- Composed by Michael Giacchino
- Sony Masterworks / 2014 / 78m
The astonishingly long-lived Planet of the Apes franchise continues with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, picking up a few years after Rise left off. A simian flu epidemic has wiped out most of humanity, but a hearty band remains, and they’re not too happy about the ape society that has developed, led by Caesar. The human leader is called Dawn, hence the film’s title, though she receives surprisingly little screen time.
Patrick Doyle wrote an excellent score for the previous film but a change of director led to a change of composer, with Cloverfield helmer Matt Reeves bringing Michael Giacchino along with him. This series has had a panoply of composers and a panoply of musical styles; forced to choose then actually the score that Giacchino’s comes closest to is Danny Elfman’s for Tim Burton’s much-derided remake of the first film (and the score was undoubtedly the best thing about that one), though it is very much a Giacchino score, written in the same style as some of his music from Lost, with a few hints of Super 8.
The album gets going with “Level Plaguing Field”, ominous piano chords all over it; “Look Who’s Stalking” launches an assault of percussion which is to become very familiar as the score develops; then “The Great Ape Processional” includes a sweeping melody for the strings (continued in the subsequent “Past Their Primates” in a more intimate setting), a rarity in this score, and is touching and emotional. You could easily imagine any of those three pieces coming from Lost – I’ve always thought that was almost certainly the most “personal” music this composer has ever written (continuing into Super 8) and it’s really just the Giacchino style we’re hearing here, transplanted into the perfect filmic setting for it.
In “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind” we hear an extended passage of pretty dull suspense material before the engaging main theme for the apes is introduced along with jungle percussion – it’s a nice little motif, again which sounds like Lost, but it certainly serves its purpose very effectively. So, a quarter of an hour into the album and each of the five tracks has had something interesting to offer, several good ideas have been heard, the detailed orchestration is very impressive… and so it’s very surprising that somehow I find it slightly less engaging than I feel I ought to. Shouldn’t a score with all that be one of my very favourites of the year? I wonder if it’s as simple as, having heard all seven thousand volumes of Lost soundtracks that were put out, I’ve just had my fill of it. (Perhaps a similar reason exists for me finding Howard Shore’s Hobbit scores utterly unengaging.) I don’t want to go overboard with this – there’s obvious quality all over this, obvious talent that went into creating it; I just don’t think the whole is necessarily as high as the sum of the parts.
There’s plenty of good stuff here, though. My favourite idea of all is first heard shortly afterwards, “The Lost City of Chimpanzee” including a Ligeti-style distant choir with a percussive heartbeat over it – very clever and very impressive. “Monkey Sea, Monkey Coup” is a fantastic piece of action writing, percussion, strings and choir combining brilliantly for a ferocious aural assault which continues into the following “Gorilla Warfare”, a lengthy piece that doesn’t keep up the momentum all the way through but which does contain some impressive moments. “The Apes of Wrath” (my favourite of the punny track titles) is one of the more violent pieces of action, very bold and brash. “Primates for Life” offers a touching conclusion to the main body of the score, nicely unchecked emotion coming strongly through, and it’s probably the second best track on the album. The best one follows immediately, the nine-minute end title piece, the score’s main ideas summarised very neatly indeed.
The score falls down in two ways, I think – firstly as I mentioned for being so close to the Lost world (see what I did there?) and consequently losing a little of its impact; secondly from the album presentation, which is just far too long (do people really have the stamina for 78 minutes of this?) It would be churlish to focus on that, though, when there’s undoubtedly plenty of quality to be found – the atmosphere is carefully constructed, the core material is very strong, so with a better album production it could have really shone. As it stands – very decent but not really as spectacular as you always think it should be. I can’t imagine, for all the highlights I have listed above, I will be listening to it all that often, which is of course the fundamental purpose of any music album.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Patrick Doyle