Rating: **** out of *****
Patrick Doyle is perhaps most well-known for his solid score to the 2005 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film, a score which above all others put him on the map. He has proven himself many times since to be a capable composer who writes interesting, and generally thrilling, scores. Doyle has never really been one to write music for action films; pre-Goblet he was best known for scoring adaptations of Shakespeare and British television. Hot on the heels of Goblet was his solid score for Eragon and then in 2007, The Last Legion. Doyle garnered attention with his spectacular score to Thor earlier this year, proving that he is indeed able to hold his own in the action/blockbuster genre with the best of them.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes follows only a few months on the heels of Thor, and it is another impressive, monumental effort that reaches to powerful heights. Blockbuster films in the last ten years have wrestled over whether they want a fully orchestral sound or the more synthesized sound of Hans Zimmer and his associates. I’m not sure who’s winning, but while both Thor and Rise of the Planet of the Apes are clearly oriented towards the typical cutting string ostinatos of Zimmer’s sound, the effect blends quite nicely with the sensibilities of a bone fide vintage 1990s orchestral work, and Doyle handles the line between them very well.
Of course, any review of this score would be completely out of place without reference to Danny Elfman’s score to the 2001 Planet of the Apes reboot, and it is quite clear that Doyle is alluding to Elfman’s work for the general structure and feel of the score’s scope. Elfman relied mostly on abrasive and bone-thundering, not to mention relentless, percussive work, and is in this regard a fairly complex and driving effort. The overall effect of Elfman’s score, however, leaves one wasted and feeling emotionally drained. A good example of Doyle’s allusion to Elfman’s score happens early on, picking up similar percussion in “The Beginning.” Obviously referring to the generally primitive and barbarian nature of the concept of the planet of the apes, the pounding drums pick up when the action kicks off, and is to be featured in many cues. Even some of the strings sound like references to Elfman’s score at moments in “Bright Eyes Escapes.” The constant action music dominates the first and last few tracks, while most of the softer cues comprise the middle portion of the album.
Doyle offers us three themes that he weaves into all of the cues. There is a primary planet of the apes theme (which in this context would express a yearning for freedom – something it does quite effectively) that emerges in short order in several variations, from panicked to noble. It is introduced early, but really emerges in its own power in “Off You Go,” where its more yearning side is highlighted, and appears repeatedly throughout the action music, reaching its victorious pinnacle in “Caesar’s Home,” the final cue of the album.
The other two themes that comprise the score are often interwoven with each other. The first is a theme for Caesar himself, introduced to us in an instrument that sounds like a cross between a woodwind and a female voice. This touch is obviously deliberate, and Doyle is conveying to us via music that Caesar is no longer fully animal and not fully human either, and has in its melody an echo to the Na’vi theme from James Horner’s Avatar. There is a certain haunting kindness to Caesar’s theme, which almost always appears in soft moments, frequently alongside the final theme, which represents Caesar’s love for the people at the laboratory. The fact that these two themes interweave with one another presents Caesar’s conflict clearly enough, torn between two worlds. The two themes then battle for supremacy in the driving action music that rounds out the end of the album. The human theme is then lost in the underflow, and the score ends with a dramatic and powerful restatement of Caesar’s theme in “Caesar’s Home.”