Saturday Cinema

Music of the Apes: How "Planet of the Apes" scores have evolved from the 60s to the present

July 11, 2014
Charlton Heston and friend in Planet of the Apes
Charlton Heston and friend in 1968's Planet of the Apes
20th Century Fox

There's a new Planet of the Apes film out today — and with it a new score by Michael Giacchino. He's just the latest in a long and, perhaps surprisingly, distinguished line of composers who have written music for these dystopian simians.

The original Planet of the Apes movie was released in 1968 and featured a score by the great Jerry Goldsmith. A man with 250 film scores to his credit, he's a master composer whose sound has defined a significant number of franchises including Alien and Star Trek. For Planet of the Apes, Goldsmith took a relatively experimental approach that relied heavily on avant-garde, tribal-sounding percussion and ethereal strings. It's a startling score that is terrifying in its sparseness: there's tremendous space provided for silence within the music.

Goldsmith returned for the third film in the series (Escape From the Planet of the Apes, 1971) with Leonard Rosenman stepping in for parts two (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, 1970) and five (Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973), and Tom Scott handling responsibilities for part four (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, 1972).

The shadow of Goldsmith looms across the franchise. None of the subsequent films varied too drastically in their approach to the score, with a steady adherence to the elements Goldsmith introduced. Scott began to introduce more electronics, which were just starting to come into play at the time, but even then, the DNA was Goldsmith's. It wasn't until the first attempt at a franchise reboot, in 2001, that a shift occurred.

As with most Tim Burton productions, Danny Elfman handled the scoring responsibilities when Burton made his own version of Planet of the Apes. It's an impressive composition at a time when Elfman was starting to redefine his style. It doesn't sound like the stereotypical Elfman score and is better for it, but it also doesn't sound like Goldsmith at all — if anything, it has more resemblance to Scott's work in that Elfman uses electronics quite extensively. While there's still significant percussion and strings, it's not experimental: it's an action film score. Consistently propulsive with overblown arrangements, it suits the kind of film Burton made: a film that didn't click with audiences enough to give Burton another crack at the franchise.

Ten years later, we got Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes and a fantastic score by Patrick Doyle. Rise worked because it embraced the original film without nostalgic romanticism. It didn't get stuck in its achievements, but worked to highlight them via new directions. Doyle's score is propulsion very much like Elfman's score, but succeeds because between the high-energy bursts are quiet interludes. While not sparse and terrifying in the manner of Goldsmith, they do provide a way in for viewers weary of orchestral thunder. Doyle was also very smart to introduce the human voice and additional winds that redefined this franchise for a new generation.

This brings us to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Giacchino. No stranger to joining existing franchises — or Goldsmith, for that matter, with his work on the new Star Trek films — Giacchino also has a longstanding relationship with director Matt Reeves. The two worked together on Reeves's previous films, and have become as closely associated with each other as are Burton and Elfman.

Garrett Tiedemann is a writer, filmmaker and composer who owns the multimedia lab CyNar Pictures and its record label American Residue Records.

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