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Planet of the Apes
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Varèse Sarabande / 1997 / 68m

Despite its success, I doubt that many people back in 1968 would have predicted that Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes, the now-legendary allegorical science fiction movie based on Pierre Boule’s novel, would launch a franchise still going strong nearly half a century later, having so far produced four sequels, two tv shows, a remake and now a reboot series whose third film has already been announced.  Charlton Heston starred as an astronaut whose ship crash lands on a planet two thousand years in the future, a planet ruled by apes, a planet that turns out to be Earth.

Jerry Goldsmith scored seven of Schaffner’s films and amongst that group are some of the very finest film scores ever written – Patton is a phenomenal piece of writing, Papillon boasts Goldsmith’s most wonderful theme and some moments of dramatic scoring remarkable even by his standards, Islands in the Stream is such an obviously personal work – but amongst all of them, there is no doubt that Planet of the Apes is the one to have left the deepest mark and permeated into the consciousnesses of people who would never usually notice film scores.  It was immediately acclaimed as being one of the most daring fusions of movie and music and is still regarded as such today.

Jerry Goldsmith conducts Planet of the Apes

Jerry Goldsmith conducts Planet of the Apes

Other composers had used avant garde music in film by that point, of course, but Goldsmith was the first to do it in a mainstream popular blockbuster like Planet of the Apes.  The opening title piece sets the scene perfectly: an array of percussion (some of it filtered through an echoplex), a jabbing little piano phrase, stabs of brass – it’s a perfect sound for a primal alien world.  Famously, Goldsmith filled his percussion section up with everything – almost the kitchen sink – there are pots and pans, mixing bowls, no doubt other unspecified kitchen items.

“Crash Landing” continues the score with a staggeringly violent cue – snare drums, blaring brass, racing strings – this is not music for the faint-hearted.  It is so brilliantly atmospheric, spot on in its depiction of chaos and confusion.  “The Searchers” is another unsettling piece but then “The Search Continues” introduces an eerie calm, which of course doesn’t last too long as the tension builds once again.  “The Clothes Snatchers” is a brilliant piece, strings alternating between being plucked and bowed, a frantic energy emerging.

That energy then fully explodes in the extraordinary “The Hunt”, one of the most remarkable pieces of music ever written for film and staggeringly omitted from the original soundtrack LP for Planet of the Apes even though it was only 25 minutes long (I very rarely criticise Goldsmith’s album selections, but that one was bizarre to say the least).  Trademark Goldsmithian low-end piano action music, xylophone, a repeated motif thrown all around the orchestra, it’s already a fascinating piece of action music when a minute into the cue Goldsmith unleashes the ram’s horn, such a startling sound it’s genuinely arresting no matter how many times I hear it.  The piece grows and grows until its truly cacophonous conclusion.  Had Jerry Goldsmith never written another piece of film music other than “The Hunt” he would still be a film music legend.

“A New Mate” is a more low-key interlude before another crashing and violent action track, “The Revelation”, breathlessly fast-paced at first before morphing into a piece of compelling drama.  Second only to “The Hunt” as an action spectacular, “No Escape” is like a whirling dervish of a cue, frenzied and chaotic with a sensational piano solo and some remarkable effects from the percussion.  The mood turns especially dark in “The Trial”, a relatively brief cue which is as gloomy as they come, ominous floating string phrases and wind chimes which is continued into “New Identity”.  “A Bid for Freedom” isn’t so grim – there’s a very slightly comic feel to the trumpet march that emerges late in the cue.  The expressive material from early in the score is revisited in “The Forbidden Zone”, another otherworldly piece of evocative scoring.  Stranger sounds dominate “The Intruders” and “The Cave” (the former including an acoustically-achieved approximation of an ape call) before the score concludes (just before the film does) in “The Revelation (Part II)”, a contemplative piece that is the perfect coda to one of the most mature and intelligent of film scores.

The original 25-minute album was released on CD by several different labels before Intrada finally added “The Hunt” and put it out in the early 1990s.  It took until this 1997 album from Varèse Sarabande for the complete score to be heard, on a remarkably good sounding album produced by Nick Redman which also includes a 16-minute suite from the composer’s completely different-sounding score for the third film in the series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (the only time this composer returned to the universe – Leonard Rosenman scored two of the other sequels, Tom Scott the other – and the score has subsequently been released separately).  It’s an extraordinary achievement, this score – inspiration clearly came from Stravinsky and Bartok but it’s Jerry Goldsmith through and through, at the peak of his creative powers.  It’s not traditionally melodic in any way, indeed it’s an extremely challenging listen in so many ways, but such a rewarding one.  A Goldsmith masterpiece.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Tuesday 15 July, 2014 at 01:53

    One of Goldsmith’s best works, and this is saying a lot. This is a score that demonstrates all the creativity of a genius like him.

  2. netzfundsachen (Reply) on Tuesday 15 July, 2014 at 09:15

    Absolutely agree. One of my all time favorite scores. And one of the rare ones I have more than one release of. Interesting are the different mixes on the Intrada and the complete Varese.

  3. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Wednesday 16 July, 2014 at 13:36

    This has always been one to appreciate, rather than to enjoy, for me. I get that it was incredibly creative and incredibly daring, but I just can’t listen to it that often because of the sheer atonality and lack of melody.

  4. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 17 July, 2014 at 03:10

    Yeah, Orion, I’m with you on that one. I can listen to the two big action cues but not much else. That it’s an astonishing work is an entirely different matter.

  5. Spoilerguard (Reply) on Friday 18 July, 2014 at 22:28

    a planet that turns out to be Earth.

    A spoiler alert would have been nice