Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Score Review

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Check it out... if you're willing to embark on a listening experience that touches upon sombre and emotional moods, and executes them with slow and intelligent music. 

Skip it... if you'd rather not sit through another Giacchino Lost-like score, as all the slow string riffs are here in their grand and plodding glory.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

"Some will find Dawn impressive, others not so much; I sit closer to the former point of view."

Released to a flurry of acclamation, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is currently one of 2014's most critically successful films so far. It's also been rather successful on a commercial level, cementing the possibility of a sequel as an undoubted occurrence, much to my pleasure. Dawn elaborates on what occured during the 2011 reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, by focusing on the incredibly intelligent ape Caesar, who has moved from the role of a revolutionary that he grew into during Rise, to becoming a leader for a new tribe of apes that lie on the outskirts of a ruined San Francisco. The Simian flu, which was released into the world during Rise, has now nearly completely obliterated the human race 10 years later, and but a tiny portion of our once huge race has survived, and needs to work with Caesar's tribe of apes to survive the coming years. As I stated in my review for the film, which you can find here, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the finest cinematic blockbusters of the year; it's a film which manages to handle both human and ape story lines and progressions near perfectly. Not many sci-fi films harness the power of performance capture technology, and use it as the emotional core of their movie, though Dawn does exactly that, and very much succeeds in creating living, breathing apes, which you can thoroughly feel for on a deeper level. The previous film in the franchise, Rise, executed this well but not perfectly. Perhaps it was the less than perfect-looking apes, who at times looked slightly plastic or unrealistic. In this film, that is most certainly not the case. At all times, the apes look completely photo-realistic, and this makes it far easier to get involved in their plights. It makes the humans seem much less necessary than in the previous installment, and this means we get a fair few more ape scenes in this film, and that is most certainly not a bad thing. All in all, it's a very fulfilling and downright impressive cinematic experience that serves as possibly the finest installment into the Planet of the Apes franchise, since the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film.

In musical terms, the Planet of the Apes franchise has struggled. Whilst there is much to celebrate about the series' musical contributions, there is also quite a lot of material which has been criticised, or has seen fans divided. For example, the 1968 Jerry Goldsmith classic, Planet of the Apes, has both fans of the score that hail it as a masterpiece and something that is far beyond it's time, as well as those who criticise it and claim that it is one of the less appealing and listenable Goldsmith scores. Either sides have their merits, though this is the case for nearly every score in the franchise, from this original example, all the way down to the recent Elfman and Doyle efforts. And, for the most recent score in the series, composed by the extraordinary Michael Giacchino, this is most certainly the case. There are many who have defended this score, and many who have found it lackluster and uninspired. Again, both have their merits, though I lean more on the former side. Giacchino's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not only one of my favourite listening experiences of the summer, but it is also an incredibly refreshing blend of quality instrumentation over broad and repetitive thematic reliance. Dawn is a textural onslaught, fit with an incredulous amount of varied and complex percussion, as well as some grand and mesmerising brass and string material. It's intricate lead motifs and phrases manage to somewhat dim the boredom that many will find with the continued repetition that does plague various portions of the score. What I mean by this is that whilst Giacchino often repeats a riff for extended periods within any given cue, he manages to provide these riffs with varied and advanced instrumentation. 

But even Giacchino's best efforts at providing the listener with constantly intuitive and interesting material will not manage to satisfy all; I've found many still see the score as far too slow to warrant any repeat listens. I myself have seen it fit to listen to this score 3 times, and whilst I haven't found myself at a point at which I've been particularly bored, I can understand the reasoning and point of view these people are taking. There is a great portion of Dawn which is incredibly slow, that relies on light phrases involving woodwinds and strings in front of slight ambiance, and all this can equate to a lot of lull-time during the seemingly excessive 77 minute long running time. When you have cues reaching up to a maximum 9 minutes, you should maximize that period of time by providing exciting and constantly invigorating music, but in this case, what Giacchino has written can fall flat quite quickly. Not all the time, but certainly in quite a few instances. Whether this be because of the repetition or the sometimes infuriatingly slow patches of music is up to you; it just shouldn't be denied that this score can often find itself at points at which you can be genuinely dulled in terms of your interest. 

This is not to say that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a bad score by any means, because in my experience, it's an incredibly interesting, intelligent and entertaining listen that should not be missed for either fans of Giacchino, fans of the Planet of the Apes franchise, or fans of film music in general (which pretty much means everyone who is reading this review, so...). In terms of exciting music, Dawn is lackluster, though like the film, the score was never intended to become some sci-fi/action piece of grandeur music; it reflects the solemn and sombre mood of the visual medium it's supporting, and in that we find moments of tension, dread and emotion, but rarely anything resembling fast-paced, heart-pumping excitement. Action cues are more full of technical prowess, tone-setting instrumentation and pace/volume fluctuations than any typical action-genre bravado themes. Sure, you have your fair share of thematic material, some of it rather aggressive and powerful, such as the hostile ape theme that can be heard first in Close Encounters of the Furred Kind at 3:15 (arguably my favourite theme of the score, and possibly of the summer), but for the most part, the music remains and intends on being rather quiet and tone-setting, and for what it's worth, it's successful on both those fronts. If that's the kind of score you expect coming into your listen, you should not be disappointed. 

Whilst Giacchino does strictly keep away from going too deep into thematic material and rather intends on focusing on the textural component of the score, the themes that are on show here; and they are fairly numerous despite my comments above, are all rather fantastic, particularly anything in regards to the apes. The previously mentioned hostile ape leitmotif is a mighty theme that doesn't stretch too far into conventional thematic action territory, and provides a much needed burst of energy for the score. This theme is most often played by the brass section, and is highlighted by some fantastic woodblock and xylophone percussion, as well as some great flute and clarinet work. If anything, this is the most action-packed of the themes in play within Dawn, and even this feels quite restrained, but in a most positive way. To find the most aggressive version of this theme, look towards midway through Monkey See, Monkey Coup; what results is one of the greater highlights of the score. We also have a theme for the prologue to the film, played out in the first cue of the album, Level Plaguing Field. This is a slow piano-based leitmotif, which is one of the most emotionally affecting melodies in the score. A number of themes are heard in the fantastic The Great Ape Processional, including the ape's main theme, heard at the beginning of the cue, as well as Caesar's own beautiful theme, played out with a fantastic marimba. Both of these themes are fantastic in their own right's, and make The Great Ape Processional into one of the year's best cues. Caesar also has a brief leadership theme that plays out towards the beginning of Close Encounters of the Furred Kind, which plays over the scene in which Caesar confronts the humans in the forest for the first time during the film. It's rather fantastic, and adds another layer of thematic complexity in regards to the film's main character and most conflicted personality. 

It's this complexity that sees Dawn come out as a winner, in and among all the other summer blockbuster scores. Whilst we have mindless fun presiding in Transformers 4, Giacchino has provided a score which focuses on layering instruments upon instruments, and constructing a tone and structure which is rather intelligent, if not always bearable. What he's managed to do should certainly be appreciated on a technical level, even if this isn't your piece of cake, as it will be for a great portion of the listening audience. In my case, though, this is certainly one of the best Giacchino scores in quite a time, and so therefore credit is due. If you're seeking something which is not necessarily intent on adhering to it's own genre's conventions, and seeks to embrace a much more vivid and broad soundscape, then perhaps Dawn is for you; don't hold your breath though, for Dawn may not be to your taste. This is a score that has already split the scoring community in half, though I intend to add my "valued" opinion to the positive side. You can purchase a digital copy of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on iTunes here. You can pre-order the physical copy of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on Intrada and Amazon here and here.

8.1