Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Hellstrom Chronicle

A movie that I've long thought would be good for TCM Underground finally got a DVD release at the beginning of this year: The Hellstrom Chronicle.

The movie claims to be a documentary (and even won the Oscar for Best Documentary), but while it's not entirely fiction, the human documentary parts are not quite honest. Lawrence Pressman plays "Dr. Hellstrom", a scientist who is supposedly a composite of a bunch of scientists in the field, that field being entomology. Hellstrom's basic premise, which he claims is controversial, is that insects have been around on planet Earth far longer than humans, and that if heaven forbid we dumb humans annihilate ourselves through the use of nuclear weapons -- the movie was released in 1971, when there was a greater fear of nuclear war than there is today -- the insects will still survive.

The film then goes on to show us how resourceful insects are. In this regard, it plays out like some of the old nature shows you might have seen on PBS back in the days when there were only four or five channels. There's not much to it in that the film is little more than footage of insects with a running commentary. And yet, what footage there is is at times fascinating, and at times almost frightening. You have to wonder just how much work it was for the photographers to get the footage they did. This is one of those movies that somehow made it to TV decades ago, apparently in a syndication package, as I saw it on a local UHF channel which would have been unaffiliated with any of the networks. One of the things that struck me back then and has always stayed with me was the section of the film dealing with the driver ant; if you want to watch some video, the BBC put some up on Youtube.

Are the scientific theories at all plausible? Who knows? And to be honest, the Wikipedia article doesn't sound nearly as frightening as the footage I remember seeing. Still, the footage is well worth a watch, and might just leave you frightened. At least the footage of the insects, not the humans.

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