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MOVIE & TV SERIES REVIEWS
By TOM SOTER from VIDEO MAGAZINE, 1986-1996
THE SWARM 1978. Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray, Henry Fonda; dir. Irwin Allen. PG. 156 min. CLV. 3 sides. Warner.
This Irwin (Poseidon Adventure) Allen disaster flick contains more laughs than thrills, as cockney scientist Michael Caine tries to convince an all-star cast that African killer bees should be taken seriously ("Are you telling me," says cranky General Richard Widmark, "that bees killed the men here?"). Naturally, no one believes him, until a plane, a helicopter, a military base, a picnicking family, and Fred MacMurray are all covered in honey.
The Swarm is a 1950s B-flick blown up to epic proportions, with plenty of dull action and cheapo special effects, lots of inept soap opera stuff, a pile of priceless bad sci-fi dialogue ("Cardipep might have eased their palpitations"), and a roster of big stars in small parts. The "take the money and run" prize, however, must go to Jose Ferrer, who appears just long enough to say, "Bees can't hurt me" – and then get blown up in a bee-induced nuclear blast. The buzzword, in his case, was cash.1992
THE CRAFT This well-constructed but predictable horror tale, a parable of how a good girl can be led astray, tells the story of four teenage witches who battle peer cruelty with the powers of darkness. Early magic tricks are treats for the young witches (love spells, hair loss for enemies) but the spells turns lethal when the good girl in the bunch tries to retire. The movie is creepy at times – lots of snakes, rats, and cool special effects – but not particularly scary. Indeed: director Andrew Fleming has modeled much of The Craft on rock videos, with slow-motion camera work, arty editing, and interchangeable pop tunes (there’s even an “executive music consultant” listed in the opening credits). In the end, the film is less a tale of terror than a three-card monte game, with cynical producers hoping to cast a spell over angst-ridden teens, angry at their peers and parents but unable to fight back. Witches’ brew, anyone? (Columbia/Tri-Star; 109 min, VHS) September 1996
INDEPENDENCE DAY Independence Day was this summer’s sci-fi blockbuster stew of the month: mix in a pinch of X-Files, a smattering of Star Wars, a dollop of E.T. Never mind that the solution comes directly from War of the Worlds, nor that the alien invasion plot seems to have been stitched together by an executive “What’ll get us the largest audience?” committee. The concoction is a roller coaster ride of brilliant special effects, tired plotting, and cliches passing for characters: the WASP president who finds courage at the crucial moment; the sassy black pilot who saves the day; the drunken redneck who redeems himself by making the ultimate sacrifice; the brilliant but bitter Jewish scientist who hits upon the ultimate weapon by listening to the rantings of his kvetching dad. (There are the less-than-noble stereotypes, too: Is it a sign of the times that the one openly gay character is killed, while the strong career woman dies in action?) Rousing is the word most often used to describe Independence Day, but I find it dispiriting that so much time, talent, and energy could be applied to something so empty. September 1996
PLANET OF THE APES Color. 1967. Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter; dir. Franklin]. Schaffner. 112 min. Beta, VHS. $59.98. Playhouse. Reproduction: A ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES Color. 1971. Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman; dir. Don Taylor. 97 min. Beta, VHS. $59.98. Playhouse. Reproduction: A
Planet of the Apes is a terrific movie with a bad reputation. That can be blamed more on its progeny-four sequels and a shortlived TV series-than on any flaws of its own. For Planet is not just men in monkey suits. It is a grand adventure that is as witty as it is wonderful. It even has a point to make about our times.
Charlton Heston, that icon of religious films, is perfectly cast as the 20th-century cynic stranded in a future world gone ape. With his streamlined physique, he is the "perfect man" a la Michelangelo, constantly moving to avoid the crouching apes, who want to lobotomize, castrate, or kill him. As Taylor, a bitter loner who left earth "in search of something better than man," Heston only finds creatures who are infinitely worse, and the movie is one lesson after another in his humility-and mankind's.
Planet of the Apes is the kind of parable you'd expect to find on The Twilight Zone, and it's no surprise that Rod Serling coauthored the tale. His cerebral script (written with Michael Wilson and based on Pierre Boulle's Monkey Planet) has been given passion and energy by Franklin J. Schaffner, a director who stages action scenes remarkably well. Besides the dramatic first appearance of the apes, he gives incredible pacing and poetry to Taylor's attempted escape-from Ape City. He also has an eye for colorful panorama (including a beautifully moody trek through the arid Forbidden Zone) and coaxes engaging performances from Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, and Maurice Evans as two chimpanzees and an orangutan. To cap it all, Jerry Goldsmith provides a haunting score, one of the best ever done for film.
Unfortunately, if Planet is a classy Twilight Zone, the rest of the series is closer to Lost in Space-although the middle movie, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, gets some mileage out of inverting the original film's premise. Two talking apes arrive in Los Angeles, 1973. 'they are wined and dined at first but ultimately persecuted by , all sorts of nasty humans, showing that we are no better than the apes in the first movie. McDowell and Hunter are warm and winning as the chimpanzee couple, the Paul Dehn script verges on clever, Goldsmith turns in a fun paro¢y of his original score, and the opening sequence is improbable but funny.
The other entries, however, do little beyond continuing to wow viewers with John Chambers' Oscar-winning ape makeup (which took five hours to put on and three to take off). Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the second, is aptly named: a tepid rehash of Planet, with mutants, militant gorillas, and some snazzy special effects tossed in to overcome the paucity of fresh ideas. The last two installments, Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, are the sort of films that have given the series a bad name: illogical and mindlessly action-oriented, aimed at undemanding kids weaned on TV adventure shows of the lowest order. Man might have evolved from apes, but it's hard to believe that these came from Planet.
As for transfer quality, Playhouse has done a good job, with fine color. The first film is the only one designed for the wide screen and therefore suffers the most (although the minimal panning and scanning is relatively unobtrusive). Planet's brilliantly evocative score is crisp and clear, however, especially in VHS Hi-Fi. 1986