Catastrophe series avoids mistakes in the Schätzing adaptation

Catastrophe series avoids mistakes in the Schatzing adaptation

The expectations for the film adaptation of Frank Schätzing’s novel The Swarm were high. Efforts to adapt it have been going on for 20 years. The series Der Schwarm, which is streamed in the ZDF media library and will be on TV next week, caused disappointment in many places. Even the author publicly complained about it.

The swarm suffers from several problems:

  • The figures remain pale.
  • The narrative is joyless and lifeless, with a seriousness that is not reflected in the depth of the story.
  • The series lacks a recognizable style and dense atmosphere.
  • This streaming tip does not have all these problems. On the contrary, the German-Danish production Sløborn shows how a catastrophe series with numerous storylines can be told without falling into the same traps as the Schätzing adaptation.

    What Sløborn has in common with The Swarm

    Both series are currently streaming in the ZDF media library, but the parallels don’t stop there. Both The Swarm and Sløborn tell of a worldwide catastrophe that brings together the storylines of the different people who have to deal with it. Both are also for people who enjoy looking out to sea in their free time and imagining the deadly danger lurking within.

    Sløborn is set on the fictional North Sea island of the same name. One day, a boat with the bodies of two tourists stranded on the coast. During the investigation, the police make the terrifying discovery that a deadly virus has reached the island with the dead. It’s already too late for the island’s inhabitants, who are all more concerned with their own problems than recognizing the signs of an approaching epidemic.

    Why the series doesn’t make the same mistakes

    In Sløborn, a large ensemble is introduced first, similar to The Swarm. The fundamental difference to the new ZDF blockbuster, however, is that the characters in this series have a believable life of their own beyond the catastrophe.

    In The Swarm, what feels like dozens of scientists are introduced, staring tensely at screens. In order for the audience to be able to classify them, they rattle off their private problems in dialogues that seem strained. The swarm is such a series in which one can clearly distinguish when the narration switches from “story” to “characterization” instead of combining the two coherently.



    The Sløborn writing team approaches this challenge in reverse. In the series, the coming catastrophe smolders in the background for a long time. First we spend time with the student Evelin (Emily Kusche), whose affair with a teacher has unwanted consequences, her father Richard (Wotan Wilke Möhring) and her mother Helena (Annika Kuhl), whose marriage is breaking up, the social worker Magnus (Roland Møller) , who wants to put juvenile delinquents back on the right track, or policeman’s son Herm (Adrian Grünewald), who is bullied at school. Their life is neither more serious nor easier than that of the characters in The Swarm, but it feels fuller. Which is surely because they’re talking about more than iceworms and pathogens.

    However, the crush also suffers from a virus-like drabness in the characters. At least in the episodes released so far, there are hardly any character ricochets that drive scenes in unfamiliar directions that one can rub against or smile about. What such a character looks like is shown by the writer at a low point in his career, played by the wonderful Alexander Scheer in Sløborn.

    The character of Nikolai Wagner comes to the island as an outsider for a book tour, but is only interested in where he can get coke. He’s a strange, eccentric, and somehow pitiable big-city oaf, which automatically contrasts with the people of Sløborn. This creates frictional energy that is missing in The Swarm. In the Schätzing adaptation, the characters appear as uniform as if a steamroller had rushed over them.


    Unfortunately, the atmosphere of The Swarm is just as monotonous as the characters. Varying between science thriller and disaster blockbuster, the series looks bland for the most part. As if someone was afraid to dig into the genre and really scare the audience. The pandemic series Sløborn works more offensively and with more relish with the horror of the original idea. There’s no fear of offending anyone here, just a vision that confidently unfolds.

    Christian Alvart’s series thrives on a gloomy atmosphere even before the virus arrives on the island. Here, the cool north wind whistles through every picture, isolating parents, children and friends. Everyone seems to be on their own at first. And then the disease comes to the island.

    So far, Sløborn has had two seasons streaming in the ZDF media library. The third season is scheduled to start filming this year.