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The Swarm
1978 - PG - 156 Mins.
Director: Irwin Allen
Producer: Irwin Allen
Written By: Stirling Silliphant
Starring: Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Bradford Dillman, Slim Pickens
Review by: Jake Cremins
   

Half the time Michael Caine looks like this. The rest of the time he looks bored. Actually he looks bored even when he's yelling.
Where to start with 'The Swarm?' It is so awful in so many ways at once that, I'm sad to report, its neatest trick is finding a way to be staggeringly boring anyway. The main problem is that the premise is fine for a nice, cheap monster movie that runs about 90 minutes; with Irwin Allen at the controls it has become a two-and-a-half-hour Disaster Movie. Instead of good, fast-moving trash, we get an endless slog in which a cast of twenty of your favorite embarrassed Oscar winners perform long scenes of tired soap opera, all to fill in the gaps between the three or four good parts where something blows up.

An interesting (well, sort of interesting) study could be made about why some disaster movies work and some don't. They're all more or less the same, it seems: star-studded cast, dumb human drama, big life-threatening disasters with extras dying left and right. Maybe the key is the type of disaster. A capsized ocean liner creates a tense struggle as we watch a hardy band of survivors make their way to the surface. A luxury high-rise on fire is the stage for a group of helpless people trapped on the top floor as firefighters try to rescue them. Even a swarm of African killer bees could have created a tense movie—the book worked pretty well, believe it or not—but in this movie they're not a situation, just a fact. Most of this movie is devoted to showing sweaty actors arguing with each other in control rooms, as the bees do their thing elsewhere.

The bees aren't even a believable fact, at that. In the book, as I recall, they stung people with fatally toxic venom, bred successfully over a long hot summer, and began attacking people all over the country. But bee stings alone do not a disaster movie make, and so here the bees down helicopters, crash trains, and in a particularly memorable scene not only cause the explosion of a nuclear power plant but apparently survive it. In the book a group of scientists worked day and night doing research to figure out a way to use the bee's natural habits against them; in the movie they decide to set Houston on fire. Ah, Hollywood.

What's surprising is that all of this isn't funnier. Extremely dedicated bad movie fans will find a lot to giggle over here--I will always treasure the helicopter pilot yelling "Bees! Bees! Millions of bees!"--but it's separated by long slabs of grueling boredom. There is, for instance, an intensely dull and stupid love triangle that goes on between Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson for about an hour. If it were played for drama it could have been hilarious, but it's played for laughs and so it is agonizing. Johnson and MacMurray grit their teeth and recite competitive dialogue that would embarrass the cast of a beach party movie, as de Havilland flutters her eyelashes and tortures us with a Southern accent so phony you want to hit her with something really ironic, like the hardcover edition of 'Gone With the Wind.' On and on this goes, as we wait for her to pick one of the old coots and get it over with already, and you know what happens then? The subplot is finally resolved with that favorite screenwriting dodge, the old "make the train they're all riding in get attacked by bees, roll down a hill and explode" trick. When are we going to see a movie that tries something new for a change?

Luckily the ad campaign for 'The Swarm' is about as funny as 'The Swarm' itself, and a whole lot shorter. We watch the passenger train and the nuclear power plant explode as a narrator solemnly tells us that this is a new, different and yes, a *better* kind of disaster movie...a disaster movie based on SCIENTIFIC FACT. Anyone who has read the book and watches the commercials for this is either going to laugh or cry--and isn't that, after all, really why we go to the movies?
 
Movie Guru Rating
Unwatchable.  One of the worst of the year.  Skip it.
  0.5 out of 5 stars

 
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