Home > Uncategorized > Sunday Screening #35: The Swarm

Sunday Screening #35: The Swarm

Have you ever listened to Wu-Tang? You know that one song, Clan in Da Front ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eVUUziQUbg )? I don’t think it’s about this movie…

Basically Screeners we ended up skipping last week because I was totally unable to make a decision as to which movie to watch. That has now bled into this week and certain of us started to panic (not me, I’m used to be indecisive). Luckily for the second Sunday Screening in a row John has come to save the day. We are going to watch the 1978 film The Swarm. The film features Michael Caine and Richard Chamberlain (as well as Samwise Gamgee’s real life Mom).

I really hope this doesn’t give me Killer Bee nightmares…

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 15, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    It’s kind of perfect that you picked this because I’ve watched two Irwin Allen movies (The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno) recently and I’ve been on a disaster movie kick. Looking forward to it.

  2. September 18, 2011 at 10:01 PM

    Well, The Swarm is not a good movie, but it’s also not as bad as its reputation makes it seem. It just goes through the motions, and there are plenty of laughable parts to be sure, but it wasn’t boring. In most scenes, something happened to advance the plot (with one notable exception below), and at least it advanced fairly clearly.

    It definitely didn’t need to be two and a half hours long, though. The whole subplot involving Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson wooing Olivia de Havilland was pointless and quite literally went nowhere. It was actually comical that they spent all this time showing their conflict and just end it the way they did—I mean, seriously? I have to believe that they shot another scene of those characters, perhaps their last dying breaths after the train crashed, that didn’t make the final cut, or perhaps intended to and didn’t get around to it for whatever reason.

    There are also plenty of other silly scenes. That hallucinatory bee was hilarious! It just undermined any kind of seriousness the movie was trying to maintain…it was a concept that just didn’t work. And then when it appeared when Katharine Ross opened the door toward the end, causing her to scream for what seemed like several minutes, it was just clearly so ridiculous. In fact, every time slow motion was used, it was used poorly.

    Henry Fonda’s self-injection scene was pretty effective and tense (until the hallucinatory bee showed up), but from a story point of view, it made no sense: the man most essential to discovering an antidote to the bee menace recklessly gambles with his life? How irresponsible is that?

    The acting was for the most part decent, but did Irwin Allen just tell Michael Caine, “Whenever you’re speaking with Richard Widmark, just yell as loudly and angrily as you can”? He’s a very watchable actor, though, and I have a feeling he played a large part in keeping me interest.

    Also, I found it odd whenever the characters referred to the bees as “the Africans.” As in, when Widmark says, “By tomorrow, there will be no more Africans, at least in Houston.” Huh?

    Also, one of the funniest moments, when Caine and Ross join Widmark toward the end: “Captain.” “Doctor.” “Doctor.” “Major.” That was like a riff from MST3K.

    Overall, a middling, by-the-numbers film that should’ve been shorter, less silly, and one I couldn’t really recommend to anyone unless they want to make fun of it, but it was coherent and held my interest. It just doesn’t inspire the dismissal that I feel for other films that aren’t that good.

    • September 18, 2011 at 11:43 PM

      I was really hoping de Havilland would die leaving the two men to sort out their differences, but yeah… that story went no where (except down an embankment with exploding passenger cars because that happens).

      Henry Fonda’s injection was easily the most exciting part of the movie. He owned it. And I kind of buy that he would use himself as a guinea pig. Yeah, he’s the guy making the serum, but they talked about the troubles of finding someone willing to step forward and the only other option offered was Caine who volunteered, but has been running lead on the whole program. However, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to try to do some field testing…

      There’s a movie that has a parody exchange like the one you posted and I can’t remember it for the life of me. I feel like Leslie Nielsen is in it, so maybe Airplane! or a Naked Gun.

      One other thing I loved was when the General dressed down the Major for talking behind Caine’s back and sucking up. It was pretty awesome.

      • September 19, 2011 at 9:41 PM

        Yes! I really want to say that the parody exchange is from a Naked Gun, maybe one of the sequels…now I need to find this out.

        • September 20, 2011 at 12:28 AM

          It’s very difficult to look up. Typing in random “Major.” “Doctor.” “Major.” combinations doesn’t really yield much.

    • September 20, 2011 at 4:56 PM

      We share some thoughts on this film. It really seems like the filmmaker did a lot of exposition, and then never resolved the conflict set-up in the exposition (i.e. the suitors). I don’t know enough of the films backstory to know if it was just that they wanted to use as many names as possible to sell seats (that doesn’t sound familiar at all, does it?), or what the deal was. I thought the long crashing train-car was particularly laughable. It was just poorly shot and executed. Plus, what did it really do? Did they need to pay for those SFX to forward the movie? So much of it felt like they were creating a tentpole film, and just as poorly as they tend to do today (does anyone know if this was the case?).

      I understand the Doctor injecting himself, but it should have meant something more. It seems this movie was just trying to be a downer much of the time, which was just odd. Once again, I probably don’t know enough of the background of this film to know what the intentions were.

      I felt there was some serious under-tone/subtext going on with the whole “the Africans” dialogue too.

      Have you ever see Spies Like Us? I think they are mocking that “Captain” “Doctor” scene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Lge2_H_8IQ

      • September 20, 2011 at 6:25 PM

        That might be it, but I think I remember something else where it ends with a character saying “Doctor!”(or something like it) and walking off with the person to make the scene between just two of the characters.

        I think Allen was trying to replicate the success with his other sprawling cast productions. Just look at all the people featured in The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno. The problem is that The Swarm doesn’t really have a story that sustains that kind of casting.

  3. September 18, 2011 at 11:34 PM

    I’ve read John’s comments, but honestly, I’m not used to being the second person posting, so I’m going to write like I normally would and address John directly later.

    So, yeah… it’s not a very good movie. Or even a good movie. There’s no reason for it to be any more than an hour and a half. Irwin Allen achieved a great deal of success in my mind with the sprawling casts of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, but here, it seemed solely to bloat the movie beyond tolerability. Pretty much any actor that harkened back to the old days of cinema (MacMurray, Johnson, de Havilland, Pickens) were totally superflous. Seriously, how do you only have Slim Pickens in one scene of your movie? There’s just not enough variety of conflict to sustain the movie for 2.5 hours. At least The Towering Inferno could escalate the tension AND make the escape a terrifying venture.

    Probably the most surprising thing about The Swarm is that the actors all more or less do great work. The material isn’t that good and there’s tons of unintentional comedy, but everyone in it appears to be giving their all regardless of how silly it is. In fact, aside from length, the weakest element of the film is the direction. Every scene feels like we’re watching cardboard. The camera rarely does anything interesting and I feel like the entire film is comprised of medium shots. There’s no energy coming off the screen. It’s a wonder the actors come off well at all.

    Even though the film is laughable, I love that disaster movies are willing to go off-the-wall bonkers sometimes. The bee hallucinations are amazing and made me smile every time (not the filmmaker’s intention, I’m sure, but I enjoyed it).

    Finally, Jerry Goldsmith’s score was top-notch. Loved the classic orchestra-as-bees sounds.

    Observations:
    — “Oh my God! Bees! Bees! Millions of bees!”
    — Loved seeing Michael Caine carry Henry Fonda from the helicopter to the wheelchair.
    — Also love that Caine’s character has been waiting his whole career for an insect uprising, but that he never suspected it would be bees.
    — Does anyone really thinking fighting the bees with fire would work?
    — The poster is pretty amazing.

    • September 19, 2011 at 9:33 PM

      That’s a good point about the actors. Nobody’s really phoning it in, and a movie like this practically invites them to do so. Especially given the lack of energy from the direction (another good point).

      I actually nearly forgot Slim Pickens was in the movie, due to the random and superfluous nature of his scenes. Again, though, he did great work with what little he had.

      I agree, Goldsmith’s score was great.

      Caine’s “never thought it would be bees” line also made me laugh. Damn grasshoppers kept faking him out!

      When that kid is in the hospital, and Michael Caine is saying “There’s no bee here, it’s all in your mind,” it’s from a (supposedly) objective point of view, not from the hallucinating kid’s perspective…but we still see the giant bee! I really wanted to say, “Michael, what are you talking about? There is A BEE THE SIZE OF A HORSE right behind you!!”

      • September 20, 2011 at 12:27 AM

        Even better about that scene in the hospital is that, in theory, Michael Caine can’t see the bee, yet he knows the exact minute it fades away. Clearly, he’s a great reader of the body language of the incredibly ill. Also, does the kid ever say that he’s hallucinating a bee?

        • September 20, 2011 at 4:43 PM

          These discrepancies give weight to Widmark’s initial suspicions about Caine. Maybe he masterminded the whole thing!

          • September 20, 2011 at 6:26 PM

            But he never suspected the bees!

        • September 20, 2011 at 5:02 PM

          Michael Caine would kick your ass if he knew you were doubting his bee seeing skills.

    • September 20, 2011 at 12:45 PM

      Something else I loved about the movie was how the closeups of swarming bees always looked like they were being fired out of a wood chipper. I guess they were feeling pretty comfortable about manhandling the bees since they removed all of their stingers.

      • September 20, 2011 at 4:50 PM

        Very true. I think these mutant bees were also on bee crack.

      • September 20, 2011 at 5:04 PM

        Dude, you don’t live in a place that has to deal with those bees…

        Africanized bees actually DO shoot out of tree stumps like that if you piss them off…I’ve seen it with my own two eyes…

        • September 20, 2011 at 6:27 PM

          So stop throwing Molotov cocktails at them and they’ll stop doing that. Sheesh, Paul…

          • September 21, 2011 at 8:05 AM

            You can’t stop my Molotov-style Nate, you just can’t…

  4. September 20, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    Any of you guys see this? “This film is listed among The 100 Worst Movies Ever Made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s book THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE® MOVIE GUIDE.”

    • September 20, 2011 at 6:28 PM

      I did see that, but I don’t know if I agree with that. 100 worst ever? It’s bad, but it’s mildly entertaining, unintentionally funny, and has some solid acting.

      • September 21, 2011 at 8:06 AM

        True, but still an interesting tid-bit.

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