Tuesday, July 22, 2014

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ soundtrack review

Michael Giacchino is the soundtrack savior for film music fans who grew up on the classic genre scores from the holy trilogy of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner—not to mention a long list of other superb talents such as John Barry, Basil Poledouris, Bruce Broughton, Alan Silvestri, and many others.
Many of those composers are no longer with us. Silvestri recently gave us the outstanding music for the new “Cosmos” series on Fox—but like James Horner—seems to have semi-retired from major film scoring. John Williams (with the occasional rare exception) only does Spielberg films now. Sadly, Broughton has not been given a major scoring assignment since 1998’s “Lost in Space” reboot bombed.
Which leaves us with Hans Zimmer. And understand, I am a Zimmer fan and one of the few soundtrack writers who liked his work for Nolan’s “Batman” films (especially “The Dark Knight Rises”) and his controversial “Man of Steel” opus. But must every single blockbuster or franchise be scored by a Zimmer prodigy, or a Zimmer clone, or a Zimmer rip-off artist third generation removed? After a while it all starts to sound like one big wall of cluttered orchestrations and droning waves of white noise.
Sure there is Alexandre Desplat, and he has delivered a few knockout genre scores including this year’s menacing score for “Godzilla”. But his sensibilities just seem better matched to Oscar bait dramas. When it comes to larger than life, iconic genre cinema, it is Michael Giacchino who is the heir apparent to the classic composers of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Because of this composing lineage thrust upon him by the fans and by the nature of the assignments he chooses, the expectations for a new Giacchino score—especially with a film like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”—are sky high.
And make no mistake about it, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a great film, and great films must have music to match their onscreen ambitions and emotions. I am happy to report that Michael Giacchino’s score for “Dawn” meets those expectations. His music not only synergistically matches the onscreen action and drama, it many places it adds another layer of deep emotion to this powerful, moving, unforgettable cinematic experience.

Giacchino’s approach to “Dawn” is similar what Patrick Doyle did for his excellent “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” score. He concentrates on the characters and emotions. “Rise” was “E.T.”—the story of a makeshift nuclear family and their adopted son. A love story between Caesar and Will instead of E.T. and Elliot. “Dawn” is an epic war drama and Giacchino appropriately scores Matt Reeve’s ape opera as if were “The Winds of War” meets “The Godfather” by anchoring his score in a sweeping, emotional main theme, “The Great Ape Processional”. This is the gorgeous, emotion-drenched music that plays over the opening scenes at the ape village and during the bittersweet finale. There is a beautiful, John Barry-esque melancholy feel to this flexible theme, reminiscent of the love theme from “John Carter” (2012).
I have said this before and it is worth repeating here. Michael Giacchino writes the best sad music of any living composer. “Dawn” as a movie is so many things; epic, fascinating, exciting, super cool, visually spectacular, socially relevant, emotionally involving—but above all it is achingly sad. This is, after all, a tragedy, and Giacchino is the perfect composer to bring out these powerful emotions. This is a movie and a score that will make you feel and will stay with you.

But the composer is no slouch when it comes to action music either. There is a long history of outstanding action music in “Planet of the Apes” movies—from Jerry Goldsmith’s avant-garde classic to Leonard Rosenman’s atonal brilliance to Danny Elfman’s brooding strains for Tim Burton’s much-hated remake—to Patrick Doyle’s jaunty theme for Buck in “Rise”. Michael Giacchino does not disappoint in this regard by delivering what can only be described as “The Imperial March” of “Dawn”.

This outstanding action march serves as Koba’s theme and contains a wonderful motif that pays homage to Goldsmith’s “The Hunt” from the 1968 classic. This music is featured in several set pieces beginning with “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind” when Caesar orders Koba to follow the humans after Carver shoots Nash, and again when apes march into San Francisco in an exhilarating show of strength.
Michael Giacchino’s music for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is well represented on the soundtrack album and features several lengthy, well-developed cues including the exciting action tracks “Gorilla Warfare” and “How Bonobo Can You Go”. The composer brings us full circle with a moving statement of the main theme in “Primates For Life” before rewarding us with what all soundtrack lovers crave in any album, a grand reprise of all the main themes in “Planet of the End Credits”.
Bottom line: Michael Giacchino has been given his best film to score and had responded by delivering his best work to date. It is a powerful, epic, exciting, moving score that will please fans of the movie, the composer, and anyone who enjoyed his scores for “Super 8” (2011), “John Carter” (2012), and of course “Lost” (2004-2010).

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