A Bee B-Movie
To my knowledge there are two versions of "The Swarm", one 116 minute version and an 155 minute version, I have only seen the 155 minute version and it wasn't good. Now "The Swarm" has the notorious accolade of being one of the worst 100 movies ever made, it's not that bad but coming from disaster movie supremo Irwin Allen it certainly isn't good either. It is a case that Allen has taken the idea of a swarm of killer bees and tried to turn it into a standard disaster movie, using a formula not too different to what he used in many of his disaster movies. But it ends up over blown, over long and not overly exciting although it does end up occasionally overly funny but that is more to do with what is bad about it rather than for anything intentional.
The military lead by Gen. Slater (Richard Widmark) swoop onto a base after it goes quiet and discover Entomologist Brad Crane (Michael Caine - The Eagle Has Landed) who says that the base was attacked by a swarm of African Killer Bees. Whilst initially disparaging it turns out he was not lying as survivor Helena (Katharine Ross - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) confirms what happened and soon it comes to be known that this giant swarm of bees has attacked a family out for a picnic. With the threat of another attack from this swarm General Slater, Brad and a team of specialists must come up with a way to kill the bees and help those who end up stung before the bees cause mass destruction across the state of Texas.
Where do you start with "The Swarm" well to be honest I like the idea of this swarm of killer bees causing death and destruction, it makes it a creature/disaster movie mash up. As such there is that usual Irwin Allen disaster movie formula in place, first half is all about introducing us to the various characters and the danger, the middle then has the danger becoming the focus as people die before we get the escape at the end. This combines nicely, although also amusingly with the creature feature element as those who are stung just once or twice end up delirious and having hallucinations of giant bees. It is a little cheesy, okay it is big time cheesy but it is a fun concept which tries to be horror, sci-fi and thriller.
But then there is plenty which is wrong with "The Swarm" and the first of which is the scale, at 155 minutes it is bum numbingly long and full of subplots which end up having no real importance. Don't get me wrong as a romantic subplot between 3 old timers played by Ben Johnson, Fred MacMurray and Olivia de Havilland is nice but in the bigger picture it is ultimately unimportant other than giving us 3 possible victims and 3 famous actors. The other romantic subplot as Brad and Helena have feelings for each other whilst a little more important also takes up too much time. The irony is that this longer edition feels like there are huge chunks been left on the cutting room floor and it makes it clunky as we go from a scene where say Brad is trapped in a building surrounded by the swarm only for the next scene to see him back at the military base. Hopefully the shorter version cuts out much of the unnecessary and in doing so cuts out some of the issues with it being clunky.
Adding to the issues is the dialogue, in fact dialogue, characters and acting because it is a right mismatch of badness going on. Take Michael Caine who seems to have adopted a stiff face and coldness when it comes to Brad Crane, it's wrong but you almost wonder if Caine did this to stop himself from laughing at some of the diabolical dialogue he had to spout. Katharine Ross certainly struggles with some of her dialogue and in those moments where as Helena she longingly looks at Brad you can see her trying to hide a smile. What is kind of surprising is the sheer number of big names because whilst Irwin Allen always had big name casts in these sort of movies there are plenty such as Richard Chamberlain, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, Fred MacMurray and Olivia de Havilland in very small parts. To be totally blunt in the entire movie there is only one good performance which is from Richard Widmark who as Gen. Slater does give it his all to try and play the grouchy General in a convincing manner.
Of course with a movie about giant swarms of killer bees you cannot ignore the special effects and again it is a mismatch. When we see from a distance a swarm of bees engulf a helicopter it looks fake, comically fake but then when you get the close up and a shot from inside a helicopter with bees covering the window it is stunning. The same with a scene where a young boy tries to drive away from a swarm, the car smothered in bees is terrifying although when we get him hallucinating about a giant bee in his hospital room it is comically bad.
What this all boils down to is that "The Swarm" is not the terrible movie that some make out to be, it is simply not as good as it should be. The biggest problem for me is that at 155 minutes it is seriously over long and makes it a bit of a slog as subplots with no importance pad out the first half.