Escape from the Planet of the Apes - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Nov 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

    Escape from the Planet of the Apes - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

    It is always a pleasure to review a new release of a Jerry Goldsmith score and this one, his eclectic 70's-laced soundtrack for Don Taylor's Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971), is another rare treat that has finally been made available in its complete, although still surprisingly brief, form. After the likes of Twilight Zone: The Movie, One Little Indian, Rent-a-Cop, In Harm's Way, The Cassandra Crossing and Lonely Are The Brave (and with the one-disc double-hitter of IQ/Seconds following hot on their heels) this has been a bumper year for some of the composer's often neglected works finding quality releases. With this edition, the Apes saga is now complete in terms of soundtrack availability.

    After creating one of SF's most bold, experimental and adventurous scores for the first Apes movie back in 1968, and receiving a much deserved Oscar nomination for it, he was unable to return and compose for the second instalment, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes due to prior commitments - the great Leonard Rosenman assuming the scoring duties with an equally strange and powerful work that successfully followed-on from Goldsmith's audacious trailblazing - and this next entry in the popular franchise was to be his final involvement with it.

    Miraculously evading the Holy Bomb, or Doomsday Device, that destroys the planet of the apes at the end of Beneath, the kindly chimpanzee scientists who befriended both Taylor (Charlton Heston) and then Brent (James Franciscus) manage to travel back in time in the humans' spaceship. We won't go into the contrived nature of this development as, frankly, it just doesn't make anything other than commercial sense for the continuation of the ongoing series. Writer Paul Dehn didn't care too much about such details either, and he made sure that his script was still clever and intriguing enough, as well as being chock-full of cutting socio-political parallels, for audiences to worry about the scientific mechanics that lay behind it all. Charting the astronauts' return-trip trajectory, Cornelius (a returning Roddy McDowell, pleased to be back in John Chambers' fabulous mask and wig after missing out on Beneath) and Zira (Kim Hunter reunited once more with the actor she adored working opposite), along with a short-lived Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo), arrive in the groovy age of feminism, swinging counter-culture and, of course, a paranoid right-wing government that, no sooner has it welcomed these hirsute visitors into society, persecutes, interrogates and then tries to destroy them. The fact that they can speak and think intelligently and, moreover, deliver some terrifying insight into the fate of Mankind - something that seems to be creeping ever closer with the knowledge that Zira is pregnant - will not help their cause one iota in such a demented, scaremongering state as a Vietnam-scarred, riot-torn America, especially with Eric Braedon's nasty scientist whispering sweet-Armageddon in the President's ear.

    Although an entertaining film, and one that, quite necessarily as it happens, depicted humans as, well, less than humane, there was a clumsily handled ugliness to the story and a wickedly downbeat final act that disturbed in a far more sickeningly emotional manner than either the awesome fantastical revelation at the end of the original film, or the staggeringly eye-popping conclusion to Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. Ultimately, the film was saddled with too much comedy, and then too much tragedy - the two extremes never quite gelling into a comfortable and cohesive whole. But, as part of the eternally poetic timescale of the Apes saga, Don Taylor's film plays a firm part, ensuring that the cycle can continually perpetuate itself, though as an actual individual experience, the film comes up wanting. Yet Jerry Goldsmith, as ever, looked deeper than the surface visuals and the tightened budget, locating the tale's lofty ambitions and its emotional core. However, as keen as he was to explore the thematic ideas and the epic scale of what was being represented with music that captured the mood and character of the production, he was also strongly determined to push his own style and create something new, something distinctive that evolved from what had gone previously. His score for Planet Of The Apes was avant-garde, primal and unorthodox, all things that suited the eerie environment that the lost astronauts found themselves in. For the apes, themselves, he fostered a rare breed of percussive effects and jarring, tribal-cum-archaic sounds that worked on an exciting and even sub-conscious level. This time around, the setting may well have been the same actual planet, but Goldsmith isn't forgetting the modern-day (well early 70's) milieu in which the events occur. Thus, he composes some sweetly contemporary cues that mingle the hi-jinx of numerous 60's capers - light, pop-infused symphonic banter - with the melodramatics of television, thereby establishing the culture of the world that Cornelius and Zira have wound up in.

    His Main Theme hits the ground running. Stabbing percussion suddenly jolts with a series of primal poundings, a sound that is immediately part of the distinctive Apes repertoire and one that leaves us in no doubt that although much of the film and the score will be altered from what we have seen and heard before, we are still firmly entrenched in monkey business. We can hear the sound of the tide rushing in, no doubt harking back to the end of the first film with Talylor on his knees before the half-submerged Statue Of Liberty, in shock at what the “fools” had done to his world. A catchy Lalo Schifrin-inspired beat strikes up. Wood-blocks, a marvellously laid-back electric guitar and then a steel-drum are layered into the up-tempo rhythm, piling on the grand entertainment of the material into a thrilling build-up that is at once funky and propulsive.

    The time-travelling simians become accustomed to this strange new world via a trip to The Zoo, a shock encounter with The Gorilla, and then a gorgeously evocative and sprightly Shopping Spree. Taken in order, Goldsmith creates tension with the visitors' crisis of conscience and bewilderment at the sight of animals behind bars. This is a wonderful little piece. Tapping wood, exotic percussion, slight chords from the guitar and some interesting notes from the sitar bring a slice of the jungle into the urban landscape. Weird electronic hoots are drawn out in the suggestion of primal instincts being confronted. Again, this track is quintessentially of the period. Then Goldsmith nails a short and aggressive cue for the scene when a captive gorilla kills Sal Mineo's rather superfluous Dr. Milo with sudden violence courtesy of warbling electronica, shrill woodwinds, the sitar and some brass bleats over a series of obvious stingers. This eruption then gives way to a tense and uneasy fading passage for creepy chords from the sitar against an ominous slow beat for distant bass. This hints at the darkness that will come, and it is interesting to note how the sitar, an instrument that was proving very popular in the peace-desiring music of The Beatles, becomes pivotal in the transition. Goldsmith, ever the adventurous, isn't overtly subverting its usually reflective sound - he is just stretching out the potential for its somewhat weird and hypnotic cadence. The start of Track 4, I Like You, is full of tribal-cum-alien effects, with the rattle and wood-block and ethnic shaker. A couple of harp-plucks happen into the mix, as well. But Goldsmith swiftly moves into a beautifully elegant passage that is then harp dominated. Tender and intimate it may be, but he doesn't allow it to linger for long as a sudden barrage of metallic percussion strikes up a martial beat that drives on towards the finale of this brief, but varied cue.

    Shopping Spree, which comes next, is very reminiscent of what Ron (The Prisoner) Grainer came up with for a similar sequence in his amazing score for the same year's The Omega Man - which is still one of my all-time favourite soundtracks - instilling the fact that, whilst neither composer was influenced by the other, the slinky, sun-dripping vibe of the era was heavily prevalent in the minds of even such individualistic tunesmiths. Light and breezy and wallowing in seductive, leaf-blown guitar and woodwinds, softly flamboyant keyboards, fluttering tambourines and such a carefree deftness of touch that the entire cue threatens to lift up, up and away to a Californian hill-top crowded with sunny blonde people all drinking Coke. Such a pop dialect is not at all unusual for Goldsmith who always seemed attuned to the musical climate he was working in. The cue works well, too, in contrast to what has gone before it, and is probably an essential ingredient in a score that will grow steadily darker as it goes on.

    A Little History, Track 6, is cold and unsettling. The crazy sound of a rolling pinball is brought into the piece, as well as some Dirty Harry-esque electronic warbles and musical shimmies that paint a grim, futuristic austerity and an implacable sense of unemotional authority. This is carried-on expertly into Interrogation, which wobbles about with pristine keyboard notes that are then distorted and elongated, their clarity whining and whahhing deliriously around the cue. This is a pure 70's sci-fi sound, something that would be emulated in many films and TV shows of the period, but it was Goldsmith who fashioned such a tonal disarray in the first place, evoking cruelty and dispassionate intent, yet keeping the music sublime and smoothly unnerving with its keen and imaginative sterility.

    By contrast, warmth and delicacy is returned in Labor Pains, Track 8, with harp and guitar and woodwinds slowly serenading one another in quiet harmony for a spell. Woodblock and rattle are then heard over the top of gently reverberating bass as we are reminded of the grimness of the Apes' incarceration and their highly uncertain future. A proactive reply to this then crashes home in Track 9, Breakout. Goldsmith has composed an awful lot of tracks with this title, folks, and one entire score, for that matter. This piece, however, is only 37 seconds long, yet it still captures a perfect mood of breathless escape and well-deserved, edge-of-the-seat excitement. Four bass and electronic belches peel out and that primal hooting, now more of a mewling, returns. Schifrin-style syncopation ensues alongside tapping wood, the cue rising to a great crescendo of righteous payback as a bid for freedom suddenly succeeds. Goldsmith then creates what may have been something of a template for First Blood, which is obviously fitting considering that we now have our heroes on the run from an unjust authority, with Track 10's The Labor Continues. A lengthier cue than those we have become accustomed to, this commences with a sizzling Fender Bass against a great little rhythm for exotic percussion, then brings in the piano and woodwinds and strings that would also serve Rambo (“John J?”) as he wormed his way around Sheriff Teasle's posse and then the amassed ranks of the useless weekend warriors despatched to apprehend him. Heard now, on this album, after we have become so familiar with its suspenseful refrain from First Blood, the sound is full of wonderful promise. Exciting, fresh and primal at the same time, it stirs the blood and has you wishing that you were able to take out guards and pursuers as well. He used some of the same motifs and orchestration on the original Planet Of The Apes, too, for Taylor's escape and evasion around Ape City and then out into the Forbidden Zone. And, before that, the genesis for such pulsating action scoring could be heard in his classic music for The Sand Pebbles. Here, it sounds more established and confident, far less experimental. No-one can touch Jerry Goldsmith when it comes to such things as placing you on the run alongside the heroes of the piece.

    More suspense comes in The Hitchhiker with a nifty drum-beat, a squirrelly phrase for the Fender and some background electronica all punctuated by tokking woodblock. Dynamic and infectious and era-suffused, this then gives in to Goldsmith's most tender and soothing passage in Mother And Child, which softly captures the birth of Zira's baby against an ominous swelling undertone of danger and foreboding. With electronic warbles and a glistening xylophone and then what could be an electric organ, the second half begins to sound more tense and faster-paced when intriguing notes from the piano, wah-wahs from a lazy electric guitar and then exotic inflection from the sitar litter the final stretch.

    The longest track, The Hunt, comes next. Carrying on immediately from Mother And Child, the same instruments and the same relentless tick-tocking build into one of the score's most sustained passages of suspense. There are more electronic hooting sounds off in the background, firmly describing the primitive qualities of our heroes as the authorities close in on them, the piano, a rattle and shakers, as well as some strange percussive innovations of Goldsmith's own creation (as he was fond of doing) give an African feel to some sections of the track. Yet this is still one of those pure Goldsmithian action cues that would go on to become more and more familiar over the ensuing years. Underscore depicts shadows and stealth, yet also purveys a glimmer of optimism, keeping you aware that Cornelius and Zira could still make it.

    But this, of course, will not be the case as Braeden's Dr. Otto Hasslein finally corners and kills Zira and the baby chimp that she is carrying. In a fit of rage, Cornelius then slays their driven persecutor and is, himself, shot dead in what amounts to a terribly bleak and almost Shakespearean climax of profound tragedy. As depicted by Goldsmith, the album and the film then close with a stark and barren chord of heartbreak and dark melancholy. Swapped for a normal chimpanzee infant by a fatalistic Zira before the final chase, baby Milo - named after the ill-fated Ape doctor who sailed through time with Cornelius and Zira - has actually survived the massacre and is now in the care of Ricardo Montalban's benign circus-owner, Armando, but there is a terrible price to be paid for the injustices that he and his parents, and their kind, have and, moreover, will have suffered. Jerry Goldsmith ensures that the fate of Man and of the series, itself, is not left to hang in the air. Dark and menacing undertones of doom permeate his climactic coda of Final Chapter and End Credits. A poignant shriek echoes from woodwinds, which repeated several times amidst slicing strings and a forlorn trumpet, takes us out of the sweetest, yet coldest adventure in the Apes saga. And Goldsmith allows that wave-breaking effect from the first film and the commencement of this one to return, the stories and the scores thus turning full circle in the remorseless and unflinching cycle of history self-perpetuating itself.

    The ever-busy Goldsmith would still be creating his magnificent seventies sound with Logan's Run, The Omen, The Wind And The Lion and Chinatown just around the corner - a cannon that would find its supreme conclusion with Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, both arriving in 1979. Escape From The Planet Of The Apes doesn't necessarily fit in the same classic niche as any of those highly regarded scores, but it serves to remind just how committed he was to each and every project that came his way. For a stand-alone listening experience, this is fast-paced, unusual, eclectic and, ultimately, very sobering. As part of the series, it marks a less outrageous or unusual entry when contrasted against some of the other more elaborate and otherworldly contributions that surrounded it, but listening to all the scores back to back and in sequence - as I just have - reveals it to be one of the more pleasant instalments. That Lalo Schifrin vibe would prove prescient when, in 1974, the man behind the iconic themes for Mission Impossible, Starsky And Hutch and The Man From U.N.C.L.E, would then assume composing duties for the Planet Of The Apes TV series in conjunction with Earle Hagen, with much twisted primal percussion and tortured horn-play a la Goldsmith's original and Rosenman's Beneath and Battle instalments.

    With a great little 12-page booklet of notes on the film and the score from Julie Kirgo, complete with some fine stills, this is a small but rewarding package for Goldsmith fans and collectors of the Apes franchise alike. Although I am a devout fan of the Apes series, I disagree with Kirgo over this being the best out of the sequels. Personally, I believe Beneath is the most accessible, yet boldly unorthodox at the same time, and, consequently, the most fun. After that, I have a tremendous soft spot for Conquest, especially now that we have it in its full uncut form, which radically shifts the emphasis into a much darker realm. I have already reviewed all of the movies in their definitive Blu-ray collection elsewhere on the site, but it is great to have the opportunity to discuss them again here with regards to their terrific scores.

    This Varese Sarabande release has been restored by Mike Matessino and produced by Nick Redman and Robert Townson, and is limited to 3000 copies worldwide - but I believe there is still some time to get a-hold of this. And I would definitely recommend doing so.

    Full Track Listing

    1. Main Title 2.32

    2. The Zoo 1.09

    3. The Gorilla Attack 0.56

    4. I Like You 1.05

    5. Shopping Spree 1.23

    6. A Little History 1.23

    7. Interrogation 3.18

    8. Labor Pains 1.05

    9. Breakout 0.37

    10. The Labor Continues 3.54

    11. The Hitchhiker 1.06

    12. Mother And Child 3.52

    13. The Hunt 4.08

    Final Chapter And End Credits 1.42


    Another classic for the collection from the master, himself.

    Escape From The Planet Of The Apes is not the wild and mysterious ride that the original score was, nor does have it the aggressive stance of the second score (from Rosenman), but it contains enough of the “sound” of the Apes to fit right in, as well as striking out in a different direction. Goldsmith's gift for blending extremes into one composition is once again showcased vividly with his lighter touches in the first half, and his deeper, more concentrated and tragic developments in the second. The cues, by and large, are brief, though full of personality, the overall score varied, with both fun and darkness entwining, and the end result hugely satisfying.

    Boasting terrific clarity and fabulous cover art, as well as Julie Kirgo's excellent background notes, this is a terrific, and important, release from Varese Sarabande. The full run of complete Apes movie scores are now available - Varese can claim the original (which was also once the only way to hear Escape's music in a 16-minute suite included as a bonus track) and now Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, whilst FSM have Beneath (plus FX-tracks and the wonderfully loopy old LP program especially reproduced) and then Conquest (from Tom Scott) and Battle (Rosenman again) together on the one release. All are fantastic ... and if you are after Schifrin's score for the TV show, then good luck to you, as Intrada's awesome limited edition sold out within a couple of days a long time ago.

    This is a great release, folks, and comes highly recommended.

    The Rundown





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