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Irwin Allen
Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland
Writing Credits:
Stirling Silliphant, based on the novel by Arthur Herzog Jr.

...is here!
Rated PG.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Surround
French Digital Mono
English, Spanish, French, Portuguese

Runtime: 155 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 8/6/2002

• “Inside The Swarm” Documentary
• Theatrical Trailer
• Cast and Crew


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The Swarm (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 26, 2003)

When The Swarm hit movie screens in the summer of 1978, it represented the last gasp for that era’s disaster flicks. With films like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, producer Irwin Allen established a solid formula for big-budget, star-studded spectaculars, and the pictures did good business. Shockingly, Inferno even managed to land an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

Disaster films enjoyed a resurgence in the Nineties as movies like Twister and Titanic struck box office gold. However, those movies lacked the star power to match up with the Allen formula. 1996’s Independence Day wasn’t a traditional disaster flick. While it included a prominent cast and lots of destruction, classic disaster offerings needed some sort of natural force, whereas the mayhem in ID4 came from extraterrestrial sources. Still, it was fun to see a resurgence in the genre.

I retain a definite affection for the flicks from the Seventies. I grew up on them and avidly followed them. The Swarm is the last one that excited me, at least before I saw it theatrically. Unfortunately, despite my love for the genre, I didn’t much care for The Swarm. Nonetheless, when I got the opportunity to see it again almost a quarter of a century later, I jumped at the chance. Would it still seem lame now? Read and see!

The Swarm doesn’t bother with much plot. At the very start of the film, we learn that millions of bees attacked a military installation and are heading southwest. Expert entomologist Brad Crane (Michael Caine) immediately pounces on the situation, and his ideas of how to deal with the situation meet resistance from military chief General Slater (Richard Widmark). However, the president authorizes Crane to use whatever tactics he deems necessary, so the general must acquiesce. The pair quickly meet a survivor of the attack, Dr. Helena Anderson (Katharine Ross).

Once the film establishes this military vs. the bees scenario, we start to see the insects’ effect on the rest of the world. After they split the military base, the swarm flies toward Houston, and that takes them through little Marysville Texas. First they polish off the Durant family while on a picnic. Only young Paul (Christian Juttner, who also appeared in a much better 1978 release from Warner Bros., Robert Zemeckis’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a film that merits a DVD much more than this one) survives, though he’s left horribly traumatized by the event. The other townsfolk slowly learn of the threat as well and eventually need to evacuate.

And the bees keep a-coming! All of Crane’s plans can’t stop them, and they buzz straight through Marysville. They take down a number of other spots all as they continue on their bee-line to Houston. The bees are immune to the usual pesticides, and their venom possesses much stronger toxins than normal; only two or three stings can kill. Will Crane and his crew finally find a way to stop them once they reach the big city?

Or here’s a better question: who cares? The Swarm offers a film of stunning incompetence. Rarely have so many been wasted on so little. The film seems to consist of little more than one silly moment after another. If we don’t watch Paul as he has a goofy vision of a giant bee, we hear ridiculous lines such as “Is it me you’re seeing or a bee?” The military puts up a roadblock to stop the bees, and patients who go into cardiac arrest receive no medical treatment to revive them; doctors just look at them and sigh sadly.

The sad part is that The Swarm does waste so much talent. Irwin Allen produced some decent films prior to this, but at least he had the good sense to hire other directors. Here he takes the reins himself, and it’s not a pretty sight. Would the film have worked better with another force behind the camera? Perhaps not, but it couldn’t have been any worse.

The actors don’t help. The Swarm provides an almost absurdly-long roster of Oscar winners: Caine, Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, and José Ferrer all took home acting trophies at some point in their careers. In addition, we find talents such as Ross, Widmark, Fred MacMurray, and Slim Pickens. All lower themselves to the level of the material and overact relentlessly. Caine feels like the worst offender, as he screams and spits most of his lines whether they merit that treatment or not. Perhaps he simply couldn’t believe he agreed to star in this dismal clunker and took out his self-loathing on his lines.

I could continue, but why bother? The Swarm is a disaster of a disaster film. From the stiff and stupid characters and stilted dialogue to the laughable action and silly techniques, the movie seems almost impossibly campy and cheesy. I didn’t think they made films this terrible.

Note that the DVD release of The Swarm features an unrated “international theatrical version”. Since I hadn’t seen the original in decades, I can’t personally comment on the differences between this one and the US release. The “international” edition runs an extra 40 minutes, though.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B / Bonus D+

The Swarm appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, the picture looked quite good, but a few nagging issues dropped my grade somewhat.

Sharpness appeared positive most of the time. Wide shots tended to come across as slightly soft, but those instances seemed fairly infrequent. Otherwise, the image was reasonably crisp and distinct. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns. Print flaws offered moderate problems. I saw light grain at times and also detected periodic examples of grit, speckles, a few marks and scratches, and some dirt. For a film of this vintage, though, the film appeared to remain in fairly good shape.

Although some tinted lighting looked a bit heavy and muddy, colors usually came across well. The palette tended toward natural hues, and the DVD reproduced these with good clarity and vividness. Skin tones did tend toward the pink side of the spectrum at times, however. Black levels looked generally solid, and shadow detail was reasonably deep without too much opacity. Ultimately, The Swarm has held up fairly well over the years.

Though it exhibited a number of dated qualities, the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of The Swarm seemed quite good for a film of this vintage. The soundfield stood out as particularly strong. The forward spectrum displayed very nice stereo imaging for the music, and effects offered a fine sense of atmosphere and ambience. Elements moved neatly between channels and created a good feeling of place. Surrounds added a surprising amount of information themselves, especially during bee-intensive shots. The swarm effects swelled up nicely from the rears and became quite immersive.

The soundtrack suffered somewhat when I examined audio quality, though it still seemed acceptable for the era. Speech came across as somewhat thin and tinny, and I noticed some edginess as well. Effects tended to seem reasonably accurate and full, though the swarm sounds could be too dull; those elements came across as rather muddy and bass-heavy. The score provided the most positive parts of the track, as the music seemed nicely robust and rich. In the end, The Swarm earned a “B” mainly due to its strong soundfield.

A few extras round out the package. Of primary interest is Inside The Swarm, a documentary from 1978. The 22-minute and 10-second program offers the standard combination of movie snippets, shots from the set, and interviews. In the latter domain, we hear from actors Michael Caine, Henry Fonda, Patty Duke Astin, Katharine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Bradford Dillman, Ben Johnson, and Olivia de Havilland as well as stunt man Mike Johnson and stunt actor Loren Janes.

Overall, the program maintains a heavily promotional tone and it provides very little insight about the production. The interview bits largely warn of the “reality” displayed in the movie, and we see many movie scenes. Some of the behind the scenes snippets offer some good material, especially when we watch director Irwin Allen frantically shout “more violent! More violent!” during the filming of a train wreck. However, for the most part the show remains pretty lifeless.

In addition to “Inside”, we find the film’s theatrical trailer - presented anamorphic 2.35:1 with monaural audio – and a Cast and Crew domain. As with most Warner Bros. DVDs, mostly this just lists the names of participants. Only Irwin Allen’s entry allows you to inspect a short biography.

And that’s it for the extras! Given the relatively low list price of The Swarm, it comes as little surprise that it lacks many supplements, but the situation seems disappointing just because at least one previously announced feature failed to make the cut. Initial reports indicated the disc would include an audio commentary with Michael Caine, but it doesn’t. That’s too bad – I’d love to hear the actor reminisce about this stinker.

As one with a fondness for the disaster flicks of the Seventies, I wanted to like The Swarm. However, since I thought it stunk when I was 11, I shouldn’t have expected the like it more at 35. Indeed, the film remains a clunker of monumental proportions, and the fact the DVD includes an extended version doesn’t help matters; more isn’t better in a case such as this. The disc does feature fairly strong picture and sound, however. It doesn’t include much in the way of extras, but given a reasonable list price of less than $20, fans should be pleased with the package. As for other folks, unless you can’t get enough of campy Seventies schlock, stay far away from The Swarm.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5263 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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