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Artwork copyright (c) 1968 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Classic monkey business from Goldsmith


Instantly regarded as one of the classic fusions of film and music upon its release in 1968, Franklin J. Schaffner's Planet of the Apes is still highly thought of today, with its allegorical tale of humans waking after centuries asleep in space and landing on a planet in which apes are the dominant race over men (not to mention women).  Subtle it isn't, but it's fairly intelligent and it was a massive success for its time, spawning countless sequels, a tv series and a big-budget remake from Tim Burton.  For all that, the one key element that led to the film's success was the makeup, with the monkeys not looking so ludicrous to spoil the effect of the film.

If the film doesn't perhaps retain all its appeal all these years later (its surprise ending can hardly have much impact on people any more), the score has lost none of its lustre.  While composers like Alex North and Leonard Rosenman had pushed the boundaries of just how modern orchestral music could become in films, Jerry Goldsmith went a step even further, and it's probably fair to say that nobody has quite matched it since for its blistering modernity, and of course he famously came up with musical effects not through using synthesisers but through using acoustic instruments in unusual ways, particularly for percussion effects, and through using instruments far from standard in a symphony orchestra, with everything from a ram's horn to (literally) pots and pans making an appearance.

Impressive it is, but melodic it isn't.  One of Goldsmith's few serial scores, he bases much of it on simple progressions, tiny, fragmented motifs and sometimes furious percussion writing for the action sequences.  The most famous of the action cues, and one which must surely be considered as one of the most outstanding pieces of film music, is "The Hunt", outrageously omitted from the original vinyl album and early CD release, with the composer at his most inventive and exciting.  An extraordinary piece, Goldsmith combines piano, brass and percussion for a piece of ferocious excitement.  Almost as good is "No Escape", another furiously intense piece of action scoring.

Planet of the Apes has been released on CD on numerous occasions, but the definitive release is clearly Varese Sarabande's 1997 album featuring the entire score in excellent sound courtesy of producer Nick Redman.  Also included as a bonus - and it's quite a bonus - is a 16-minute suite from the second sequel (and the only one of the sequels to have been scored by Goldsmith), Escape from the Planet of the Apes.  After the intense, avant garde music from the first film, it's something of a surprise.  It opens with a brief section of music that is like an extension of the original score, but then comes a main theme composed in the style of 1970s jazz funk, a most unexpected turn of events!  The movie was actually set in contemporary Earth which explains where that came from.  The rest of the score is good quality as well, though never quite so piercing (and clearly not as original) as that from the first film.

Planet of the Apes is one of the most sensational of all film scores, quite audacious in its way, and as such it's highly recommended.  It goes without saying that those whose love of Goldsmith extends only as far as Rudy are unlikely to be impressed, but for fans of his more complex works - and those of North and Rosenman, not to mention Bartok and Stravinsky - should certainly give it a whirl.

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  1. Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (:13)
  2. Main Title (2:13)
  3. Crash Landing (6:40)
  4. The Searchers (2:25)
  5. The Search Continues (4:55)
  6. The Clothes Snatchers (3:09)
  7. The Hunt (5:10)
  8. A New Mate (1:04)
  9. The Revelation (3:20)
  10. No Escape (5:39)
  11. The Trial (1:45)
  12. New Identity (2:24)
  13. A Bid for Freedom (2:36)
  14. The Forbidden Zone (3:23)
  15. The Intruders (1:09)
  16. The Cave (1:20)
  17. The Revelation (Part II) (3:15)
  18. Suite from Escape from the Planet of the Apes (16:27)