DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – Michael Giacchino
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the eighth film extrapolated from the ideas originally posited in Pierre Boulle’s 1963 French novel La Planète des Singes; after the five original films in the 1960 and 70s that began with the Charlton Heston classic, the 2001 Tim Burton movie everyone ignores, and the well-received first installment of the reboot series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, we continue the story ten years after the conclusion of that film. Most of the world’s human population has been killed by the ALZ-113 virus, which was created in the first film as a possible cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but proved fatal to all humans except for a few random individuals with natural genetic immunity. Caesar, the chimpanzee who became super-intelligent during the first film, subsequently escaped into the woods near San Francisco with other apes he freed from captivity, and established a basic civilization there; like all non-humans, he is completely immune to the effects of ALZ-113. The plot concerns the conflict between Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the leaders of a group of survivors in what remains of San Francisco who must venture into ape territory to re-establish power at a hydroelectric dam, and Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Koba (Toby Kebbell), the leaders of the ape colony who face dangers both from the humans and from within their own community.
The film, which was directed by Matt Reeves and co-stars Keri Russell and Kodi Smit McPhee, has received almost universal critical acclaim, for the premise, the sympathetic and non-judgmental way the film addresses the conflict from all four main points of view (Malcolm, Caesar, Dreyfus, Koba), and especially for the central performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar, who overcomes the limitations of motion capture technology and imbues his character with emotion, subtlety and a great deal of depth. Less effusive has been the praise for composer Michael Giacchino, who is working with director Reeves for the third time after Cloverfield in 2008 and Let Me In in 2010. In very broad-brush terms, Giacchino’s score for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a combination of the emotional parts of his scores for Super 8 and the Lost TV series, and the vaguely jungley action music he wrote for things like Land of the Lost, and the Lost World: Jurassic Park video game series back in the 1990s. There is much more to it than that, of course, but in terms of a broad overview, that’s about as good as you’re going to get.
The score’s centerpiece is its ‘Big Emotional Theme’, first heard during “The Great Ape Processional” and later in cues such as the more understated “Past Their Primates”, the excellent “Primates for Life” and the all-encompassing end credits piece. Despite clearly being inspired the finale of Super 8 and the most touching moments of Lost, as well as the downbeat finale of his score for Reeves’s Let Me In, there is still an emotional wallop packed by these pieces of music, and it’s during these moments that the score really shine, especially when Giacchino incorporates a subtle choral accent.
The slightly tribal-sounding action music is clearly paying homage to the experimental sounds Jerry Goldsmith brought to his seminal simian score in 1968, especially in the percussion section. Although I don’t think Giacchino borrowed mixing bowls from the Chinese restaurant next door, or got his brass section to blow their horns without mouthpieces, as Goldsmith famously did, there is still a sense of rugged rawness to cues like “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind”, “Monkey See, Monkey Coup”, “The Apes of Wrath” and “Enough Monkeying Around”, many of which incorporate xylophones and other unusual wooden percussion items into the mix to good effect, and which are built around a recurring six-note rhythmic motif. In addition, some of the low-end bassoon chords, offset by more flighty flute trills, are really quite cleverly structured, while “Look Who’s Stalking” and “The Lost City of Chimpanzee” feature a prepared piano and this year’s second homage to the vocal stylings of György Ligeti.
Where the score drags is during its more suspenseful moments, via cues such as “Gibbon Take”, “Apes Crusaders” and “How Bonobo Can You Go”, which are frankly rather dull, consisting of little more than elongated string sustains, shifting brass textures, and repetitive percussion rhythms. I have never found Giacchino to be an especially great low-key composer; he excels when he’s writing big themes or complicated action cues, but seem to struggle to find something interesting to say when writing music that has to take a back seat.
I’m sure you noticed that all the track titles on the score are monkey puns – something that Giacchino and his team have done for a while now, even though they are effectively aping the funny little ideas Christopher Young had as long ago as the mid-1990s. I like the fact that they have fun with these things, but the po-faced among you will probably have preferred him to be as literal as Jerry Goldsmith was. One other thing worth mentioning is the fact that the final cue, “Ain’t That a Stinger”, is officially credited to his nine-year-old son Griffith Giacchino, in a nice little echo of the credit the great Basil Poledouris gave to his then 9-year old daughter Zoë for contributing a melody to Conan the Barbarian.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of those rare scores where it works really well in the film, but suffers slightly when removed from its visual inspiration. There are many outstanding moments, most of them involving those aforementioned sequences of high emotion, but there are also far too many periods of curiously dead air, where nothing seems to happen for quite lengthy periods of time, causing the album to drag. I’m loathed to say that I was disappointed by a Michael Giacchino score, because lord knows his disappointments are significantly superior to a large number of other composer’s best works, but that’s the price you pay for having the kind of stellar filmography Giacchino has established over the past decade. Fans of Lost and Super 8 will undoubtedly enjoy this continuation of the style, and although others would be advised to approach with a tiny bit of caution, I still wouldn’t recommend gibbon it a wide berth.
Buy the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Level Plaguing Field (2:21)
- Look Who’s Stalking (2:35)
- The Great Ape Processional (4:34)
- Past Their Primates (1:57)
- Close Encounters of the Furred Kind (4:38)
- Monkey to the City (1:16)
- The Lost City of Chimpanzee (3:46)
- Along Simian Lines (5:04)
- Caesar No Evil, Hear No Evil (2:27)
- Monkey See, Monkey Coup (5:12)
- Gorilla Warfare (7:37)
- The Apes of Wrath (4:28)
- Gibbon Take (2:55v
- Aped Crusaders (3:26)
- How Bonobo Can You Go (5:42)
- Enough Monkeying Around (3:35)
- Primates for Life (5:42)
- Planet of the End Credits (8:56)
- Ain’t That a Stinger (written by Griffith Giacchino) (1:10)
Running Time: 77 minutes 39 seconds
Sony Music Masterworks 888430882621 (2014)
Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Michael Giacchino and Tim Simonec. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Paul Apelgren. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.