So much is going on in this movie in terms of entomological nonsense, I decided to review it twice.
Scientific accuracy rating:
As a movie, and a way to kill an hour and a half, it’s entertaining. I laughed more than I expected to, given some of the trade reviews I’ve seen and NPR’s review. It’s not side splitting, but a nice little movie. Sting and Ray Liotta have entertaining cameos, and Patrick Warburton is great as a psycho jealous boyfriend. Chris Rock, unfortunately, didn’t have more than a few lines.
The parts of the movie I laughed the hardest at were the slapstick action sequences, not Seinfeld’s dialog. 3 cicadas–not great, not bad.
On the other hand, some parts of the movie were so WRONG scientifically I was jolted out of my willing suspension of disbelief.
Now, there are a lot of little “that would never happen in a real bee hive” things, but most of those are understandable within the imaginary world of the movie. Jerry enters a hive that isn’t his, for example, which wouldn’t go so well in the real world. His bees also choose one job for life, which isn’t correct either. Of course, his bee wears tennis shoes and a sweater, and talks to people. Why bother mentioning small discrepancies from the real world like that? :D
Nope, I’m concerned with big picture inaccuracies. The worst, and IMHO unforgivable, error is at the absolute beginning of the film. They begin with a black screen and type that old canard about “science says bees can’t fly“. (I apologize to the 6 people in the theater with me, since at this point I barked out “WHAT?!” and audibly gnashed my teeth.)
When will that damn myth die? It’s a mathematical/engineering misunderstanding– the calculations don’t work if the bee wing is fixed and rigid, like an airplane wing. But bee wings flex, and flap. So applying regular aerodynamic calculations used for airplanes aren’t appropria…
Ok, I had to go breathe in a bag for a while. I’m better now. Several papers have addressed this issue; you can find a list of some of them here.
The other really glaring error is The Male Bee Thing.
I mentioned earlier that I was troubled that all the bees that collect pollen and honey in this movie are male bees, which is incorrect. Male bees have one function–to pork a queen–and are tolerated by the (all female) worker bees. Hives are normally 95% or more female in composition. (Too many males is a sign of poor colony health!)
Now, I can totally understand the movie writers choosing to not have that sort of skewed sex ratio for the purposes of the movie. But they went in the direction of a 1950’s Leave it to Beaver sitcom, since what few female bees do appear are pretty much restricted to cooing over the “pollen jocks” or serving as tour guides. Even in an imaginary world, it’s all about men in Hollywood.
Oh, and those pollen jocks and the male lead characters? They all have stingers. I was very tempted to title this post “Jerry Seinfeld has modified female genitalia!”
The stinger mistake I can forgive, since it’s a needed dramatic element in the plot; but converting a matriarchal society into a male-dominated jock fest–that’s annoying.
The only other rather glaring biological error annoying enough to point out was the relationship between pollination and plant health. When the bees stop pollinating, all the plants start to die. Including trees, indoor houseplants, and plants that are wind-pollinated. The pollinating doesn’t keep the plants alive–it’s just what lets them reproduce! The plants are later “saved” by introduction of pollen from…one kind of plant. Don’t worry about those species barriers, folks! All pollen is pretty much interchangeable, apparently.
I won’t mention anything about the time frame in which these changes happen, since again for dramatic purposes I can see speeding things up. But…golly. At least try to get a few things right!
My last big nit to pick is that the beekeepers in the movie aren’t just bad, they are complete A-holes (and all male). I halfway expected them to say “Good evening, Clarice” to their bees.
So there you go–a fun movie that repeats an annoying pseudoscience myth and perpetuates gender stereotypes. I would love to discover that this film changes attitudes towards bees and pollinator services. I’m not that optimistic, though.