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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • 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.

On the Apes scoring stage

On the Apes scoring stage

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.

Rating: ***

See also:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Patrick Doyle | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Monday 14 July, 2014 at 02:14

    I liked very much the theme of “The Great Ape Processional”, especially its representation on “Primates for Life” and the end credits suite. It is easily the most emotional theme by Giacchino since Super 8. The “action theme” (firstly heard on “Close Encounters of Furren Kind”) is pretty nice too. However, I agree with you, James, there are some really dull moments on this album, which reminds me of the most boring moments of Lost’s (like you said) and Super 8’s scores.

    And Giacchino was the second composer this year to quote Ligeti (the first one was Desplat on “Godzilla”, of course). Interesting to note that different composers had the same idea. Of course, we can’t say that Giacchino was copying Desplat, because, when Apes’ score was being recorded, Godzilla’s album was already released.

  2. Palavar (Reply) on Monday 14 July, 2014 at 03:37

    I’ve never heard any of Giacchino’s Lost material, but I was very much reminded of his work on Let Me In a few years ago.

  3. Mikal (Reply) on Monday 14 July, 2014 at 05:39

    Palavar – Let Me In immediately came to mind for me, as well – in addition to Lost and Super 8, but before those even (i.e., “Level Playing Field”) – particularly in Giacchino’s employment of piano and choir.

  4. James Southall (Reply) on Monday 14 July, 2014 at 08:11

    I must admit I don’t remember a single thing about Let Me In.

  5. Kalman (Reply) on Monday 14 July, 2014 at 12:17

    I have never saw a single episode of Lost, nor heard the music. The same goes with Let Me In. Does it mean that I will enjoy this score? I hope so; the soundclips sound great in my opinion.

  6. sdtom (Reply) on Monday 14 July, 2014 at 13:19

    It’s such a shame that such a well written review had to be about a poor quality score. I’m sick of this new material in general.

  7. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Monday 14 July, 2014 at 20:08

    Poor quality? Oh come on, Tom. It might not be the most entertaining or melodic album in the world but there’s no denying the craftsmanship.

  8. Gary Dalkin (Reply) on Monday 14 July, 2014 at 21:39

    Spot on, as so often James. There’s a lot of good stuff here. Enough for a regular length album perhaps. But at 78 minutes it’s not optimized for happy listening.

  9. Chris Avis (Reply) on Tuesday 15 July, 2014 at 19:47

    The one thing that really stands out in this score is that the orchestration sounds more complicated, more mature that Giacchino’s earlier work. This is particularly true in the second half of the album which contains the most aggressive and dissonant material I’ve ever heard from Giacchino. It really helps to make up for the earlier part of the album which indeed is a Lost redux.


  10. Paulo (Reply) on Monday 21 July, 2014 at 02:20

    Patrick Doyle’s installment for Rise is way better…

  11. RichardReeseLaird (Reply) on Wednesday 23 July, 2014 at 20:57

    Spot-on review, good sir James. It’s Giacchino, so it’s quality- it’s very damn good, actually. But perhaps this is “Giacchino to listen to whilst cleaning the house” instead of “Giacchino to write your dissertation about”…

    I’m joining the chat because my fine young son took me to see “Dragon 2” and “Apes” as a double feature yesterday, and basically the effect (for us) was “I can’t really give a thumbs-up to the Dragon script, but it’s one hell of a fine music video” and “this Ape movie is so well done on so many levels that I can’t pay as much attention to the score as I want to.”

    Reason enough to see the Ape film, and then buy the score for future enjoyment and reflection. The filmakers and composer have earned our 2 bits. IMHO.

    (Note: I’m sorry I haven’t been socially interactive with you and the wonderful film score gang in quite a while, but I’ve been in very poor health. It’s surely temporary, and I value all of you folks immensely.)

    Comfort, joy, peace, prosperity, and CHEERS to you and yours, James!

    • James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 23 July, 2014 at 20:59

      Great to hear from you – so sorry to hear you’ve been in poor health. I wish you a speedy recovery.