There are those that "know" The Swarm is a laughably awful film by its reputation, and there are those who have seen it on television. Then there are those few of us who actually saw it at the cinema. And yes, it is terrible. And yes, I did laugh in all the wrong places. But it had one redeeming feature, a musical score by Jerry Goldsmith so rousing I bought two vinyl copies of the original soundtrack album. (One a spare bought in a sale in-case I wore the first one out).
The late seventies were a time when Jerry Goldsmith could do no film music wrong and even the least deserving and mediocre features were graced with unforgettable scores. This was a phenomenal period for the composer, particularly when working in science fiction thriller vein, with such riches as Capricorn One, The Boys From Brazil, Coma, Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture issuing from his pen. The Swarm is only Goldsmith gem issuing from this period.
Rarely though has it been so obvious, as it must have been to the composer, that he was working in John Williams' shadow. The film was part of the 1970's disaster movie cycle, and was directed by the man who virtually invented the genre, Irwin Allen. Where Williams had scored the two biggest and best entries in the cycle for Allen, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno (as well as Spielberg's Jaws), Goldsmith was left with one of the worst entries, a ridiculous farce about killer bees.
As such he clearly approached the matter with his tongue at least part way in his cheek, his main theme while tremendously exciting, being fuelled by brass effects which literally buzz, making the soundtrack an artistic descendent of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee. There's no mistaking that this music is about bees, the composer giving them their own indelible motif after the fashion of Williams iconic shark "dum-dum" from Jaws.
The original album contained around 35-40 minutes of music, divided into 10 tracks and concentrating in the main on the large scale action set pieces. All that music is present and correct on this new CD, plus almost as much again, adding much more introspective, melancholy and atmospheric writing to the mix. Several of these pieces come from a vastly extended (by about 40 minutes) Director's Cut of The Swarm released on laserdisc. That version takes the already overlong film beyond the 2½ hour mark and must really be something of an endurance test.
For those who are interested the booklet comes with very detailed notes by Gary Kester which first outline Irwin Allen's career then describe the production of The Swarm, while trying to gloss over the fact that the film really is a disaster movie in every sense. Kester then provides an exceptionally detailed breakdown of the film, scene by scene, noting exactly where each piece fits in the finished movie and using the extended version as his reference so as to include all the cues. The result is useful, but one of those cases where the film really is so bad that it is hard to care about the origins of the music at all, simply enjoying it for what it is on album.
To find out what this music at heart is about one must turn to "The Bees Arrive", a five minute set piece which is a pulsating relentless tension builder with the same driving implacability as Goldsmith's great pasagcalia from The Blue Max - a rather more sensible film concerning death from the air. This blistering cue is as exciting as anything in the Goldsmith canon and the centrepiece of the score. As for the rest, it's a sterling mixture of atmospheric suspense, variations on a typically plaintiff Goldsmith love theme, and driving action music. Standouts are furious "The Bees Picnic", complete with pulsating piano and a riveting setting of the Bee's theme, the tension building epic "Exact Instructions", a nerve-wracking essay in turning tension into panic stricken terror, the heroically martial, "Get Reinforcements!" and the thrilling finale, "The Bees Inside." Far better than any killer B movie music has any right to be (sorry!), the album does perhaps outstay its welcome a little, with not quiet the variety to sustain repeated plays of all 72 minutes. But then skipping a few tracks now and then is just what CD players are for.
Gary S Dalkin