A while ago I watched a film - Final Analysis
- for the first time since I'd seen it during it's original cinema release. I had quite fond memories of it, recalling it as a reasonably entertaining, glossily made, sub-Hitchcock thriller that was popular back in the 1990s. Sadly, the passage of nearly twenty years hadn't done it any favours: upon watching it again, I found it unbearably slow and plodding, with obvious plot mechanics and little suspense and tension. It's not the first time that I've revisited a film I half remember as being enjoyable, only to find it crap, but in the past it has usually involved movies I saw as a child. Not surprisingly, seen through adult eyes, what once seemed wondrous, simply seemed clunky and obvious. Scarily, though, I'd originally seen Final Analysis
as an adult. Clearly, my critical faculties weren't as well developed as I'd thought back then.
Of course, it can work the other way around - you can come back to a movie you thought was crap when you first saw it, with the intention of reassessing it and giving it another chance, only to find that it was even worse
than you remembered. That was the experience I had this weekend when I sat through most of The Swarm
again. It probably didn't help that the first time I'd seen Irwin Allen's 1978 killer bee epic it had been the original 116 minute version that had been released to cinemas. This time I subjected myself to the extended 155 minute edit originally released on laser disc. The first thing that struck me about the movie was that, for a supposed big budget epic, it looked, well, shabby. The quality of the colour, the sets the editing - it all screamed: '1970s TV Movie'! It seems astounding that a film which could boast such a high profile cast, (Micheal Caine, Katherine Ross, Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, to name just four of the culprits), could have such poor production values. The whole thing is sloppily put together - to take an example, in one sequence, an ambulance crashes through a shop window, with the lighting changing from night, to day then back to night in less than ten seconds.
Then there's the pace - it's just deadly slow. Inordinate amounts of time are wasted on a love triangle involving three pensioners, which is abruptly cut short when they're all killed in a bee-inspired train crash. Actually, that train crash epitomises much that is wrong with the film - poorly staged with too obvious models and no attention to logic. Just why do those passenger cars explode and burn when they tumble down the mountainside? Why does the train accelerate when the fatally stung engineer clearly falls against the brake lever? That said, the set representing the locomotive's cab interior is so poorly realised, that brake lever might have been swapped with the regulator. The cab looks like it was put together from bits left over from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
or Lost in Space
- trust me, diesel locomotive cabs are pretty spartan affairs, they most certainly don't
have banks of flashing lights behind the drivers' positions.
As for the acting, well, Caine is as disinterested as you'd expect and quite unconvincing as a bee expert. Richard Widmark spits out his every line with utter contempt - as well he should when confronted with such an abominable script. His character's exchanges with Caine's are universally hilarious, shouting scientific facts and military strategies at each other. I daresay they only got Widmark to sign up on the basis that they'd already got Henry Fonda on board. Although why, by 1978, anyone would take that as a guarantee of quality, I really don't know. Old Hank might well have the status of a saint these days, but let's not forget that back in the 1970s he was a serial offender for appearing in this kind of shit, (he actually stooped even lower that The Swarm
, he also appeared in the Italian giant octopus farrago, Tentacoli
). He clearly needed the money. Badly
needed the money.
I particularly liked the denouement - the military and scientific experts decide that the best way to destroy the killer bees is by burning down Houston (where they've settled). Now, I'm not an entomologist, but even I can see the flaw here: bees can fly, so will therefore be able to evade the flamethrowers and bugger off somewhere else. Now, just off the top of my head, I can think of at least two better strategies for dealing with bees than this: light a huge bonfire near their swarm, then blow the smoke toward them, making them drowsy and easier to kill. Alternatively, they could just have deposited a huge pile of sugar outside of Houston, to attract the bees - once they swarmed all over it, you could hit them with insecticide. However, when burning down Houston doesn't work, do they do either of these things? No. They instead manage to mimic the bees' mating call, and use this to attract them to the Gulf of Mexico, which they've covered in an oil slick, which Caine has ignited once the bees arrive, toasting them all. If only BP had thought of that as an excuse for their oil spillage - "Honestly, we were just protecting Texas from a swarm of deadly killer bees..."
The madness doesn't end there - the credits include the the bizarre disclaimer "The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hard-working, American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation." Were they worried that American honey bees might sue them for defamation? It's very fashionable to mock low budget films as being 'the worst movies ever made', but The Swarm
is proof positive that it takes a major studio, A-list cast and big budget to make a real turkey. Let's face it, the likes of Ed Wood Jr, working with minuscule budgets and no talent, (either behind or in front of the camera), never stood a chance of making anything other than crap. However, cinema goers bile really should be reserved for the likes of The Swarm
, which have no such excuses for their dreadfulness.
Labels: Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze