Saturday, August 5, 2017

Movie Music Musing: Rise of the Composers of the Apes

As a fan of film music I love it when a film series manages to create wonderful and engaging music with each installment. It is a rare thing, but us film score fans celebrate when it happens… usually by buying another special edition CD. But I digress.

The rebooted Planet of the Apes films that started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, have some pretty great music to go along with them. Two of my favorite composers worked on these movies, and I figured it was time to share some of the interesting work they composed for the three films.

Patrick Doyle conducts.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was directed by Rupert Wyatt with music composed by Patrick Doyle. This was a little strange because I always associate Doyle with his work for Kenneth Branagh. His scores for Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations are some of my favorite pieces from that type of film. But Doyle is a skilled composer and over the years he has provided excellent scores for animated films, military dramas and fantasy films. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from the composer, except that it would probably be lush with lots of great melodic pieces and some real power in the orchestra.

And that is where things went totally different from what we all expected. Doyle’s score actually had a very modern blockbuster sound, like something that would come out of Hans Zimmer’s composing studio. It was aggressive, heavy of the drums and repeating motifs. You could still hear some of Doyle’s style in there, but it really seemed like he was asked to ape the modern blockbuster trends that were making Transformers scores popular.

Doyle later confirmed that this was the case. He was restricted to a particular sound, and did his best to work within it. The result is that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an interesting and effective modern score. Doyle’s style gives it different flavor, and when he is able to go grand and lush he does so with skill. But I still feel like Doyle is held back a little on this score, as solid as it is.

Here is a good action piece for when Caesar and his apes attempt to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Doyle gives it a propulsive modern feel, but the tension works very well.

For the majestic side, here if the final track from the album, Ceasar’s Home where Caesar climbs to the top of the trees with his followers and looks out over the city. Doyle builds the track with power and beauty that matches the victorious feeling the scene.


When Matt Reeves took over directorial duties for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes he brought over the composer who had supported him on his previous two films: Michael Giacchino. This film was going to have a few issues that the previous one didn’t have. There were large portions of the film with no audible dialogue, as the apes converse using gestures and glances. In these cases Giacchino was going to not just support but craft the emotion  of these scenes with his music.

Giacchino has really gone ape!
Now, I’m a big fan of Giacchino. He is one of my favorite composers working today, so yeah I’m a little biased to liking these scores and all the interesting things he tries. Luckily he was not tied to studio demands that the score sound modern. Instead Giacchino was able to actually make some musical nods to Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking score from the 1968 film Planet of the Apes. Giacchino used creative percussion, unique wind instruments and gave the whole score a much more primal and discordant feel. This means that the score can sound a little less approachable than Doyle’s effort. But I think it gives Dawn the right score for its darker tone.

Dawn actually ends up having two themes that evolve and battle throughout the score. The martial one for Koba, the human hating ape, gets some real highlights. The massive Gorilla Warfare track follows Koba’s attack on the human compound in San Francisco. It is an aggressive track that builds, batters and decimates the listener, all the while using Koba’s theme as the driving engine, even deconstructing it at times. The wailing choral voices as Koba commandeers an armored vehicle are especially chilling.

One of the most impressive pieces is what I like to think of as the Apes Hope theme. This one carries into the next score as well, but we get a wonderful presentation of it early in the score with The Great Ape Processional. It is a simple tune, but one that proves to be very malleable over the tow movies, sounding triumphant, contemplative and even tragic as the movies progress.  And yes, Giacchino goes ape with his primate puns for the titles. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

Giacchino and Reeves consult in
a hidden location.
War for the Planet ofthe Apes gave Giacchino a chance to expand on his themes and concepts he created in Dawn. While there are still moments of primal drumming and dark underscore bubbling with tension, there are also more new themes that really get a full workout in the score. Because of this War is actually a more vibrant score even if the movie is much darker.

Giacchino keeps the Goldsmithian touches with unique percussion and wind instruments, but they are less discordant in this score. As the ape’s civilization grows, so does the score. There are a lot of great moments in the music, but I really like the new theme for the hunt that Giacchino introduces. It is used several times as Caesar and his crew of apes track down the Colonel. It has a Morricone western feel to it. The theme works like gangbusters in the film, and The Posse Polanaise showcases it as a type of march at the end of the track.

Perhaps the most memorable moment in the film and the score is the finale. Caesar tragedy comes full circle, and for all that he has sacrificed and suffered his people have a new home. Paradise Found gives us the Apes Hope theme from Dawn and gives us a wonderful triumphant and yet sad version of the theme. Giacchino builds the score along with the scene as two apes discuss the future, and it ends the score in a satisfying way.

While part of me wishes that Doyle or Giacchino had been brought in from the start and had been able to develop themes and ideas over the course of all three films, the other half of my brain says, “Shut up! You got three great scores with three great movies.” Of the three, I think War may be my favorite. I love the variety Giacchino brings to it, and how he weaves and explores the ideas he crafted in the previous score. But that said, all three are worthy albums for anyone who enjoys the more primal side of film scores. Combined with Goldsmith’s masterpiece for Planet of the Apes and you have one hell of a playlist.

Bonus track, The Hunt from Goldsmith’s primal score.


  1. I have the first PotA soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith which I still enjoy. When I see the newest installment I'll have to try and listen to the score. Sometimes that's hard as I get so wrapped up in the drama of the film, the music falls into the background, perhaps it's suppose to work that way.

    I ran into this blog by Floyd Norman, he's worked on many Disney animated films (among others):

    In this post he talks about Disney being one of the best boss he ever had:

    Here he is again with some relatives talking about soundtracks and a rare James Newton Howard soundtrack:

    1. Yeah the new films have quite a few moments where the music really gets to stand alone and tell the story. Since the apes mostly communicate with gestures and glances Giacchino gets to tell a lot of the story musically.

      James Newton Howard is a talented guy. In the late 90s he did a lot of really great work. "Waterworld" and "Atlantis: The Lost Kingdom" are excellent scores

  2. I always give credit to composers (among others) who, seeing movie titles such as these, still approach the subject with full seriousness. (Oddly, that seems to be easier in full animation somehow.) It would be easy to to be tempted to a less...well... humanistic style. The clips are cool.

    1. Yeah there has actually been a bit shift in writing comedy scores. You used to accent the action with humorous music and sound effects. These days most composers go super serious with the music to boost the humor. The film "Sausage Party" is actually scored like a serious horror film inspired by "The Omen". If you heard the music and didn't know what it was from, you'd assume some kind of gothic horror inspired by Christopher Young or Jerry Goldsmith. Even the latin chanting in the score is all about food.

      As for these scores, Giacchino did use some more ambient stuff, especially in "Dawn". I didn't include those but they are more texture than storytelling. You can hear a bit of it in the "Gorilla Warfare" track.