Plot: In Africa and South America, waves of killer bees can be found, but America has never given them much concern. This is because of the sheer distance between the two, but after decades of slow movement and breeding with more docile bees, the killer bees are now ready to invade American borders. After an assault on Houston causes a list of fatalities thousands deep, the government rolls a plan into action. But of course, it is slow to defeat the bees and as time passes, the creatures cover even more ground and rack up more victims. All kinds of methods are used to stop the bees, but little success is found and soon enough, it looks as if the bees might take over the entire landscape. As so often happens when the fate of the world is in question, a single scientist might be able to solve the problem, though he’ll need some help from an odd assortment of supporting players. Can the massive swarm of killer bees be stopped before mankind is stung into extinction, or has the end finally drawn near?
Entertainment Value: Over 22 million bees can’t be wrong, so while The Swarm might not work as a serious disaster movie about winged invaders, it is a super fun ride that has all the usual Irwin Allen hallmarks. I know a two and a half hour movie about bees sounds excessive and it is, but the sheer scale of the movie is part of the fun and that includes the remarkable ensemble of talent on showcase. So we have an all star lineup of thespians battling millions of real bees, I mean, if that doesn’t sell you on The Swarm, I don’t know what will. And the bees are real as well, which is a much more wild, fun atmosphere than if the swarm was CGI, so knowing Michael Caine is covered in actual bees is just pure b movie magic. The more serious the movie tries to be, the more outlandish it becomes and to me, that just means the movie is more and more fun, as it so over the top in scale and seriousness. I know this kind of campy, b movie vibe isn’t going to dazzle everyone, but for those who appreciate this kind of manic magic, The Swarm is an absolute treat to experience.
This is an Irwin Allen disaster movie, so despite the presence of millions upon millions of real bees, there is still a dizzying collection of talent to be found, the kind of cast that just boggles the mind. Michael Caine heads up the ensemble and performs well, keeping a straight face and mostly serious tone, even as the bee chaos takes absurd turns, so he is a lot of fun to watch. I wouldn’t rank this with his finest efforts, but given how outlandish the material is, he does what he can and since he entertains, that is all I think we can ask in this case. I would love this movie even if it was just Caine versus the bees, but the movie has much more star power loaded up. Allen was known for stacked casts, but this one is so packed with well known performers, it reaches ridiculous levels and there’s a star everywhere you look. Olivia de Havilland, Richard Chamberlain, Richard Widmark, Cameron Mitchell, Katharine Ross, Lee Grant, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Jose Ferrer, Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray, and Ben Johnson are all here, but that is just some of the talent assembled for The Swarm. Now not everyone brings the heat, but it is fun to watch all these stars in such a campy, bee filled picture and even when the efforts are less than stellar, the entertainment is always there.
The Disc: Warner Archive brings The Swarm to Blu-ray in a new HD treatment that is a marked improvement over the old DVD edition, with a more refined visual depth and much enhanced level of detail. And this movie has a lot to soak in, so seeing it all in such a crisp, sharp presentation adds to the experience, after all we want to be able to see each and every one of the millions of bees, right? The colors are natural, contrast is stark, and detail is stepped up, all we could ask for and more. The extras are a behind the scenes piece that runs just over twenty minutes, as well as the film’s trailer.