Save for a pair of failed television spinoffs, the series remained largely dormant until Tim Burton attempted to reboot it with 2001's disastrous Planet of the Apes. Kudos to Tim Roth, but that's really all I've got to say about that one. Flash forward nearly a decade later to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the first film in the long-running franchise to fully embrace the possibilities of performance capture effects. Loosely based on the premise of the fourth Apes film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the 2011 blockbuster acted as an origin story for the franchise, exploring the development of an experimental drug that dramatically increases the intelligence of apes, but nearly wipes out humanity in the process. The film garnered much praise, not only for its visual effects but also for Andy Serkis's mesmerizing motion-capture portrayal of Caesar, the focal chimp of the film. The series continues with 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, picking up ten years after its predecessor and pitting Caesar's blossoming ape community against the surviving human population of a deteriorating San Francisco. With a different director at the helm, Cloverfield's Matt Reeves, and a largely new cast, Dawn proved a superior entry to Rise in almost every way, and became a critical and box-office smash.
Now the music of the Planet of the Apes franchise has had an interesting place in cinematic history. Composed by the late Jerry Goldsmith, the score for the original 1968 film was groundbreaking for its time. Highly avant-garde in execution, it relied on bizarre orchestration, unconventional rhythms, and a great deal of dissonance to communicate an otherworldly setting. From its iconic opening bars, the score thrust audiences into unfamiliar territory, offering little respite from the film's dark dystopia. Due to Goldsmith's scheduling conflicts with Patton, Leonard Rosenman had to step in for the sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and ended up contributing a score admirably consistent with Goldsmith's established sound. By Escape from the Planet of the Apes, however, Goldsmith had returned to score the series, though the film's oddly conceived time-traveling plot line forced the composer to abandon the franchise's staple, modernist sound in favor of a quirkier, pop-inspired approach. For the reboot of the franchise in 2011, there was some question as to what kind of balance would be struck between the otherworldly sound of the original films and the more traditional orchestrations audiences have come to expect. Composer Patrick Doyle's score leaned more to the latter, melding the American blockbuster sound with his own classical sensibilities (with a final product reminiscent of his Thor), whilst also integrating minor primordial touches to address the ape characters. Many anticipated Doyle's return for the sequel, but new director Matt Reeves instead chose to bring along Cloverfield collaborator Michael Giacchino to work on the film.
Giacchino's score marks a stylistic and tonal departure from its predecessor. While Doyle's score was tightly focused and surprisingly exuberant, Giacchino's is sprawling, stark, and lonely, more adequately suiting the grim setting and strong emotional core of the film. It's closest cousins may be Giacchino's own scores for Let Me In, Super 8, and J.J. Abrams' Lost television series, though it also pays some homage to Jerry Goldsmith's Planet of the Apes in its darker, more primal moments. Opening with "Level Plaguing Field" (Giacchino, per usual, goes ape with his track titles), the score begins with a solemn theme for lonely piano, which is soon joined by brooding strings and a haunting choir. The theme Giacchino weaves is an uncomplicated, woeful ode to humanity as it struggles to survive in the face of extinction. The theme also receives extensive treatment in the fantastic "Planet of the End Credits", a worthwhile cue to test the waters with as it features all of the score's major thematic material.
If humanity's theme is stark and lonely, the identity that Giacchino attributes to the ape community is empathetic and majestic, though also presented in the occasional tender, intimate variation. Briefly alluded to in "Look Who's Stalking", the theme receives its first full statement in "The Great Ape Processional", a warm, sweeping cue to introduce Caesar's ape society. Though it reminds very much of some of Giacchino's Lost and, particularly, the more sentimental finale of Super 8, the composer packs enough emotional power into the theme's grander statements that its rather familiar nature becomes a minor quibble. "Past their Primates" features the theme in a quietly reverent variation, on piano and soft strings, as does "Along Simian Lines" briefly, while "Primates for Life" explores the theme on weightier strings for the film's finale and "Planet of the End Credits" gives it a brilliant sendoff. Though this a theme that will be familiar to fans of Giacchino's prior work, it still proves emotionally resonant and, at times, quite awe-inspiring.
The "Processional" theme portrays the familial nature of Caesar's ape society, emphasizing hope and warmth, but Giacchino also addresses the animalistic side of the apes. Perhaps paying homage to Jerry Goldsmith's classic 1968 score, the composer places a heavy emphasis on percussion, sprinkles the action music with frenetic woodwinds, xylophone, and a few unplaceable instruments, and often utilizes a peculiar sliding effect that churns in the score's lower registers (it can be heard, for example, at the opening of "Planet of the End Credits"). The highlight of his ape material, though, is an extremely memorable six-note motif first heard in "Close Encounters of the Furred Kind". It's the kind of infectious hook that one might instead expect from Giacchino's Mission Impossible efforts, but boy does it work here! "Close Encounters of the Furred Kind" features the motif in its propulsive mode, while tracks like "Monkey to the City" demonstrate a more deliberately-paced, "lurking" variation. It's also used to great effect in one of the action highlights,"Enough Monkeying Around", a three and a half minute powerhouse of primal mayhem. Look to "Planet of the End Credits", though, for the motif's definitive, brassy iteration, complete with frenzied woodwinds and xylophone dancing around it.
The last of Giacchino's major identities for the score is a "dawn" motif, heard primarily at the close of the score, though also hinted at in prior tracks ("How Bonobo Can You Go"). Suggesting the ascension of apes to the position of earth's dominant species, the motif is a formidable string of rising (dawning?) chord progressions, complete with majestic choir and capped off by weighty horn blasts and slams of the percussion (i.e., the proper "horn of doom"). Though "Primates for Life" and "Planet of the End Credits" offer the only fully developed explorations of this idea, it nonetheless remains a highlight of the score.
Michael Giacchino's score bears little resemblance to that of its predecessor, but the film itself is such a departure from Rise of the Planet of the Apes that this change seems warranted. The biggest drawback to Giacchino's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, though, is its accompanying album release. Clocking in at over an hour and fifteen minutes, the album exacerbates the tediousness of some of its quieter moments and spreads out its highlights a little too much. The score has a lot of worthwhile material, but it's also one that, save for the propulsive action music, is quite slow paced and (in a rainy-day sort of way) oddly soothing. Its darker moments boast references to Goldsmith's Apes, as well as frequent quotations of Ligeti's dissonant choral work (which, considering Desplat's Godzilla, seems to be all the rage this year), but this is a Giacchino score through and through. Some may take issue with how familiar it all sounds, but if you can get past that, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may actually surprise you. In this reviewer's opinion, its one of the better scores to accompany a blockbuster this year. Just don't get bogged down in its more stagnant moments.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "Level Plaguing Field", "The Great Ape Processional", "Close Encounters of the Furred Kind", "Enough Monkeying Around", "Primates for Life", "Planet of the End Credits"
Label: Sony Classical
Availability: 19 track edition