The Swarm (film)
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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Irwin Allen|
|Produced by||Irwin Allen|
|Screenplay by||Stirling Silliphant|
|Based on||The Swarm|
by Arthur Herzog
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Cinematography||Fred J. Koenekamp|
|Edited by||Harold F. Kress|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|116 minutes (original cut)|
156 minutes (extended cut)
|Budget||$11.5 million or $21 million|
|Box office||$7.7 million (US and Canada rentals)|
The Swarm is a 1978 American disaster–horror film about a killer-bee invasion of Texas. It was adapted from a novel of the same name by Arthur Herzog. Directed by Irwin Allen, the cast features Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, José Ferrer, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Bradford Dillman, Fred MacMurray, and Henry Fonda. It received very negative reviews from critics and was a box-office failure. The Swarm has been considered to be one of the worst movies ever made. Despite this, it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Paul Zastupnevich).
A group of soldiers led by Major Baker (Bradford Dillman) is ordered to investigate the basement level of a missile base, which appears to have been attacked, and the garrison all but wiped out. After Baker contacts his commander, General Slater (Richard Widmark), they begin to investigate a civilian van found parked at the base. It is revealed to be owned by a scientist, Dr. Bradford Crane (Michael Caine), one of the few survivors of the attack, but not someone stationed at the base. Slater orders two helicopters to track a large airborne mass moving slowly away from the base. The mass is revealed to be a swarm of bees, which engulfs the two helicopters, killing their crews. Crane insists to Slater that the base was attacked by this swarm, composed of deadly African killer bees. Slater does not trust Crane, but Helena Anderson (Katharine Ross), one of the base's doctors, supports Crane's story.
Meanwhile, in the countryside, a family is attacked by a swarm of the bees. Their teenaged son, Paul Durant (Christian Juttner), manages to escape in a Mustang, although he is also stung, and crashes into the Marysville town square, where the citizens are preparing for the annual flower festival. The boy is brought into the hands of military personnel, where he hallucinates a vision of giant bees attacking him, on account of the after effects of the bee stings.
Much to Slater's annoyance, Crane is put in charge by the President and calls in many experts to help. Wheelchair-bound Dr. Walter Krim (Henry Fonda) arrives at the base and confirms to Crane that the very war they have feared for a long time has started with the bees. At the gates of the base, Slater must confront angry country bumpkin Jed Hawkins (Slim Pickens), who demands to see the dead body of his son, who was killed by the bees. Hawkins takes the body bag and departs, leaving the entire watching crowd silent over the loss. Slater suggests airdropping poison on the swarm, but Crane considers the ecological possibilities of the situation, and overrules him, instead focusing on a solution that will kill the bees without harming people and the environment.
Recovering from his earlier bee attack, Paul and two of his friends go in search of the hive to firebomb it, which results only in angering the bees, which make their way to Marysville and kill hundreds, including some children at the local school. Crane and Helena take shelter at the local diner, with pregnant café waitress Rita (Patty Duke). Reporter Anne McGregor (Lee Grant), watches from the safety of her news van, hoping to get some exciting footage about the siege. After this most recent attack, Slater suggests evacuating many of the townsfolk in a train. However, the bees engulf the train, as well, causing it to derail and crash, killing most of the occupants, including a love triangle made up of school superintendent Maureen Scheuster (Olivia De Havilland), retiree Felix Austin (Ben Johnson), and town mayor and drug-store owner Clarence Tuttle (Fred MacMurray).
Confined to a hospital bed, Rita gives birth to her child, falling in love with the doctor in the process, but Paul, who has fallen ill again, succumbs to the after effects of the stings and dies, devastating Helena. The savage swarm heads for Houston, so Crane drops ecofriendly poison pellets designed by Dr. Hubbard (Richard Chamberlain) on them, but the bees ignore the pellets, evidently intelligent enough to sense danger. Working on an antidote to the bees' venom, Dr. Krim self-injects to keep track of the results; the trial proves fatal and Krim dies from the effects of the venom. Meanwhile, nuclear power plant manager Dr. Andrews (José Ferrer), ignoring the warnings of Dr. Hubbard, is convinced that his plant can withstand the attacks of the bees. However, the bees invade the plant, killing both Andrews and Hubbard, as well as completely destroying the plant and wiping out an entire town.
Washington orders that operations to stop the bees be placed under military control and Slater takes charge. He orders the evacuated city of Houston to be deliberately torched by soldiers with flamethrowers, hoping the conflagration will destroy the swarm. Helena, who was stung during the attack on Marysville, falls seriously ill again. Crane analyzes tapes from the original bee attack of the base and comes to the conclusion that their alarm system attracted the swarm into the base as the sound resembled a signal from the swarm's queen. The bees break into the headquarters building so Slater and Baker use a flamethrower to allow Crane and Helena to escape, but at the cost of their own lives. Helicopters successfully manage to lure the bees out to sea by placing floating buoys with speakers emitting the sound Crane discovered into an area of water doused with oil. When the swarm arrives, the oil is set ablaze by missiles fired from the nearby coast, destroying all of the bees.
- Michael Caine as Dr. Bradford Crane
- Katharine Ross as Helena Anderson
- Richard Widmark as General Thaddeus Slater
- Richard Chamberlain as Dr. Hubbard
- Olivia de Havilland as Maureen Schuester
- Ben Johnson as Felix Austin
- Lee Grant as Anne MacGregor
- José Ferrer as Dr. Andrews
- Patty Duke as Rita Bard
- Slim Pickens as Jud Hawkins
- Bradford Dillman as Major Baker
- Fred MacMurray as Clarence Tuttle
- Henry Fonda as Dr. Walter Krim
- Cameron Mitchell as General Thompson
- Christian Juttner as Paul Durant
- Morgan Paull as Dr. Newman
- Alejandro Rey as Dr. Martinez
- Don "Red" Barry as Pete Harris
The film was announced in 1974 at the height of the disaster-movie craze. It was part of $38 million worth of projects Irwin Allen had lined up, others including The Day the World Ended (a project which was retitled and released in 1980 as When Time Ran Out....)  The script was written by Stirling Silliphant, who had written The Towering Inferno for Allen. He said in December 1974 that Allen hoped to start filming in April 1975. Production was delayed in part because Allen decided to leave Fox for Warner Bros.
Estimates of the numbers of bees used in the production ranged between 15 million and 22 million, including 800,000 bees with their stingers removed to enable the cast to work safely with them. About 100 people were employed in the production to care for and transport the bees during the film shoot. Only one cast member, Olivia de Havilland, was stung during the production.
It was one of two disaster films (the other being Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)) directed solely by the "master of disaster" Allen, who had experience directing several films and many episodes of his TV shows. The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John J.B. Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made, where Wilson states that under Allen's unsubtle direction, "despite the enormous production budget, The Swarm turned the tale of an invasion of killer bees into the ultimate B movie."
Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "nothing less than the ultimate apotheosis of yesterday's B-movie." Comparing the film unfavorably to recent blockbusters such as Star Wars and Grease, which also evoked old B-movies, he wrote, "Allen merely reproduces a tacky genre while spending a great deal of money doing it. There's not a frame of film, not a twist of plot, not a line of dialogue, not a performance in The Swarm that suggests real appreciation for film history, only a slavish desire to imitate it. That's not enough." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1.5 out of 4 stars and wrote that it was "surprisingly flaccid in its thrills", explaining: "In these days of Star Wars (which was made for less money), it takes more than a fleet of helicopters and a flameout on the Gulf of Mexico to convince audiences that they are being dazzled." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety called it a "disappointing and tired non-thriller. Killer bees periodically interrupt the arch writing, stilted direction and ludicrous acting."
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film was "fun in its primitive way", adding that "one wishes it were silent, as were the DeMille epics of the '20s it so closely resembles." Tom Zito of The Washington Post wrote, "While subtlety has never been a strong theme in Allen's films, The Swarm does manage to turn the industrious little honeybee into a menace so seemingly convincing that America may go bee-crazy this summer." Richard Velt in the Wilmington Morning Star stated "The Swarm may not be the worst movie ever made. I'd have to see them all to be sure. It's certainly as bad as any I've seen." Velt also stated "All the actors involved in this fiasco should be ashamed". James Baker of Newsweek declared, "It may be early, but it's probably safe to nominate The Swarm for the worst movie of the year."
The Sunday Times described The Swarm as "simply the worst film ever made", while Time Out magazine called The Swarm a "risibly inadequate disaster movie". Leslie Halliwell called The Swarm a "very obvious disaster movie with risible dialogue", and suggested its commercial failure was partly due to the fact that prior to its release, several American television movies with similar plots had been broadcast.
The film grossed $5,168,142 in its opening weekend from more than 1,200 theatres and earned Warner Bros. rentals in the United States and Canada of $7.7 million. It was a considered a commercial failure.
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Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
|Soundtrack album by|
|Recorded||1978 (The Burbank Studios)|
The score originally was released on LP and cassette on Warner Bros. Records in 1978 at the same time of the film's release, but has long since gone out of print. An expanded, remastered score was released in 2002 in a limited edition by Prometheus Records and contained over 40 minutes of previously unreleased material. It has also gone out of print. In 2020, La-La Land Records issued a two-CD set with the complete film score and the 1978 soundtrack album.
Home video and alternate versions
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The film was originally released in theaters at 116 minutes, but when released on laserdisc in 1992, it was extended to 156 minutes with additional scenes. This extended version is also included on all DVD releases worldwide, alongside a 22-minute documentary, "Inside The Swarm", and the original theatrical trailer.
The film was also released on Blu-ray in September 2018, again through Warner Archive. Like the two previous DVD releases, it contains the 156-minute extended version, the original theatrical trailer, and the 22-minute making-of documentary.
In the U.S., the film was given a PG rating by the MPAA. In the U.K., the film was released with an A certificate in 1978. The BBFC rated the extended version 12.
The ending credits to the film included a disclaimer which read: "The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hardworking American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation."
According to an article in HR published on February 24, 1978, the American Bee Association considered taking legal action against the film's producers for defaming the western honey bee, but whether the lawsuit was ever filed or not is unknown.
- Wilson, John M. (March 18, 1979). "THE OVERSEAS CONNECTION: TAKING STARS TO MARKET". Los Angeles Times. p. o3.
- Christopher T Koetting, Mind Warp!: The Fantastic True Story of Roger Corman's New World Pictures, Hemlock Books. 2009 p 150-151
- Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All-Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. pp. M140-196.
- Halliwell's film and video guide 2002 edited by John Walker. London. HarperCollins Entertainment, 2001. ISBN 0007122659 (p. 804).
- Huddy, John. (June 9, 1974). "Film disasters......hit Hollywood". Chicago Tribune. p. e18.
- Gary Arnold. (December 10, 1974). "A Burning Subject". The Washington Post. p. B11.
- ROBERT LINDSEY. (October 12, 1977). "A Cast of Millions Swarms on Screen". New York Times. p. 43.
- The Swarm at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
- "The Swarm (1978)".
- Canby, Vincent (July 23, 1978). "'The Swarm'—A Bumbling 'B'". The New York Times. D20.
- Siskel, Gene (July 18, 1978). "'Swarm': Lots of bees but hardly any honey". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 7.
- Murphy, Arthur D. (July 19, 1978). "Film Reviews: The Swarm". p. 20. Cite magazine requires
- Thomas, Kevin (July 15, 1978). "'Swarm'—Barks Worse Than Bite". Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 8.
- Zito, Tom (July 15, 1978). "'The Swarm': It's The Real Thing". The Washington Post. E1.
- Richard Velt ""Swarm" Not Recommended". July 21, 1978. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
- Baker, James (August 14, 1978). "The Sting". Newsweek. 62.
- The worst movie ever? The Guardian, April 26, 2001. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
- "The Swarm" Retrieved March 1, 2014.
- "The Swarm Is Here". Variety. July 18, 1978. p. 18. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
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