Based on Arthur Herzog's lean but entertaining novel, veteran "Master of Disaster" producer/director Irwin Allen found another ideal venue to showcase his talent for placing distinguished/languishing actors in mortal danger. A genre that reached its apex with "The Towering Inferno" (another Allen project), the Disaster genre offered audiences in the early seventies an escape from the doom-and-gloom newscasts filled with war, energy crisis, and political disgrace; no matter what awful situations plagued the Average Family, Hope gleamed eternal in the morning. (It just required some help from the Army or National Guard.)
"The Swarm" was a major event picture in 1978. A prelude of massive billboards descended upon major cities, sporting a simple yet alluring logo, and Allen's epic project involved even more stars than his previous ventures, re-teaming him with Oscar-winning screenwriter Sterling Silliphant, plus noted cinematographer Fred Koenenkamp, and Oscar-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith.
(Even Allen, this time taking over a film's direction, had an Oscar for his 1952 Rachel Carson documentary, "The Sea Around Us.")
The Medved brothers feasted over Allen's resulting film in their hysterical (and sadly out of print) book, "The Golden Turkey Awards," and "The Swarm" remains an immensely entertaining movie - if not necessarily due to Allen's original intentions.
Previously released on laserdisc, this far longer International Cut includes 40+ minutes of scenes and minor subplots that were excised from the PG-rated American theatrical version (which still plays on cable and pay TV in a cropped 1.33:1 ratio). As was the practice at the time, extra scenes were often shot to pad a film's length, ensuring network sales, and presenting a film in either a 3 hour time slot, or dividing the 'network event' over 2 nights. The best-known examples include “The Godfather,” "The Deep," "King Kong," "Superman," "Earthquake," "Two-Minute Warning," Allen's own "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure," and the more recent airings of "Far And Away," and "Waterworld." (Note: Unlike the aforementioned, the shorter theatrical cut of "The Swarm" remains unavailable on DVD.)
Warner Bros' new DVD preserves the rich colours of Koenenkamp's lensing: primary colours are reserved for the military (zesty orange for the elite bee division, deep green for infantry); sobering earth tones for the 'good'/environmentalist scientists (Henry Fonda, Michael Caine); dark shades for the corporate greeder (nuclear head and bee non-believer, Jose Ferrer) and military officer; and multicolored patterns for the average Joe and Jane, whose fates are usurped by clouds of angry bees (22 million, under a deluxe studio contract). The bright exteriors and more classically lit interior sets are very sharp, and are well-used to fill up the Panavision aspect ratio.
The Dolby stereo mix benefits from Goldsmith's aggressive, melodramatic soundtrack, which mimics the pesky bugs with colourful effects from the large brass sections, and typical of his seventies output, Goldsmith's music is very bass-friendly, with an assembly of kettle drums booming through the front surrounds. The buzzing effects and sounds of general Irwin Allen chaos - fires, explosions, and a train derailment - also make good use of the rudimentary surround fields.
Like the laserdisc, the DVD includes the film's original trailer, but adds a vintage behind-the-scenes documentary “Inside The Swarm,” designed for television airing with ad breaks. Full screen and a bit shopworn, the doc offers a rare glimpse at Allen in action on the set. Better known as a producer and 'disaster impresario,' Allen comes off as an excitable personality whose main goals are to realize pure entertainment for the popcorn crowd, and have fun doing it. Amid the various stunts showcased in the doc - the early picnic bee attack, the train crash ("Shaking… Shaking… Violent… MORE VIOLENT!"), town evacuation, nuclear plant assault, and fire effects for the film's conclusion - Allen consistently questions his stunt team regarding their confidence in the risky tasks, and safety factors. More than anything, the doc shows the organized producer-director in a personable and professional light - far favorable to the ridiculed caricature that has endured over the years.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan