The Swarm (Irwin Allen) 1978
Production Budget: $21 million
Worldwide Earnings: $10 million
Subsequent Earnings: ???
Now, I already talked about Irwin Allen a little bit with the remake of Poseidon. But just to pad out my review, I will say again that disaster movies were huge in the 70’s. Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Earthquake were all hits. They had special effects, good action, a star studded cast, and, of course, Sensurround!!! They were cheesy, but good fun. But it seems Irwin may have been straining to find a large natural disaster to use. He already used fire, water, and earth. Asteroids? Nah, you need Ben Affleck for that. Volcanoes in LA? Communist invasion? Not hardcore enough. Dig this: killer freaking bees.
Allen gathered another all star cast that included Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Slim Pickens, Fred MacMurray, and Henry Fonda. Would it be even better than Inferno or Poseidon? Not quite. The big problem that Allen didn’t figure is that bees don’t film well. I mean this in two ways. The first is, you can’t really control bees to do what you want them to do. All of the bees had to have their stingers removed. However, a few bees were missed and caused some bad allergic reactions among the crew. Several beekeepers were used to keep the bees calm, and the bees would deposit little yellow balls on everything. Michael Caine thought they were honey balls and ate them; he was actually eating bee poop (IMDb). The other meaning of “doesn’t film well” is that they don’t look good on screen. Like the movie poster, the deadly swarm looks like a floating brown cloud. The movie tanked at the box office and critics were calling one of the worst ever. This essentially stopped the trend of disaster movies for a while and Allen never really got back to making movies on the big screen. Now renters can choose between the theatrical cut (116 minutes) and the extended director’s cut (156 minutes).
Is it any good? Hell no. The writing, even by cheesy Irwin Allen standards, is hilariously bad. Caine’s character is a know-it-all jackass who makes all the wrong decisions. The 156 minute cut is filled with scenes of boring exposition and arguments between the general and the smarmy Caine about keeping the bees alive. It’s painful to watch Caine talk forever about how man needs the bee to survive and how we must learn to coexist with the bee. Inferno and Poseidon have interesting action pieces to keep the audience interested. The Swarm really didn’t have any of that. It has been many years since I have seen it, so I don’t know if it’s one of the worst ever. But trust me, it’s horrible.
I forgot how silly this whole movie is. So this swarm of mutant African bees (and they make a point to mention these are super bees with ultra deadly stings) come out to attack people with no explanation given why. Dr. Crane (Michael Caine) comes strolling up to the army saying literally “This is the war I saw coming for years.” Oh really. I would love to have read the peer reviewed scientific paper titled “Bees vs. Man: We all Seriously Fucked…Seriously!” But upon hearing of this one bee attack the President gives Crane complete control over the situation. Crane asks “What limits do I have?” and the President says “No limits” NO LIMITS!? No limits. Really. So if Crane ordered the military to nuke Switzerland their response could only be “How many nukes sir?” So instead of doing the sensible thing and bombing the swarm, Crane opts to try to find a cure. Why? Because killing the bees would harm the farming industry. Um, yeah: millions of lives, or some failed crops? Which seems like the more logical choice? And if our agriculture was so important, don’t you think we could import bees from everywhere else on the planet?
What I really love is that for how much everyone builds up Crane as a genius, he is a worthless character. He is a pompous, arrogant jackass who for all his “experience” has nothing to contribute. All he does is tell his team of experts what to do. That is not an expert, that is a micromanager.
I think the biggest problem with the movie is it doesn’t have the same suspense as other Allen disaster movies. Take Poseidon Adventure for example. You have the disaster of a ship that was turned over by a giant wave. The action comes from having the survivors navigating the ship upside down and all of the dangers of the ship going down. It is tailor made for action scenes and suspenseful situations. With a swarm of bees there really isn’t anything to do. Instead, we get endless scenes of dry dialog about where the bees are going and asking why they are doing what they are doing. The main action is waiting for a scientist to come up with an antidote which isn’t exciting in the slightest. It also doesn’t help the movie continues the trend of disaster movies being excruciatingly long. I don’t want to sit through two and a half hour movie of bees attacking.
The acting isn’t anything special. Because it is a big budget disaster film, it is loaded with stars, but if you are familiar with these movies you also know they get nothing to work with. Henry Fonda probably does the best work as one of Crane’s assistants. The scene where he tries the untested antidote on himself is probably the closest thing you’ll get to suspense in this movie.
I’m kind of torn on this movie. On the one hand it is a hilariously campy movie. There is a lot to laugh at as this is probably Allen’s worst disaster movie. However it is hard to sit through due to its ass cramp inducing run time. So this is a reserved recommendation to true bad movie aficionados.