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Warner Home Video presents
The Swarm (1978)

"And I never dreamed that it would turn out to be the bees. They've always been our friend."
- Brad Crane (Michael Caine)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: November 18, 2002

Stars: Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Henry Fonda
Other Stars: Richard Widmark, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray, Richard Chamberlain, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke Astin, 22 million bees
Director: Irwin Allen

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (death by angry bees)
Run Time: 02h:34m:58s
Release Date: August 06, 2002
UPC: 085391261322
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Disaster master Irwin Allen ended his career not with a bang, but with a buzz. Having already helmed two successful disaster films, The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure (aka "ship upside down" and "building on fire"), he took the next logical step. Another disaster film, this one tackling a controversial subject, one that had the world population quaking in terror. That's right. Killer. African. Bees.

Just let that sink it. Allen's films are hardly pulpy throwbacks to 1950s monster films. This is no hokey thriller about irradiated bees growing to twice their normal size. No, he approaches his story with all the pomp and circumstance of James Cameron's Titanic. These are bees, people, and they are attacking. Isn't it tragic how your loved ones will die?

Michael Caine (yes, the Oscar® winner) is entomologist Brad Crane. Crane has discovered that something is causing African killer bees to swarm by the billions and attack everything in their path. He knows that using military force to stop the swarms will only further upset the balance of nature and make the problem worse, and he's got to convince General Slater (Richard Widmark) of that fact before it's too late. Yeah, whatever. What good are military tactics against bees? What are you going to do, shoot them?

Thrown into the mix are a litany of stars, among them Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray, Richard Chamberlain, Jose Ferrer, and Patty Duke (and Patty Duke!), all of them fodder for the angry, angry bees. Allen seems to have had a peculiar penchant for trying to resurrect the careers of waning stars. Too bad for them that he makes movies like this.

The Swarm was to be the killer bee movie to end all killer bee movies. Technically, I suppose it fulfilled that requirement, since, after this disaster of a disaster movie, no one has thought of making another. But once you get past the initial shock of just how bad it is, The Swarm can be quite entertaining. The ungodly acting, the portentous tone, it all combines into comedy gold. Take the dialogue, for instance. Actors deliver some of the worst lines is history without an ounce of humor or self-awareness. Choice examples:

"Huston... on fire. Will history blame me, or the bees?"
"They're brighter than we thought. They always are."
"They're more virulent than the Australian Brown-Box Jellyfish!"

And, my personal favorite, this poignant declaration of love:

"Maureen, how long have we known each other? About thirty years? All that time, have you ever heard me beg? Maureen, I'm willing to beg now. I want you to marry me. I know people look at me and think that I'm just the man behind the aspirin counter, but inside I love you."

And if that's not enough to tickle your funny bone, consider the special effects. The "deadly swarms" of "killer bees" look more like someone spilled a "bunch of pop rocks" all over the "film." The death scenes are particularly howl-worthy, as the actors unconvincingly flail at the clouds of randomly buzzing apoidea ("Help! Someone is superimposing bees over us!").

Warner's DVD edition offers more buzz for your buck, incorporating 40 minutes of footage not included in the theatrical release. And at a bloated 154 minutes, The Swarm is hard to take, even as a guilty pleasure. Still, if you're honey-combing the racks for a cheesy movie to get drunk to, alight upon this one. Just make sure you've got plenty of beer—it's a long movie. I suggest a case of Honey Brown. Apropos, no?

Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Warner tends to do very nice work with their catalogue releases, and this one is no exception. Colors are nice and saturated, black level is decent, and artifacts are kept to a minimum. I did notice some occasional artifacting, and special effects shots show some dirt and grain, but overall, this is a nice, crisp transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: This 2.0 mix is very good for a film of this vintage. It does sound a bit dated, of course, but dialogue is always understandable and the front soundstage features some good directionality. The surrounds even get in on the action during the bee attack sequences. So I have to award this one at least a Bee-plus.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 45 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Warner originally announced that this disc would include the first-ever commentary from Michael Caine, but it was dropped from the spec sheet just prior to release. Nevertheless, it does include a few interesting extras. There's the hokey trailer, of course, which plays up the "TERROR!" of attacking bees, and a bio of Irwin Allen. The real treat is a vintage 1978 behind-the-scenes documentary, wherein the cast of big name Hollywood stars gush about the film, calling it a warning against the ever-present threat of a bee invasion. It's nice to see that the PR interview existed even in 1978.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

The Swarm is a horrible movie in all the right ways. Only Irwin Allen would make such a self-important movie about swarms of bees. Lucky for the audience, since that seriousness is exactly what makes watching it worthwhile. Warner's DVD is nicer than the film deserves, with a decent vintage documentary and, for the first time on a digital format, the complete, bloated "international" extended cut, with even more ear-splitting dialogue. "Oh my God! Bees! Bees! Millions of bees! And they're heading this way!"


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