterly unnecessary subplots, like the going-ons around Marysville or a pregnant woman's fate. Allen's direction too frequently dissolves into watching people stand in rooms and talk. Jerry Goldsmith's score is ridiculously overblown. Too long, too grim, and too ridiculous, it's not hard to figure out why “The Swarm” was such a flop. It still got an Oscar nomination, for Costume Design. I don't know why. [4/10]
[THE DISASTER MOVIE CHECKLIST: 7 outta 10]
 Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
 Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
 Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast