Hellstrom Chronicle, The (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.
★★★★ / ★★★★
An explosion in an American oil well in Nicaragua renders businessmen desperate to stop the fire from burning off the precious and highly profitable natural resource. After the incident, crates of nitroglycerin are found in a shack. One is sufficient to stop the fire. However, it is two hundred miles between the problem and the solution. Aerial transport is simply not an option given the chemical’s unstable nature. So, four men from different countries are hired to drive two trucks containing the liquid nitro, each to be paid handsomely and provided citizenship if their mission is successful. The latter is especially attractive given that the men are fugitives in their respective homelands.
Once the central adventure, the transport of the chemical compound from one place to another, of “Sorcerer,” based on the screenplay by Walon Green, reaches an overdrive, it is a thriller so confident and so brilliantly executed, it dares us to look away from the screen due to the threat of the crates being nudged with just enough force to blow its vicinity to smithereens. While it can be criticized for taking too much time to establish the criminals’ backstories, I enjoyed it because it is challenging to pinpoint what the film is ultimately going to be about.
The cold-blooded assassination executed by the well-dressed and stoic Nilo (Francisco Rabal) in Veracruz, Mexico hints at a possible international espionage. A bombing in Jerusalem which involves “Martinez” (Amidou) suggests a trace of political thriller. Back in Paris, France, “Serrano” (Bruno Cremer) becomes increasingly desperate as he learns that his business has gone bad. A similar situation can be applied to “Dominguez” (Roy Scheider) after he has killed a priest during a robbery which happens to be a mobster’s brother. These last two has a similar template as a gangster flick. While the picture is really more about treacherous land of Nicaragua rather than the foreign men who take refuge in it, I appreciated that we are given an understanding of the men’s origins. When their lives are threatened, a part of us can identify with them because we know them somewhat outside of their tough guy reputations.
There is synergy in the utilization of sound effects and score. This is observed best in two ways: when our protagonists face seemingly insurmountable dangers in the jungles of Nicaragua and when the camera turns its attention on the faces of the locals.
The most exciting sequence involves the trucks having to cross a suspension bridge which consists of only wood and rope. When the trucks sway back and forth as it sits in the middle of the bridge during a storm, it appears as though it can be thrown off any second. The howling of the wind, the raging of the rain, the creaking of wood not designed to endure so much weight, and the exhausted engine of the transport together create a sort of poetic dirge, a misstep from either man or nature means certain death.
Meanwhile, its most moving sequence involves the delivery of incinerated corpses to a small town after the accident in the oil well. Initially, there is a lot of commotion: extremely angry and frustrated roars of the poor, a thirst for blood. But when the bodies are finally shown, wrapped in plastic, there is absolute silence, a sign of both sadness and respect for the empty shells that have been handed to them. Just as quickly, the atmosphere is taken over by outrage.
Directed by William Friedkin, “Sorcerer” is about the experience rather than the genre. So few films lead with this distinction. Notice that if the sound is taken away, the images still demand attention.