- Composed by Patrick Doyle
- Varèse Sarabande / 2011 / 62m
Most people filed Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Fox’s attempt to bring new life to its longstanding franchise – under “surprisingly good”. I was one of those people. It covers similar ground to 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, telling the origins of the well-known story. Save for the contrived “damn dirty ape” line, it works very well, James Franco doing well as the scientist at the heart of a drug company’s programme to boost primates’ intelligence in an attempt to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, which is ailing Franco’s father, touchingly played by John Lithgow.
After a few years where he took on a considerably lower profile, popular composer Patrick Doyle rose back to the land of the blockbuster in 2011, first with Thor and then this. On Thor it seemed that director (and close friend) Kenneth Branagh had to fight quite hard against studio resistance to bring Doyle on board, with a condition being that the composer somewhat tone down his usual instincts and emphasise a few rather blander aspects of modern film scoring techniques. There was no Branagh on Apes, so the composer can only have been picked because all concerned thought he was the right man for the job. While the score still doesn’t sound like 100% “pure Doyle”, the concessions to more modern elements don’t ever feel so forced, and it packs quite a punch.
It opens – as most things do – with “The Beginning”, which after a few bars of spookiness quickly reaches a fever pitch of excitement, distinctive deep male vocals joining running strings, crashing brass and a huge array of percussion for some breathless thrills; calm follows, first through a soothing female vocal and then a restrained presentation of one of the score’s main melodic themes, a long-lined idea with considerable dramatic thrust, the percussion gradually returning to add more and more momentum as it builds towards its rousing conclusion. That’s pretty much the score in a nutshell – moments of calm frequently punctuated by great thrills. “Bright Eyes Escapes” continues the action, building more slowly this time; it’s also interesting to hear the incorporation of the electronics, which is handled well (Doyle seems more comfortable doing that than some of his contemporaries).
The playful “Lofty Swing” brings with it a few hints of Africa, with the subtle chorus and colourful percussion. “Stealing the 112” brings with it a string ostinato and electronic percussion, but there’s enough of Doyle’s stamp on it to avoid it sounding too derivative, despite those two elements forming the cornerstone of so much of the homogenised gloop of music which has dominated action thrillers since The Bourne Identity. In “Muir Woods”, Doyle introduces a theme full of awe and wonder, musically representing the central simian character Caesar’s journey to freedom. This feeling is pushed still further in “Off You Go”, a cooing choir initially providing the magic before the orchestra explodes into an orgy of happiness.
After the wonder of the score’s opening section, things take a different turn as the mood of the film darkens. “Caesar Protects Charles” has a noble feel at its core, but the music leaves little doubt that things have changed for the ape – suddenly things are more grown-up, more serious. This is followed by an incredible sadness pervading “The Primate Facility”, anguished strings sending the listener through the emotional wringer. “Rocket Attacks Caesar” is a piece of dark action music, presaging the real turning point in both score and film, “Visiting Time”, when Caesar rejects his human guardian in order to stay behind with his own kind. Doyle adds a compelling dramatic thrust to proceedings, and no small amount of emotion. “Caesing the Knife” is a brief but brutal piece of action music, really thilling stuff; and that feeling continues through the next couple of cues, though they’re not quite so memorable.
“Caesar’s Stand” opens a remarkable sequence of action cues which cover almost twenty minutes towards the end of the album. That cue begins with rumbling, growling brass before it develops into something more intensely dramatic, a melodic thrust playing over the frenetic percussion towards the end of the piece. “Gen-Sys Freedom” sees the percussion accompany snarling brass clusters, sandwiching the briefest period of calm; “Zoo Breakout” adds manic string runs to the mix, ratcheting the thrills up yet another notch. Just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any more frantic, they do, in “Golden Gate Bridge”, an action extravaganza that rivals any such piece in Doyle’s career – especially when it takes on an epic sound as the choir is introduced late on and we hear a return to the awe-and-wonder spectacle from earlier in the score. The sequence concludes with the cacophonous “The Apes Attack”, another piece of beautifully-constructed thrills.
Two pieces remain on the album, and Doyle uses these to bring some emotional closure, reprising his main themes in the gorgeous “Caesar and Buck” and the rousing finale “Caesar is Home”. While this is undoubtedly the most mainstream of all the Apes scores, it’s also arguably the only one which attempts to give a real emotional arc to the apes themselves. The album isn’t consistently outstanding – a few tracks I haven’t mentioned in my commentary above don’t really add too much – but is quite a thrill ride, proving Patrick Doyle’s more than got the chops to play at the top table even in modern action movies.