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Music fit for monkeys

July 27, 2008|Mark Swed
  • Charlton Heston finds a world upside-down in 1968's "Planet of the Apes."
Charlton Heston finds a world upside-down in 1968's "Planet… (20th Century Fox )

I can't claim to have gone ape over the "Planet of the Apes," but I liked it when I first saw it in the late '60s. The music by Jerry Goldsmith was quirky and strikingly modern. I have a soft spot for Charlton Heston. The screenplay, in part by Rod Serling, is subversively anti-establishment, which went down well at the time. I'm a sucker for masks, and the monkey makeup, I thought, inspired provocative acting.

But I didn't see the film again -- nor seek out the four sequels or Tim Burton's 2001 remake -- until quite recently, after reading appreciations of Heston when he died in April and, around the same time, attending a memorial for the brilliant composer Leonard Rosenman, who scored "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and "Battle for the Planet of the Apes."

I'm not going to make strong cinematic claims for the original "Ape" quintet. But the cheesiness made Goldsmith's unpredictable music and Rosenman's use of chords as colors and his tuned percussion more arresting. In fact, effective sound -- not sound effects or special effects -- gives these films character and narrative strength. As I worked through the sequels, I tried an experiment. Turning off the sound, the apes looked ridiculous. Turning it back on, they looked just fine.

Ultimately, the music defines these films. Danny Elfman gave Burton an epical score for an epical film, pointing out what to watch. The earlier composers did something more exotic: They tricked the eye and, in the process, touched the imagination.

-- Mark Swed

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