Archive for michael caine

The Great Unwatched #4: The Swarm

Posted in Ramblings, The Great Unwatched with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2010 by Andrew T. Smith

Irwin Allen’s 1978 film, The Swarm is another of those films I have seen in fits and bursts on television but never once all the way through and despite owning it on DVD for some years only now have I actually gotten round to subjecting myself to it. I say subjecting myself as The Swarm‘s reputation precedes it. Arriving at the tail end of a decade that had embraced the disaster genre and milked it for all its worth,  the film’s tale of Mutated African Killer Bees run amuck in Texas  appears to be almost universally derided. Scoring a below average 4.0 on IMDB and a pathetic 14% at Rotten Tomatoes, both fairly decent indicators of an overall cinematic consensus. Even Michael Caine considers it the worst film he has ever made (Has he not seen the remake of Get Carter?).  Industry Bible Variety published its damning indictment at the time of the film’s release:

Killer bees periodically interrupt the arch writing, stilted direction and ludicrous acting in Irwin Allen’s disappointing and tired non-thriller.

But you know what? I enjoyed it. Yes it was a silly premise and sometimes the poe-faced delivery of lines like, “And I never dreamed, that it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friend,” don’t exactly have one quivering in one’s seat at the thought of it all coming true. But let’s face it, after having already tackled floods, earthquakes, towering infernos and in a market saturated by derivative apocalyptic films he had inspired, where was Allen meant to go. Bees aren’t the most silly plague he could have come up with, let’s not forget Night of the Lepus.

Part of the fun for me when watching disaster films is identifying with the exaggerated but plausible situations. What would you do if you were trapped at the top of a blazing skyscraper? What would you do if stranded upon a rapidly sinking luxury liner? What would you do if you start hallucinating a giant killer bee at the foot of your hospital bed after both your parents have been stung to death during a picnic. Well, maybe not that last one. But there is still something to think about when watching the citizen’s of The Swarm being evacuated on trains at a minutes notice or desperately trying to find refuge as air-raid sirens sound. It also helps when you come to care about the characters too, and although Michael Caine isn’t given much to sink his teeth into as the leading man I did find myself caring about Richard Widmark’s General, Henry Fonda’s Scientist and Fred MacMurray’s Mayor.

You also have to marvel at some of the technical feats achieved here. When people are attacked by bees in this film, they really are attacked by bees.  Months of preparation were put into selecting the right breeds and removing harmful stingers. When committed to film there is a realism to the swarm attacks that you wouldn’t get in today’s CGI dependant industry. Compare, for example, the first bee attack in The Swarm, to the red ant attack in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The latter film may be more visually dynamic, but you’re never in any doubt as to what you’re seeing isn’t real.

The Swarm may be hokey, the effects may sometime appear dated, and the actors may occasionally seem lost, but I’d still take it above The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 any day. At least in the 1978 film, despite all of its absurdity, there is some craftsmanship up on the screen to find yourself involved with.

 

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When Scenes Have Gone

Posted in Muppets, Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

muppet-christmas-carol-posters

The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of those perfect holiday films that ranks alongside classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, Scrooged and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Year after year I have continued to be entertained by the film’s wit and charm but one thing has bugged me ever since I first bought the DVD; there is a scene missing. Before we all jump on our high horses and bemoan the butchery of our film heritage there is one thing to add – the scene in question was never included in the theatrical release.

The story goes like this. The bitter sweet ballad When Love Has Gone was written for the film by composer Paul Williams, performed by an orchestra, recorded by the actors, filmed and then edited into the film. However shortly before the film’s theatrical premiere the decision was made to cut the scene for timing reasons. Nobody  ever saw this musical number as part of the film during the official release but when it came time to offer The Muppet Christmas Carol for sale via VHS the decision was made to reinstate this footage. Having never seen The Muppet Christmas Carol at the cinema this home video version was the version of the film I, and a great many others, grew up with at home and whenever I see the theatrical cut now on DVD or television it always feels as though a chunk of the film’s soul has been removed.

In the sense that it was felt that the film was running too long for theatrical exhibition it is easy to see why this particular scene was cut.  For about three and a half minutes the film asks the audience to do without the beloved Muppet characters and enjoy a ‘straight’ song – there is nothing festive or jolly about When Love Has Gone. But in removing this scene the filmmakers stripped The Muppet Christmas Carol of one of its most moving and essential moments.

The film, as per Charles Dickens’ classic novella, tells the story of Scrooge’s rebirth as a caring compassionate human but this over night change is so sudden that the filmmakers have to take care not to make the character’s motives seem selfish. In The Muppet Christmas Carol adaptation of this story there are four key events that help turn scrooge around; hearing how is viewed by his own relatives, seeing the day his lost love Belle left him, learning of the fate of his employee’s son Tiny Tim and discovering his ultimate fate. Of these four reasons three, on the surface, seem self motivated. Scrooge’s change can be seen to be a cynical attempt to stay alive for as long as possible, he is threatened rather than truly rehabilitated. In the extended Muppet Christmas Carol there is a key difference that makes confirms his change of heart as a moral rehabilitation.

In the theatrical cut of  of The Muppet Christmas Carol the elderly Scrooge is taken back in time to the moment Belle left him. He sees his younger self being emotionally cold and when she tells him that their love has diminished over time she leaves leaving both incarnations of the Scrooge behind. The elderly man cries for what he has lost, accusing the Spirit of Christmas Past of torturing him.

The extended version of this scene makes a big difference as can be viewed below.

Not only is this a beautiful little song but also the positioning of the characters affects our perception of Scrooge’s motivation. In this version of the scene Belle is left behind when her emotionally cruel and distant lover leaves during her song. Scrooge is allowed the chance to see how is actions affected her and cries not only for what he has lost but also for the grief and sorrow he has caused another human being. It is a key turning point in his journey to salvation and serves to alter our impression of Scrooges disappointment with how his nephew has come to see him.

It should also be noted that the brief moment in which Michael Caine as Scrooge duets with Meredith Brown as Belle is one of the most perfectly played pieces in the film. Their shot together is intensely intimate and tender despite the fact that they can not interact.

If you’d like to see this scene as part of the film the only option is to purchase the Kermit’s 50th Anniversary Edition DVD from America. The theatrical cut is presented in widescreen while a secondary pan and scan, cropped version of the film retains this song. It’s a shame that the scene has never been released in Widescreen but one can hope that with an inevitable Blue Ray edition on the way that a decent presentation of the extended film will emerge.

Thanks for sticking with this extended ramble!