Hellstrom Chronicle boxIn the opening of the film, after the opening credits and introductory nonsense, we are introduced to Doctor Nils Hellstrom, a man who looks a little like Bill Clinton with a wispy Willy Wonka hairstyle. “If you’ve heard that name (Dr. Nils Hellstrom) at all, it’s probably in conjunction with the words ‘lunatic’…’heretic’, but I’m really just a scientist.”

He reveals to us how much his “obsession with his work” has cost him (a couple of fellowships, two associate professorships and a few friendships…sniffle sniffle, boo hoo). With the Bill Clinton protruding lower lip, he looks skyward while declaring that he doesn’t really care.

At the end of his strange discourse, he tells us that the result of his research is something that nobody wants to hear. That unless we hear his message, we may be wiped off the face of the Earth without knowing how or why. I wish I was making it up! The opening credits (along with the opening monologue) would have us believe that Dr. Hellstrom is a real person, because it is “produced in association with Dr. Nils Hellstrom, M.S. PhD”. However, Dr. Hellstrom is a fictional character played by an actor, which we learn during the ending credits. I felt used.

Dr. HellstromThen Dr. Hellstrom goes about his loony task of convincing the audience that insects are not only better equipped to survive on Earth, but that they will wipe humanity out some time in the future.
To convince us of this, we’re shown footage of insects eating each other, with occasional voice-overs by Dr. Hellstrom. During these narrations, Dr. Hellstrom implies that evolution is a voluntary act – one that insects are winning because they have a “three hundred million year head start on Man”.

Dr. Hellstrom becomes more and more like a stereotypical mad scientist as the film progresses, indulging in very un-scientific soliloquy and rhetoric in an unsuccessful attempt to whip us into a fear-frenzy (all with the obligatory environmental message).

Hellstrom’s DDT FarmerHe interviews an unnamed farmer (with a silly ‘southern hick’ accent) who tells us about how many barrels more of DDT he has to use every year just to keep his crops pest-free. “This year” (which year?) he finally managed to kill all of the pests, but his crops are so poisoned that he has to burn them all (the amounts of poisons that he describes putting on his plants, it’s a wonder that he has any crops to burn). This is supposed to prove that we are destroying this planet of ours, and how the insects are adapting to our pesticides. Dr. Hellstrom states that only two species on the planet Earth are experiencing a population growth, while “virtually every other species is on the decline”. Of course, these turn out to be Insects and Humanity. Attribution for these findings? Forget it! Dammit, Jim, I’m an entomologist, not a journalist!

He goes to a radiation lab in Nevada, where he reveals to the audience that insects survive radiation a lot better than mammals do, in a “surprising tour-de-force” (his words, not mine). Hilarity ensues as Dr. Hellstrom almost begins to foam at the mouth!

Dr. Hellstrom does his own Candid Camera thing, where he hides insects in people’s salads, in the produce section at the supermarket and in their ground round at the butcher’s shop, and films their startled reactions. It’s a good thing that Dr. Hellstrom is an actor: His current and future grants would be in serious jeopardy if anyone found out that this was how he was spending the money!

Soaring off the deep end, Dr. Hellstrom holds a squirming red-eyed laboratory mouse to the camera, declaring that “in a few seconds, this mouse will be dead”. He produces a class cage containing a wasp…He captures the wasp in a pair of tweezers (the film suspiciously never reveals the species of the wasp), and presses the enraged insect to the backside of the mouse. The mouse squeaks, slumps into a heap and stops moving. That’s Entertainment!

The film ends with Dr. Hellstrom announcing that he has saved the most shocking footage for last. Then we are treated to a film of army ants swarming over a variety of larger animals and killing them for food. It also shows them building little fortresses to camp out in, using each others’ bodies for bridges, and dragging their queen along with them at such a furious pace that her legs are worn to stumps.

However, this isn’t the end of the film. Next, the odd little lives of mayflies are explained to us. Apparently, they live only for one evening: They hatch, fly around in a big cloud, mate, lay eggs and die. Next year, their offspring live for a single evening doing the same things. Sounds like some people that I know.

All throughout this film, Dr. Hellstrom draws inappropriate parallels between human and insect behavior. These screen shots are from a memorable scene where Dr. Hellstrom declares that ants fight wars, just like people.

The microphotography is gorgeous, but they use it to show us ants chewing each other’s heads and legs off over a dead bee. Check out these pictures:

Ants fighting!
More ants fighting!



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