The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Dr. Hellstrom, a fictional scientist played with great enthusiasm by Lawrence Pressman, claims that in the past nine years of his research, he has learned something that he believes no one wants to hear: there is an ongoing war between man and insects and man will not inherit the planet. Despite bugs’ lack of intelligence, they are extremely efficient and resourceful—the very qualities that humans lack by comparison—which will inevitably lead to our downfall. Insects came to existence only three hundred years before us but are able to advance in such a rate that we simply cannot catch up to their level of superiority.
Written by David Seltzer, “The Hellstrom Chronicle” is an exciting documentary so pregnant with alien images and behaviors, I was left wondering for a second why we put so much effort in discovering life elsewhere. While its thesis is presented by a rather… extremist character, his so-called findings and the way he presents his ideas are convincing the more one ponders over them.
However, it is not meant to suggest that the information given about the insects are false. In fact, they, at least by the time of filming, are supported by scientists and scholars. This is an important point I feel I have to make because some people choose to see this film as a work of fiction just because the personality of the person presenting the facts is an exaggeration. The amount of research conducted to create this film is astounding. While the picture spends the majority of the time exploring different species of insects and their social structures, I enjoyed that it dedicates some time discussing plants and how some, like venus flytrap and sundew, eventually evolved to become predators.
I was intrigued with how the filmmakers managed to put a camera inside a cobra plant and recorded how an insect, once captured, found itself unable to get out of the plant’s maze. The level of suspense in watching a bug crawl into a trap is equivalent to watching an unsuspecting victim entering a room and is unaware that there is a serial killer patiently waiting in the dark hallway. And although it showcases scenes of brutality like two species of ants pulling each other’s bodies apart in order to protect their colony, it is an educational picture and is likely to have a strong appeal for young aspiring scientists. Allowing the audience to watch a caterpillar eat, for instance, with accompanying crunch-crunch chewing brought about memories of when I used to raise bugs in jars.
The two insects that the film touches upon which are sure to grab everyone’s attention involves bees and driver ants. While bees are relatively common, I was fascinated with the fact that each member of the colony has a purpose. For instance, once a drone mates with the queen, all drones are exiled and left for dead since their group has fulfilled what they are supposed to accomplish. On the other hand, driver ants are only found in specific parts of Africa and Asia. Though it is in their nature, their “barbarism” forced me to look away—like when a big lizard accidentally crawled where the driver ants settled and it was eaten alive in a matter of seconds.
“The Hellstrom Chronicle,” directed by Walon Green and Ed Spiegel, despite its occasional grim—some might say prophetic—messages about man’s place in the world, it features breathtaking microphotography that is full of optimism and wonder. It inspires us to keep questioning and looking for answers because it is highly likely that we have only scratched the surface of biology.