The Swarm (1978)
All notes and summary below by Stephen Weaver (2006).
Starring Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain.
Directed: Irwin Allen
Bee Kill Factor: Reasons why a bee should be an effective monster.
1.Poison: Bees are quite venomous and do actually kill people.
2.Reality: Deaths by bee stings are common, and killer bees are actual problems in the world.
3.Numbers: Bees practically began the concept of swarming, and can overtake a person.
4.Structure: Bees have a naturally formed structure: no artificial “scientist made them smarter” is needed.
5.Flight: Bees are able to fly, while humans cannot.
6.Prevalence: Bees are everywhere in the United States, so they could easily attack anyone at any time.
7.Borderstepper Quality: Bees, like all insects, have body forms completely unlike humans, but have a social structure frighteningly similar.
The Swarm begins with the image of a swarm of biohazard suited soldiers searching a military missile base near Houston, Texas. They move without speaking, nameless and faceless. They pass over the slumped bodies of military workers in the communication center. When they start pulling their masks off, one explains that there was no invading force was found, only one empty van. They have no idea what happened here, until one man walks through the door: Dr. Bradford Crane, an entomologist. As the military questions Dr. Crane, showing the idea of military incompetence as they are ordered to analyze the sunflower seeds he is carrying, the radar picks up something outside moving at seven miles per hour. The helicopters outside are taken down by a large mass of bees. It seems that so far, this film shows military incompetence in comparison to the frightening order of the bees.
The attendant commander, General Slater, questions Dr. Crane, trying to confirm his credentials. Dr. Crane apparently saw the bees and came to the military base with his van full of equipment. No one believes him until Captain Helena Anderson, military doctor, confirms his credentials, so they must accept his word. General Slater acknowledges that these bees “accomplished what no other invading force except germ warfare could do: neutralize a military ICBM site.”
As the military attempts to figure out the truth, a mother, father and son prepare for a family picnic in the forest. In a well-done, horrific scene, the bees attack the parents while the son, Paul, watches. He manages to escape by driving the bee-covered car, but not before he sees his parents die. He drives crazily into town, where he is able to describe the situation.
Back in the ICBM site, Dr. Crane’s credentials are finally fully confirmed by the president’s scientific aid, and Crane is placed in command of the operations, much to the chagrin of General Slater. The general still investigates Crane, after his attempts to inventory Crane’s things is thwarted. Crane orders that all the professionals he has listed should be flown in, as “the war has started.” Dr. Crane and Captain Anderson find Paul and check into his condition, as he has begun to hallucinate a giant bee in the room. Dr. Crane talks him out of the hallucination, then investigates the picnic site, finding that these bees are very strong and have lived here for some time. For some time, we do not actually see the bees; the suspenseful appearances versus disappearances are done well, as if the mere concept of these bees being present is enough.
After Dr. Crane returns to the base, he finds that his entomological colleagues do not agree on the facts of the bee attacks. This strange importance on specification of whether or not these are African bees or Brazilian bees, like the military’s insistence on Crane’s credentials, is interesting, as if the details are more important than the fact that these bees killed people. General Slater wants to drop pesticides on the whole area, but Dr. Crane warns him against it, as that would kill normal bees, which would lead to the destruction of crops and human life in the future.
Amidst this conflict, as well as the actions of the people in the nearby small town Marysville, the bees attack again. An air raid siren is set off, but it is too late, as over 200 people die, including, as we see in another disturbing shot, several school children. General Slater panics, regarding the bees as intelligent adversaries. In the attacks, Dr. Anderson is stung, but is able to get back on her feet. They plan a mass evacuation of the city by train, but that is thwarted by the bees as they attack the conductors, causing the train to derail, killing nearly all of the evacuees.
Dr. Crane is able to use helicopters to drop poisonous pellets for the bees, but they do not accept them. Running out of options, he plans for his poison expert colleague, Dr. Walter Krim, to make a mass antidote. Krim’s tests have been unsuccessful, but, in a very intense scene, he uses his best sample on himself, which seems to work after elevating his heart rate. He seems fine and is excited at his victory until his heart rate begins to increase again, until he dies.
Meanwhile, the bees attack the local nuclear power plant, causing an explosion that kills the last of the people in the city. The bees then set their sights on Houston. Crane’s operation is shut down, and Slater takes back his command. He delivers a high-powered pesticide, that will damage the soil to the point that nothing will grow for ten years, but the bees are immune. Nothing is left, leaving the survivors in the base hopeless. They can only burn Houston to the ground, hopefully destroying all the bees at the cost of the city. Crane, however, discovers that the original ICBM site was testing a sonic alarm that is the same frequency as the bee mating call. He sets up a plan that will use several machines at this frequency attracting the bees to oil slicks in the ocean, which will then burn the bees. Above them, though, several of the soldiers using the flame throwers have been attacked by bees, and have spread their flames across the building. This scene starts off effectively as one soldier is accidentally set on fire, but becomes less so after five or so “accidents.” Crane escapes, while General Slater is taken down. In the end, Crane’s plane works, but he only hopes this can “buy them some time.”
The Swarm was a quite long, star-studded epic film that could have succeeded. There is a very tragic feel of an epidemic spread handled incredibly wrong. Nearly all the people of Houston and Marysville die because of the bees and the military’s handling of the situation, and no crops will grow for ten years. Still, there are some issues. For some reason, there is a great focus on the hallucination of a giant bee by the sting sufferers. This happens several times in the movie, never with great effect. There is great suspicion by the military toward Dr. Crane, but this never goes anywhere. This only goes toward the concept of an incompetent military, which is played well against the format of the bees. The bees themselves are actual bees, which is a nice move, but some of their deliberate attacks need some explanation. They are almost unnecessary to the film, as a disease epidemic could have been more effective. The feel of an epic disaster gone even worse is the strongest aspect of this movie.