Column: Slicing Score: Planet of the Apes (2001)

By Maria Mitchell

Planet of the Apes (2001). Composer: Danny Elfman.

Jerry Goldsmith’s original score to the first Planet of the Apes was a tough musical act to follow and only a composer with a team of musicians possessing a respect and understanding of the brutal potential of percussive instruments could create and capture sound to match the standard set by Goldsmith. This soundtrack feels like the audio recording of an anthropological team diving into the vile, lurking, overgrown unknown. I sense a similar stalking terror in H.P. Lovecraft’s story, “The Lurking Fear”. As far as I know, Elfman hasn’t commented on any literary influences motivating him during his composition of this score. Tim Burton’s remake of this film allowed Elfman a commentary track on the DVD, where Elfman explaines his use of percussive instruments and indicates that he performed most of the percussion heard in this score. This move probably saved the orchestra a good deal of time, since this “muscular” score is built mostly of brass with a small string section that could have been easily overwhelmed by the array of percussive instruments used in the performance.

Some portions of Goldsmith’s scores, like his score to The Other, have been partially lost, thus making it necessary to package The Other with another Goldsmith score, The Mephisto Waltz. Luckily, this is not the case with Goldsmith’s score to Planet of the Apes, which was mostly preserved from the original film. I don’t hear many similarities between the two different “Ape” scores.

Elfman indicates in his interview on the DVD that the original Planet of the Apes score was not thematic and was what Elfman termed “progressive”. To me, it mostly sounds like sharp, scientific noise. I would not call the original Planet of the Apes, a score that evokes horror. It evokes adventure, anguish and disillusionment, but not horror, because it accentuates the basically “right” conclusion that mankind ended itself. Goldsmith’s score makes this grim conclusion feel very natural in the film.

Elfman’s score is a different story. This is a vicious, brooding, brutal score. There is a gradual rage not present in the original Planet of the Apes film.

The level of musical exertion he goads out of the orchestra for this score delivers the sense of auditory warfare: You are about to enter a nightmare composed of horrifying ambiguity concerning mankind’s existence.

Individual Cues:

The “Main Titles” build the foundation of the score.

“Ape Suite #1”: This evokes images of the Iron Age. Harsh percussion here sounds like construction.

“Deep Space Launch”: Dream-like and ephemeral. A sharp contrast to the first “Ape Suite”.

“The Hunt”: If rat traps were big enough to accommodate humans, they’d probably sound like this upon snapping onto their prey.

“Branding the Herd”: This cue evokes the feeling of a waltz. It’s as if Elfman’s orchestra is trying to make dehumanisation sound comically civilised. No small feat. Brava.

“The Dirty Deed”: The french horns sound mournful in this cue. I think it’s the “loitering” quality of this sonorous instrument that gives this cue its forlorn tone.

“Escape from the City”: A return to the dream-like quality of the “Deep Space Launch”. This sounds subdued compared to much of what has been heard so far.

“Ape Suite #2”: A return to the Iron Age sound of “Ape Suite #1”. I like how that Iron Age sound and the dreamlike sound form a crux of fantasy and reality in the pairings of tracks 2 and 3 with tracks 7 and 8.

“Old Flames”: This cue is, perhaps, the most sensual one in the soundtrack. It ends sharply, vengefully, and trails off sadly. One of the most schizophrenic cues in this score.

“Thade Goes Ape”: Contrary to the title, this cue doesn’t sound as violent as either of the “Ape Suites”, or the “Main Titles”.

“Preparing for the Battle”: This one takes that Iron Age feeling and multiplies it by a community. A scary cue, for certain.

“The Battle Begins”: Perhaps less brutal than its prelude. A good sound for a lost cause.

“The Return”: A strange return to the dream-like quality of “Deep Space Launch” and “Escape from the City”. This time, however, the forlorn quality of “The Dirty Deed” gets the full, anguished musical treatment.

“Main Title Deconstruction”: The synth instrumentation used in the “Main Titles” is drawn out strangely over the main theme. It sounds more futuristic and more incomprehensible than the “Main Titles”.

“Rule the Planet”: Many of the lines from the film are mixed over the music for this and it sounds mostly like the main characters are playing a verbal game of totalitarian Scrabble.

The only complaint I have with this powerful soundtrack is that the “Bad-Teen-Ape Music” that Elfman cued for a trio of ape-hoods that encounter Mark Wahlberg’s frantic character isn’t included. Happily, this awesome cue can be heard loud and clear in the film, and it sounds like a nifty precursor to Mike Teevee’s theme in the 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Planet of the Apessoundtrack is available at