Xena, Warrior Environmentalist: Locusts, Vampire Bats

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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Locusts (HBS, PAPWL)

Lucy Lawless, looking far more attractive than she ever did as Xena, Warrior Princess, is an entomologist for the U. S. Department of Agriculture. A colleague has been clandestinely developing super-locusts as a bio-weapon. When Lawless orders the locusts destroyed, a few accidentally get released and a month later, super swarms, immune to all pesticides, are menacing both coasts. If they hit the Great Plains, the loss of U.S. food production will create global famine.

The basic problem with this film is that these things are bugs, nothing more. They do bring down a jet by clogging the engines, but basically all they do is fly in peoples' faces. Supposedly they do resort to attacking people and livestock, but we never see much of it and nobody seems to get all that frightened about it. When the developer of the locusts is attacked, he dies, apparently of bad facial cuts. I've cut myself worse than that shaving, but he has to pay for his sins.

A gung-ho general is hot to spray nerve gas on the locusts, but cooler heads come up with a plan to turn the nation's power grids into giant bug zappers.

This movie could start a new genre of Non-Threatening Invasion films. I can see it now: Turtles. Driven from lakes and ponds by pollution, turtles swarm everywhere, attacking the toes of barefoot, slow, and stupid people everywhere (and influencing the course of history by causing Palm Beach voters in 2000 to get so distracted they were unable to follow an arrow from the candidate's name to the correct hole). Or how about Penguins? Global warming splits off a huge iceberg. It runs aground in southern California, disgorging a giant rookery of penguins that waddle over everything in their path. Then there's always the Gary Larson classic "Giraffes IV, this time they're not just after acacia leaves."

Well, the sequel actually turned out to be....

Vampire Bats (HBS, HUNK)

She's back, and this time she's up against things that can actually draw blood, so she needs backup, in the form of a handsome husband and a gaggle of attractive, hip, but smart college kids. Because let's face it, vampire bats attacking a college town are much more interesting than bats attacking a senior citizen development. Who wants to look at eighty-somethings in bikinis?

And this movie really bites. I don't mean in a funny, unintentional Plan Nine From Outer Space way, I don't mean in a guilty-pleasure The Core way, I mean in a stomach-churning, nausea inducing kind of way. And the bats are the least of it. The first half hour is an excruciating attempt to delineate characters, because one of the script writers apparently heard in writing class that stories are supposed to do that. Xena is a tough but fair, no-nonsense biology prof; her husband is the target of flirtation from the coeds but stays faithful to Xena. Brett Butler is Xena's pushy sister in law, and we discover that Xena's handsome husband is a sniveling coward who won't stand up to his sister on behalf of his wife. We have an arrogant, nasty, dumb-as-dirt sheriff and a smarmy mayor (Timothy Bottoms) who leaves a trail of slime wherever he goes. Where are all the Politically Correct types who complained about stereotyping looters after Hurricane Katrina?

We start off with the college kids going to an underground party. To liven things up, one of the hosts dumps a bag of powder into the punch. We learn later it's Ecstasy, although from the amount we saw being dumped I thought maybe he was mixing concrete to pour a patio. Three of the kids wander off; two end up stoned and the third turns up dead. The sheriff and two of his goons arrest the other two kids in class, and Xena charges down to the station to set up the long-running confrontation with the sheriff. A mass attack of bats on a riverboat cruise finally convinces the sheriff that the college kids are innocent.

And here's the first great scientific discovery of this film. The human body contains maybe six tablespoons of blood. I should be dead a hundred times over from my blood donor days (I am on the Mad Cow list now). But I know what a pint of blood looks like, and the amount of blood on the bodies in this film, supposedly "drained of every last drop of blood," would hardly fill a demitasse cup. Since a vampire bat can suck maybe 10 cubic centimeters of blood, it would take hundreds of bats to drain most of the blood from a human, but we see people go down, flailing, after being attacked by five or six.

Xena and the local game warden trap some bats. Xena's plan is to study them. The game warden's plan is to radio tag one and dust them with poison so when the bats groom each other, they'll ingest the poison and die. All right, who screwed up and let some real science in? That really is a control measure used in South America, where the bats attack cattle. The bats are mostly harmless in themselves, although repeated blood loss can weaken the cattle, but they carry rabies. So the cattle are dusted with an anti-coagulant. The bats ingest it and get it on their fur, then they carry it back to the colony where other bats pick it up. The bats bleed internally and die.

Xena concludes that the bats have mutated to become more voracious, and she and her crew discover an illegal pipe draining into the bayou that is the apparent source. The smarmy mayor, of course, is in cahoots with illegal waste dumpers. Xena's kids discover that the bats, who use sonar, can be manipulated by high-pitched sounds, and trapped that way.

The real story of the film is more interesting. The crew was shooting in New Orleans but evacuated just ahead of Hurricane Katrina. The last week of shooting was done in Nova Scotia, which as we all know is prime vampire bat habitat.


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Created 31 October, 2005;  Last Update 02 June, 2010

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