Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > PLANET OF THE APES – Jerry Goldsmith

PLANET OF THE APES – Jerry Goldsmith

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs sold 20th Century Fox on a bold new effort to reinvigorate the science fiction genre, which had languished since the start of the decade. The vehicle for the genre resurrection would be Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes (Planet of the Apes). After securing the film rights Rod Serling and Michael Wilson were tasked with writing the screenplay. The technical challenges of the required prosthetic make-up delayed the film for quite some time. Fox Studios finally gave the green light to film when make-up designer John Chambers developed prosthetics flexible enough for the actors to express facial emotions. Jacobs had always seen Charlton Heston playing the lead role of John Taylor and on his request, Franklin Schaffner was hired to direct. A fine cast was assembled, which included Roddy McDowell as Cornelius, Kim Hunter as Zira, Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius, James Daly as Honorius, Lou Wagner as Lucius, and Linda Harrison as Nova.

The story, which is set in the year 3,978 CE, reveals a spacecraft with its crew in suspended animation unexpectedly crashing on a planet believed to be in the constellation Orion. Taylor, and crewmates Lando and Dodge barely escape in a raft as the ship sinks in an inland lake. The desert world seems desolate and soil samples indicate that it is incapable of supporting life. After a torturous journey they come upon a verdant zone. As they bathe in a pool their clothes and provisions are stolen. Soon they are shocked to see armed talking apes on horseback herding and capturing other humans. Dodge is shot dead, Landon wounded, and Taylor shot in the throat. In an Ape City animal psychologist Zira, and surgeon Galen treat him medically. We bear witness to a rigid caste society with gorillas as the military, police, hunters and workers, orangutans as administrators, politicians, lawyers and priests, and chimpanzees as intellectuals, physicians and scientists. Zira and her fiancé Cornelius, an archeologist, bond with Taylor during his recovery. All goes to hell when Taylor’s throat heals and he speaks – in this world humans cannot speak. This revelation arouses a fierce animus from Dr. Zaius who resolves to murder Talyor, who he believes is a mortal threat to Ape civilization.

Taylor, Nova, Zira, Lucius and Cornelius escape and manage to take Dr. Zaius hostage. In a cave excavated by Cornelius, Dr. Zaius’ dark secret is at last revealed. They discover artifacts of a heart valve, glasses, and a doll, which speaks, which affirm a prior advanced civilization of speaking humans, antecedent to the current ape culture. Such a revelation is apostasy, as apes believe they were first among all life, created in the image of God. Taylor and Nova ride off into the forbidden zone to seek a new life, only to be warned by Zaius that he will not like what he finds. Cornelius and Zira release Dr. Zaius, who dynamites the cave to destroy all evidence of human civilization and plans to try Cornelius and Zia for heresy. In the film’s iconic final scene Taylor comes across a terrible discovery – the ruined Statue of Liberty buried in the surf. The discovery shatters him as cries out and pounds the sand in torment as he realizes he is on Earth and that humanity has destroyed itself. The film offered a potent social and racial allegory, earning praise for its audacity, innovation and commentary. The film was a resounding commercial success, dominating the box office rankings for three weeks. It also secured critical acclaim, earning Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Score. The Academy bestowed an honorary award to John Chambers for Outstanding Make-up Achievement in a movie.

Director Franklin Schaffner bonded with composer Jerry Goldsmith during their first collaboration, The Stripper, in 1963; as such he was the natural choice for the film. Goldsmith resolved early for his music to speak to the primal and inverted nature of the Ape world and so abandoned the use of traditional melodic constructs, instead drawing inspiration from modernist composers such as Bartok and Stravinsky. For this avant garde effort Goldsmith assembled a remarkable array of percussive, acoustic, ethnic and non-traditional instruments, which included a xylophone, a vibra slap, a cuika (a Brazilian drum head device with a rod inserted in the middle, used to create startling ape imitations), and stainless steel mixing bowls, which Goldsmith brought from his own kitchen. The only electronica used in the score was an Echoplex, which he used to create the echoing effects for his percussion and pizzicato strings. Additionally, he infused his score with string harmonics, employed various bowing techniques such as col legno battuto (using the wood side of the bow), and had his French horn players reverse their mouthpieces and blow air through their horns! Lastly he assembled a huge assortment of drums, the most primitive of all the instruments, along with bells, water drop bars, a piano, boo-bams, an electric harp, an electric bass clarinet, a bass slide whistle, a Shofar, and a ten foot long Tibetan horn.

Goldsmith’s soundscape for the film is surrealistic, abandons key, and offers stunning dissonance. He utilizes an array of ostinato techniques to create kinetic motifs, which serve to unify the score. He strips away civilization, replacing it with the primal brutality of the jungle. One theme, the Ape Theme underpins the film. Its construct is neither melodic, nor harmonic, but instead completely formless. Stark piano strikes serve as a prelude from which arises a three-note motif is articulated by a darting flute. Strings and whooshing horns fill the air and the cue’s energy is propelled by random percussion. The echoplex causes eerie resonating echoes, which are stabbed by sharp striking noises. It perfectly embodies the primitive, the raw primal animus of the apes, thus evoking their brutality, alien nature and horror. I must say that I believe Goldsmith’s effort here was a seminal event in the history of film score art in that it marked the first time a Hollywood film was supported with such an atonal score.

The film opens with a long and pensive soliloquy by Taylor on the bridge of his vessel. They left Earth 700 years ago and he wonders if they will return to a better world. As he joins his three-person crew in suspended animation the score begins as the Opening Credits roll in “Main Title”. This passage offers a stunning score highlight, a masterpiece cue, which perfectly establishes Goldsmith’s vision, the score’s soundscape, and the tone of the film. Low register piano and percussion open and a Shofar blast resounds as the film’s title displays. The echoplex causes eerie resonating echoes, which are stabbed by sharp striking noises and whooshing horns. The dissonance of this formless milieu remains random, dangerous and unregulated like the jungle, and never coalesces into a cogent statement. This primal and terrestrial soundscape is juxtaposed against the imagery of radiant light effects of the cosmos seen through the bridge windows. This is portentous and brilliantly conceived. This is one of the greatest openings in film.

In “Crash Landing” the ship has crashed into an inland sea and the crew awakens in panic as they desperately try to escape before the vessel sinks. Goldsmith supports the scene with the score’s longest cue, a stunning action piece and score highlight, which perfectly captures the crew’s desperation. We open with a formless mysterioso as the awakened crew is unaware of their circumstances. Shrieking strings sound as they discover Stewart’s corpse and water blasts into the cabin. We now bear witness to orchestral frenzy, chaos and violence born by pounding snare drum rallies, a jagged trumpet motif, hard thrusting strings and resounding horn chords. Taylor is the last to leave and is astonished to see a chronometer reading of 3,978 CE, or 2,000 years since they launched.

“The Searchers” is a tension cue. It reveals the crew exploring a desolate and apparently uninhabited world. Goldsmith sows tension and unnerves us with pizzicato strikes, mourning horns, growling piano, eerie strings and formless pulsing echoes. As the crew slides down an embankment the metallic clanking of stainless steel bowls resound. This offers a wonderful atmospheric cue. In “The Search Continues” they have found a flowering weed, the first evidence of life. They continue with this kernel of hope their journey across the desolate landscape. Goldsmith supports the trek seamlessly by sustaining the sounds of the previous cue, and adding to the formless intermix dissonant percussive effects, chattering xylophone, whooshes and echoes. The three-note Ape Theme gradually impinges on our consciousness and begins to recur, informing us that their presence is near. At 2:10 Dodge makes a startling discovery – totem markers, the first sign of intelligent life. Tremelo strings, harp, echoed plucked strings, bass slide whistle and a shifting array of percussive effects support their ascent to the totems. The three-note Ape Motif assumes prominence and as the reach the crest the metallic bowls effects return as they run headlong to the sounds of flowing water. The cue concludes atop horns tionfanti, which inform us of their joy as they shed their clothes and dive into the life quenching waters.

“The Clothes Snatchers” is an energetic if not frantic piece that abounds with a darting flute, pizzicato strings, countered by strings agitato. As they see their clothes and provisions being stolen they pursue the thief’s headlong into the jungle with piano, snare drum and flute carrying their progress. They are becoming frantic and the music amplifies this. A rising and chattering wood percussion enters as they find their provisions and equipment piecemeal and most of their clothes shredded. This brings us to an astounding score highlight, one of finest and most brilliant cues ever written in film score history, “The Hunt”. The team discovers in a clearing adjacent a cultivated cornfield, hundreds of humans tearing corn from stalks and fruit from trees. They appear mute and become transfixed when they hear Taylor speaking. At this p oint all hell is unleashed atop a ferocious and shattering growl, which sends the humans fleeing in panic. We now bear witness to the genius of Goldsmith who whips his orchestra into frenzy. Competing motifs and a complex staccato on piano are joined by Brazilian culka, chattering xylophone and a full onslaught of percussive effects, which propel the action. A blast of the Shofar announces our first sight of mounted gorilla’s, who begin slaughtering the humans without mercy. There is an avoidance of key in the cue and a Stravinskyesque shifting of time signatures throughout, which unsettle us. As the carnage unfolds there are repeating Shofar blasts, which terrorize and escalate a rising panic as the gorilla’s horrific aggression continues. In a deafening crescendo of cacophony it ends with Dodge shot dead and Taylor gravely wounded with a neck shot. A grim diminuendo on strings brings us to conclusion.

In “A New Mate” Zira has placed Nova in Taylor’s cage and she bonds to him. Tolling bells and plaintive string figures support the moment. “The Revelation” is a complex dramatic cue where the caged Taylor gets into a fight with another man. A harsh repeating percussion phrase with counter percussion supports the fighting as Taylor wins, but he is captured and taken away by the guards. When Zira’s visits him plaintive strings and pensive horn figures support the moment. When Taylor motions her to the bars he grabs her and steals her notepad. A piano staccato and fierce flute line join to support the theft and his beating. When the note pad is retrieved she sees he has written, “My name is Taylor.” This revelation stuns Zira who orders his release to be taken to her office for further study. Pensive strings and twinkling percussion inform us of her amazement. Harp and a flute bring the first semblance of warmth is heard as he is released, with the cue ending with a diminuendo. This brings us to the second action piece “No Escape”, a stunning tour de force where Goldsmiths skills are on full display. Guards come and order the keeper to take Taylor for a lobotomy – Zaius fears Taylor and orders his death. When the keeper enters the cell to neck bind him he is subdued and Taylor flees for his life. He is unable to find a way out of the city and is hunted down mercilessly and finally subdued. The scene ends with him stunning the crowd with the statement “Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!” Goldsmith supports the scene with a frenzied piano line with numerous counters by snare drum percussion and fierce woodwinds. Quieter interludes support efforts to hide, each fail and the chase is resumed. Strings furioso drive the chase relentlessly shifting to and from with a frenzied piano. We build to a deafening crescendo, which climaxes with Taylor’s declaration.

“The Trial” reveals Taylor be led to trial where he is joined by Zira and Cornelius. Goldsmith informs us in advance of the verdict by supporting their journey to court with a grim marcia funebre, replete with strings brutale, tolling bells, moaning horns and water-drop bars. During the proceedings Goldsmith provides an amorphous tonal soundscape of hopelessness. During the trial in “New Identity”, Taylor is asked to identify his crewmate and led to an open courtyard where a dozen humans are assembled. He sees Landon, but to his horror discovers that he has been surgically lobotomized and lost his cognition. In a rage he curses Zaius and charges the tribunal only to be subdued. Goldsmith supports the scene with repeating dark string figures, dire horns, wind chimes and grim auras, which erupt violently an anguished dissonant fury when Landon’s fate is revealed. “A Bid for Freedom” reveals Lucius freeing Taylor and joining Zira, who sneaks them out of the city in a covered wagon. Strident cacophony explodes as the guard is overcome. With tense suspense supporting their escape from the compound. On the open road the escape is supported by an animated trumpet march, and a surprising amount of dissonant energy provided by piano, horn counters, percussion and woodwind figures.

In “The Forbidden Zone” Goldsmith reemploys his formless, atonal soundscape first heard in “Searchers” and “The Search Continue s”. Ambient low register rumbling piano and whooshes carry their progress across the barren landscape. “Intruders” reveals Zaius and armed soldiers arriving. Taylor holds Zaius a gunpoint and forces the soldiers to withdraw. He negotiates a visit to the cave with the promise of Zaius to free Cornelius and Zira if their theory of a pre-Ape culture is confirmed. Goldsmith supports the scene with a strident and syncopated line propelled by thrashing strings, woodwinds belicoso, pounding percussion, cuika and acoustic ape calls. In “The Cave” Goldsmith offers a perfection of atonal scoring as we are bathed is an array of percussion sounds, which bubble up from a formless milieu. A speaking doll shatters Zira and Cornelius as they understand that apes would never make a speaking human doll. All is revealed and Zaius confirms that an advanced human culture pre-dated ape culture. “The Revelation, Part 2” concludes the film. Taylor negotiates his and Nova’s release for sparring Zaius, who warns him that he may not like what he finds in the Forbidden zone. As they set off plaintive woodwinds and harsh percussion sound and are joined by fierce shofar calls as the soldiers ride to intercept. Zaius call them off and allows their escape. We see them ride off following the seashore. Goldsmith supports their progress with an atonal soundscape with a melody trying to rise forth on French horns, yet failing to coalesce. Percussion, moans and wooshes sound repeatedly with the Ape Theme offered with plaintive repeating statements. At 2:56 strummed guitar echoes support a grim discovery, the half buried statue of liberty, a revelation, which shatters Taylor and sends him into a cursing rage, for he is indeed back home and humanity has destroyed themselves. The film ends without music, only the crash of waves upon the sand. The End Credits are also unscored, wisely leaving the audience to contemplate the film’s ending.

Please allow me to thank Nick Redman for re-mastering and releasing the complete score to Goldsmith’s masterpiece, “The Plane of the Apes.” The sound quality is pristine and the inclusion of the important cues not offered on the original release long over due. I must say that I believe Goldsmith’s effort here was a seminal event in the history of film score art in that it marked the first time a Hollywood film was supported with an atonal score. For this avant garde effort, he clearly drew inspiration from modernist composers Bartok and Stravinsky. His creative and innovative use of ethnic and non-traditional instruments succeeded on all counts in establishing the stark, primal and alien soundscape that was perfectly attenuated to the film’s narrative. In my judgment this score stands as one of the 100 greatest film scores ever rendered by the hand of man. A score so unique and brilliant in both its conception and execution that to this day it offers testimony to Goldsmith’s genius and mastery of his craft. I highly recommend this score as an essential member of your collection, a score to hold in reverence and awe.

I have embedded a YouTube link for those of you unfamiliar with an amazing 14-minute suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_Y3euhd1hY

Buy the Planet of the Apes soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (0:13)
  • Main Title (2:13)
  • Crash Landing (6:40)
  • The Searchers (2:25)
  • The Search Continues (4:55)
  • The Clothes Snatchers (3:09)
  • The Hunt (5:10)
  • A New Mate (1:04)
  • The Revelation (3:20)
  • No Escape (5:39)
  • The Trial (1:45)
  • New Identity (2:24)
  • A Bid for Freedom (2:36)
  • The Forbidden Zone (3:23)
  • The Intruders (1:09)
  • The Cave (1:20)
  • The Revelation, Part 2 (3:15)
  • Suite from Escape from the Planet of the Apes (16:27)

Running Time: 67 minutes 13 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5848 (1968/1997)

Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton and Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Vinton Vernon. Edited by Leonard Engel and Ken Hall. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith and Lionel Newman. Album produced by Nick Redman.

  1. Richard
    February 26, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    Gotta be honest. This feels like a strange pick to me. But keep up the fine work Craig, it’s an impressive list.

  2. M P Wright
    February 27, 2018 at 1:52 am

    Fantastic review and a fine, classic score. A benchmark in cinema film scoring, and one that has truly stood the test of time.

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