By Charlie Brigden
How reverential should you really be to an existing canon you’re joining? Do you slavishly pay tribute to what’s gone before? Do you ignore everything and do what you like? Michael Giacchino already has a lot of experience in this field – even before scoring movies like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, he was writing music for video games based on Jurassic Park, so it seems like his score for Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes should be a cinch, no? Read on and you’ll find out, but a word of warning: pun-filled track titles lie ahead*.
Well, what can I say. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (or DOTPOTA as it shall be known throughout this review) is an immense achievement. Giacchino has not exactly been a slouch in recent times (Star Trek Into Darkness was an excellent score) but this is something else. Referring to before, there are certainly references to the overall percussion-based element of the music of the saga, an important part since Jerry Goldsmith’s 1968 original masterpiece, but Giacchino infuses it here with his own rich talent for melody, and including melody in action pieces. The score starts off on an unexpected note, with a delicate piano solo that conjures feelings of isolation, abandon, and death (the track is called ‘Level Plaguing Field’), along with a faint choir. At the end of the cue strange sounds enter, creaking, haunting, which ready the listener for ‘Look Who’s Stalking’ where similar sounds are overtaken by one of a few homages to Ligeti’s ‘Lux Aeturna’ (famously from 2001 and recently used in Godzilla). It’s an uncomfortable feeling that is steadily combined with Giacchino’s typical brass in a moment which has to be the title reveal.
There are a lot of disconcerting moments in the score, perhaps surprisingly so for Giacchino, but perhaps not the film. Remember, this picture is just another stop on the journey towards the actual world of Planet of the Apes, so this is not a happy story, and that’s certainly reflected here. The percussion is a great outlet for the rage and the fury of the titular apes, so it’s not unwelcome to see it take centre stage. And it’s used in so many different ways; in a primal and foreboding tone in ‘Close Encounters of the Furred Kind’, to build momentum in ‘Monkey See, Monkey Coup’, and for straight anger in the amazing ‘Gorilla Warfare’. The latter is so great, especially since it feels like a Goldsmith throwback, with huge echoing drums with string and brass counterpoint, and loud war horns. The howling percussion is often partnered with choir, but it’s a distinctive change from Giacchino’s usual style, much of it more atonal and restrained.
What’s great about the album – and Giacchino – is that it has a clear narrative line. The early cues seem to represent ape harmony, with tracks like ‘The Great Ape Processional’ with a noble string melody that seems to suggest a kind of ape Americana, and the beautiful and emotional harp of ‘Past Their Primates’, with the soulful ape family motif. Things start to get dark fairly quickly (‘Monkey To The City’ has warm moments conquered by the violent repetitive ape theme) and while ‘Along Simian Lines’ tries to hold it back with a tender reading of the family motif that reminds me of the ‘Father and Son’ cue from Jaws, it builds with low strings and metallic percussion into something more foreboding and serious. And then we have the aforementioned ‘Monkey See…’ and it all starts to kick off and go to hell. ‘The Apes of Wrath’ bring us chaos incarnate, but it’s wonderful to see a cacophony of instruments coming together in a harsh and uncomfortable way but still being clear. This isn’t just noise.
What’s great here is a building slow and malevolent version of the angry ape theme coming through on brass backed by the drums, a massive call-to-arms statement that follows through really to the end. There is a respite with a reappearance of the family motif in ‘Aped Crusaders’ but there’s something stretched about it, and by its end it’s dead serious. ‘How Bonobo Can You Go’ has vicious percussion with a curious woodwind accompaniment, and as brass builds the cue up, there’s a solo female voice singing something, faint lyrics that are seemingly impossible to make out. It’s another haunting moment, obviously Ligeti-influenced again, and it just feels important to the point where I can imagine what scene this might accompany based on the trailer (not going to mention it here).
‘Enough Monkeying Around’ is another Jerry Goldsmith homage, and it’s so welcome. Full of really harsh brass and crazy percussion with a massive reading of the angry ape theme, it’s sounds iconic, and when the big choir comes in you want to cheer. ‘Primates For Life’ takes it back to the family motif and it suddenly all feels very small and intimate but huge at the same time. It’s almost a lament, a sense of regret yet relief, a beautiful cue with an emotional climax that feels like the end of the line. And then a soaring melody comes through, the sun through the clouds, just a stunning moment, and the percussion comes back in and it lifts once more. Perfect.
The album ends with two pieces, the mammoth ‘Planet of the End Credits’ and the short ‘Ain’t That A Stinger.’ The latter is a foreboding piece that you’d expect, and the former is the expected end title suite wrapping up the themes and material. It’s a great cue, and includes a wonderful choral version of the family motif that acts as the climax.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is another stage in the evolution of Michael Giacchino. It’s a stunning work, probably his most complete yet, and while I prefer John Carter just more for the sheer melody, it’s a privilege to hear such a great score which shows just what a fantastic composer Giacchino is. I have to see the film to judge it in its proper environment, but so far, based on the album, it’s the best score of the year. By far.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes will be released on July 14 (digital) and July 21 (CD) in the UK and July 8 (digital) and July 29 (CD) in the US from Sony Classical
*in the immortal words of William Shatner, if that bothers you that much, ‘Get a life!’