BY JOHN BILLINGER
People nowadays seem to do nothing but complain about the number of superhero films that get made, including griping about how they almost overshadow the other films that come out. These people are all like, “Oh, I liked things better back in the good old days.” However, in my opinion, the abundance of superhero films is nothing new. It is just another example of a popular genre taking over the film industry in the long history of Hollywood. It seems like every decade, there’s been some franchise that has overshadowed everything. Take the 1970s, for example.
In the 70s, there were a whole bunch of disaster films. I’m talking about films like “Airport” and “Earthquake.” These films featured a large ensemble of professional actors in a pretty hokey film. These are the kinds of films that were parodied in the 1980s, such as “Airplane” and “The Poseidon Adventure (two of my favorite movies). The biggest name in the disaster movie field was producer Irwin Allen. He produced two of the most well-known disaster films of this era, “The Poseidon Adventure” and The Towering Inferno (a movie which is a bit overcooked in my opinion, it’s just a human barbeque at the end of the day). These films were big, loud, explosive, somewhat corny, and hugely successful. Sadly, the genre slowly lost steam, mainly due to films like the one I’m talking about today: Irwin Allen’s epic b(ee) movie “The Swarm.” He even did double duty of directing the thing.
The film was made to capitalize on the killer bee scare of the 70s. Apparently, people thought that killer bees from Africa were going to come down here and kill us all. Don’t ask me how; I’m just telling you how it was. Of course, this all turned out to be a complete waste of time, but that didn’t stop Allen from making a movie exploiting it. Made on a $21 million dollar budget (which was $11 million more than what Star Wars was made for), they got an all-star cast including the likes of Michael Caine and Henry Fonda, an all-star insect cast of 800,000 bees with removed stingers, and when released into theaters in 1978, it made $7 million. Ouch.
The plot is as follows:
Dr. Bradford Crane (played by Caine) and General Slater (played by Richard Widmark) are investigating the mysterious deaths of soldiers who were killed by an unknown force in a Texas army base. Fortunately, the culprit is found out very quickly to have been African Killer Bees, who have made their way to the United States through Hurricanes, I guess. The Bees soon wreak havoc on the country, and it’s up to Crane, Slater, scientist Helena Anderson (played by Katharine Ross), and Dr. Walter Krim (played by Fonda) to find a way to stop the bees. Meanwhile, there are also a bunch of other subplots that have nothing to do with the film.
So when it comes to praise for this film, there isn’t much. One positive that does come up, though, is the Bees. Whenever the Bees are attacking, it’s awesome. By awesome, I mean awesome in a “so bad it’s a good” cheesy kind of way – because, at the end of the day, it’s a literal B(ee) movie. It’s all as ridiculous as it sounds, and if you’re watching it with someone, it’s fun to make fun of. Just look at the climax of the film: a bunch of army guys armed with flame throwers vs. the bees. It offers a lot of material to work with.
I also have to give the film some credit, because I know that it couldn’t have been easy to work on this film. I mean, they had to get a bunch of bees, they had to make sure no one on set was allergic to bees, they had to get a beekeeper, and then there’s the climax with the guys equipped with flame throwers. This is the kind of film that you watch, and it’ll make you ponder, “People actually didn’t die while making this, right?” I can imagine that the cast and crew had quite a time working on this film.
The special effects, for the most part, are decent. It’s all bees flying around, people running around, and stuff blowing up. You get what you pay for. That said, there is one pretty bad effect. For some reason, whenever someone in the film gets stung by a bee and lives, they hallucinate a giant bee. I don’t know why either, and it makes for a bad effect. I suppose you could say that that particular effect is unbeelievable. I’m sorry. I had to make a joke like that at some point.
As for the rest of this film…ugh.
First off, the film is way too long for what it is. The film is 2.5 hours long. Apparently, when the film was originally released, it was two hours. When it was released on TV and DVD, all the extra deleted content was added back in, which means we get a bunch of pointless, boring scenes that have nothing to do with the bees. For example, there’s this subplot about two elderly guys attempting to court this one elderly principal, there’s this doctor who’s implied to be in love with this random pregnant lady, and there’s this one scene featuring actor Slim Pickens (who gets his own title card in the opening credits even though he’s just in one scene) trying to get his dead son’s body. None of these scenes add anything to the plot whatsoever and only will prove to any aspiring filmmakers unfortunate enough to watch this, that sometimes you should cut unnecessary scenes.
Then there’s the important plot stuff that they couldn’t leave out. The stuff with Michael Caine and company. How does all that hold up? Not very well. A lot of it is just these guys talking. Nothing really interesting going on. They’re just talking about the bees, how they’re gonna kill the bees, and the whole time you’re waiting for them to cut back to the bees. All the characters are basically who they’re supposed to be. You got the Scientist, the angry General, the Female Scientist, etc. All the actors play exactly who they’re supposed to play. It’s dull, and when you have to spend two hours of film with these guys, you’re going to be pretty bored until the bees show up.
There is also one aspect to the human scenes that definitely hasn’t aged well. As stated earlier, the bees in the movie are African Killer Bees, and everyone in the movie refers to them as such, except for the General in the film. He almost exclusively refers to them as the “Africans.” As you can imagine, this leads to a number of lines that sound horrible out of context. Heck, they sound horrible even with context.
Overall, I don’t really have much else to say about the film. I thought the bee scenes were fun, but the rest was boring. If you’re really curious, I’d say watch it but skip to the bee scenes. Trust me, the half-hour of bee shenanigans is much more interesting than two hours of humans talking.
I’ve got no trivia, but I just want to bring attention to an interesting disclaimer in the end credits.