I was surprised when I recently discovered that “The Swarm” (1978) was a feature film; I remembered it as a made-for-television movie from my childhood. (After its theatrical release, it debuted on NBC with a hell of a lot of fanfare in February 1980.) I was also surprised to read that it was both a critical and a commercial flop, and is often named as one of the worst films ever made. I was in the second grade at the time, and — let me assure you — this was THE movie the kids in school talked about. We were in awe of it.
The people behind “The Swarm” had high hopes for it in 1978. The internet informs me that it was based on a best-seller by famed novelist Arthur Herzog. And it was helmed by director Irwin Allen, who gave us two classic 70’s film adaptations of disaster novels — “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972, and “The Towering Inferno” in 1974. (Those were a pretty big deal back in the day.) And just look at the cast named in the trailer below. It’s like a who’s who of 1970’s cinema. Yet it all apparently just didn’t pan out … contrary to my memories of second grade, “The Swarm” went down in pop culture history as a train wreck.
Check out the bee-proof suits worn by the guys with the flamethrowers. Talk about an excellent G.I. Joe toy that was never made. (Of course we had “Blowtorch,” but he was 80’s rad, and these guys in white are 70’s kitsch.)
It’s true what they say about “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) — its script is almost completely brainless. It’s got about as much depth as the old “G.I. Joe” cartoon (1983-1986) that played after school when we were kids.
But I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy this. And I’m sure you know why — the big-budget, big-MONSTER special effects. They were spectacular — and sometimes they approached being unexpectedly beautiful. (It’s hard to explain here, but our eyes are treated to more than skyscraper-tall brawls between “titans.” We get a light show too — thanks to some confusing, thinly scripted, but nonetheless dazzling energy-based monster powers. It was really damned good.)
Add to this a generally excellent cast, and you might be able to forgive the screenplay for insulting your intelligence. I know that most people would name Ken Watanabe as the actor who truly classes up the joint. And there’s plenty of truth to that, but I myself would name Charles Dance as the movie’s biggest standout. The man’s craft is goddam Shakespearean, and I think he’s equal of the likes of Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen. And I’d like to think that his throwaway line, “Long live the King,” was at least partly a fan-service reference to what I’m guessing is his best known role — Tywin Lannister on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (2011-2019).
Based on my own enjoyment, I’d rate this movie an 8 out of 10 — with the caveat that I’m a kid at heart when it comes to giant monsters. If you’re the same way, then “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” might just become a guilty pleasure that you return to more than once.
Harriette Sheffer Abels’ “Galaxy 1” books appear to be fully consigned to obscurity — I don’t have a single friend who remembers them. They were published by Crestwood House in 1979; I certainly loved the ones I found in my elementary school library in the 1980’s. And that says a lot, because I was a kid who loved the fantasy genre far more than science fiction. (I had an older brother who played “Dungeons & Dragons,” and Ralph Bakshi’s animated take on “The Lord of the Rings” had captured a lot of kids’ imaginations since 1978.) I remember how pleased I was to discover anthology-style books that featured the same cast of characters on different space-based adventures.
I’m pretty sure that “Mystery on Mars,” “Medical Emergency,” and “Silent Invaders” were among those that I read. My favorite, however, was “Green Invasion,” which featured alien vines that grew uncontrollably and crushed anything they could ensnare and tangle. Lord knows that was a scenario I re-created with my G.I. Joes at home.
“Big Jim” was yet another toy franchise that was handed down to me from my older brother in the 1970’s to me a little kid in the early 1980’s. Mattel carried the toy line from 1972 all the way through 1986 — but I didn’t know a single other kid who played with these in the latter decade. We were all firmly entrenched in Kenner’s “Star Wars” and Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe,” with their wider ranges of small-scale, mostly all-plastic action figures. “Big Jim’s” more doll-like 10-inch figures and complex accessories made them seem more like the “Barbie Dolls” that my older sisters used to play with. (And they were roughly the same scale.)
This camper, in fact, was actually just one of Mattel’s “Barbie” vehicles that was cast in different plastic and lined with different vinyl siding. (As a child of the 80’s, I’m still befuddled at why so many 70’s playsets were made of vinyl. Did some law mandate that every product made in the 70’s include vinyl?)
What’s interesting about “Big Jim” toys from a cultural context is that they were … like a slightly pacifist “G.I. Joe.” (As I’ve mentioned here at the blog before, 1970’s G.I. Joe’s were a foot tall and far more doll-like than 80’s action figures.) Big Jim and his cohorts (like “Big Josh,” “Big Jeff,” “Big Jack,” you get the idea) were a lot like G.I. Joes. They were exclusively depicted in all sorts of manly adventures — camping, rafting, dirt-biking or weightlifting. But they had a decidedly non-military character.
I can’t find a date for the “Adventure People” ambulance set, but it was a favorite of mine as a tot in the late 1970’s. You pressed that siren at the ambulance’s top and it would blare quite loudly — it was mechanical, so the toy didn’t require batteries.
What’s interesting is about all of the “Adventure People” toys are their scale. They were the same size as “Star Wars” figures, although they predated them. A lot of the 1970’s “action figures” were larger and more like dolls. (Think of how 70’s “G.I. Joes” compared with their more familiar 1980’s counterparts.)
Yo, JOE! I had all of these in the 1980’s, and I loved all of these.
That H.A.V.O.C. vehicle was kind of preposterous; even as a kid, I recognized that. So, too, was the “Tactical Battle Platform.” Why wouldn’t the Joes be entrenched instead of elevated and exposed like that? I used to pretend it was a weaponized oil rig; its underwater legs were repeatedly assailed by the Cobra frogman.
The A.W.E. Striker jeep that you see was a damned cool toy; it even had its own suspension. The Snowcat was pretty awesome too. Those lateral missiles were attached to the black detachable skies, giving the driver (“Frostbite”) snow-borne torpedoes.
I had plenty of Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe” vehicles; the “Tomahawk” and the “Rattler” were easily my favorites. I assiduously protected all of those detachable missiles and bombs. I might have been a spacey kid in a lot of ways, but I was positively O.C.D. where ordnance was concerned.
God, these toys were fun. Look at that red-clad Cobra pilot. His outfit just screams “evil.” His codename was “Wild Weasel.” I suppose that might be confusing to people who actually know something about military aircraft — “Wild Weasels” were real-life Vietnam-era U.S. fighter jets designed to target Soviet surface-to-air missiles. (The only reason I know that is because they were featured in Tom Clancy’s retro “Debt of Honor.”)
The affable-looking Joe pilot had correspondingly affable name — “Lift Ticket.”