Disaster Du Jour #3: The Swarm
By Bert Ehrmann
November 2, 2012
Or - "I watched The Swarm so you don't have to!"
What's with Disaster Du Jour? One of the most popular types of films decade after decade are disaster movies and it seems like these films are a reflection of the times we're living in, or at least a reflection of what we're frightened of at the time. In Disaster Du Jour, I'd like to explore disaster movies to see how they interrelate with one and other and how they fit into the times they were filmed.
The 1970s were a time chock full of real-life terrors; from communist world domination fears, to nuclear proliferation around the globe, oil embargoes, terrorism… And all these fears were translated into a golden age of disaster films throughout that decade. Back then there were disaster films about runaway planes, earthquakes and global ecological catastrophes to name a few. But one of the most bizarre of these disaster films has to be The Swarm (1978) (trailer).
In The Swarm, killer bees have made their way up through Central America and have invaded the US where they start by attacking a military installation and killing everyone inside. After the attack, a team of soldiers exploring the base for survivors finds Brad Crane (Michael Caine), a scientist studying the bees who's followed them onto the base.
Crane is so trusted that he's put in charge into leading the operation in eliminating the bees before they swarm through the heartland and sting everyone to death. The military, ordered to answer to Crane, can track the bees on radar and wants to take the sensible option by using pesticides to kill them. But Crane is against this, shouting that the pesticides will do more damage than the swarm would.
Which makes a little sense until the swarm buzzes into a small town and kills 200+ people. But Crane, without a good plan of his own, won't relent. He shouts more about how bad the pesticides would be to the other plants and animals, seemingly unconcerned as to how many people might be killed by the bees by doing nothing. Crane relies on a team of scientists, including Drs. Krim (Henry Fonda) and Hubbard (Richard Chamberlain), to formulate a bee-killing plan that won't hurt the natural ecology in exterminating the bees.*
What the creators of The Swarm so desperately wanted their film to be was Jaws (1975), but with bees in the place of a great white shark. But what these creators failed to realize, or simply ignored, is that while sharks ignite some primal fear in people, bees are perceived as more of a nuisance than anything for those not allergic to them.
But even with bees not being as scary as sharks I could see a movie like The Swarm being somewhat fun. Instead, it's a movie that takes itself deadly seriously, with Crane screaming at military commanders and military commanders screaming at their subordinates and townspeople screaming as they're stung to death by the bees.
The only shining moment in The Swarm, and it's a small dim one in a movie full of bore, is when the bees attack Houston, Texas. There are some interesting bits here where the military tries to burn down Houston with flame throwers if that's even possible and bees breaking into the military headquarters to attack those in command as if the bees knew to attack that one particular building over all the others.
The sad thing is that I remember seeing The Swarm a few times on TV as a kid and kind'a digging it. In fact, I must've seen it enough times that even watching it today I could still recall certain scenes from the movie, specifically the kids hiding in garbage cans from the bees and the slow motion shots of people covered in bees dancing their "OH-MY-GOD-THE-BEES-ARE-STINGING-ME!" dance of death.
If there's any redeeming value to The Swarm is that it's got to be one of the worst big budget disaster movies I've ever seen. And I've sat through many, many disaster movies.