With the release of the music from the PLANET OF THE APES TV series on La La Land records, I was thinking about the series as a whole, not just the actual movies but the soundtracks of course. The APE films were in most cases pretty entertaining and even when they began to get a little implausible and silly, as in ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, the musical scores still remained fresh and above all original. One can never forget the sight of an ape soldier clad in black brandishing a rifle on horseback in the HUNT scene of the original APE movie accompanied by the chilling, foreboding and somewhat grotesque sounding rams horn that composer Jerry Goldsmith conjured up for his innovative and iconic sounding score. I think that scene in particular will stay with me forever, I was just twelve years old at the time and I had managed to get into a cinema on a crafty day off school I am not sure what I was expecting but lets just say I was surprised, a little scared but most of all excited and intrigued. Charlton Heston was marvellous as the cynical Taylor an astronaut who with a crew of three others two male and one female had crashed landed in a lake on what they thought was an alien planet sometime in the future. They had been put into a deep sleep and on impact realised that the Female member of the party had passed away, they escape from the space craft and start to explore the inhospitable terrain which is predominately desert they eventually find a green area and take advantage of fresh running water to refresh themselves and bathe, whilst doing so however they become aware that they are not alone on the planet and have their clothes and also their scientific apparatus stolen they give chase but it is too late the apparatus is smashed and they see that the inhabitants of the planet are human like but are mute. Taylor thinks it is not a bad thing as if this is the best that the planet has to offer it wont be long before they will be running the place. But he could not be more wrong, an ominous sounding cry is heard and the mute humans begin to panic and run, not knowing what is wrong the three astronauts do the same, running in the same directions, but from what or whom? It is not long before the watching audience and the astronauts find out and from that moment on the film is a rollercoaster ride in a topsy turvy world where talking intelligent apes are the masters and primitive humans are reduced to being guinea pigs for surgeons or target practise for the ape army. Taylor is injured in the hunt and as a result looses his voice after being wounded in the throat by an ape bullet.
So the ape elders are not aware that he is different from the others, he becomes close to one of the mute females Nova, played by the beautiful Linda Harrison, and is also befriended by two doctors who just happen to be chimpanzees, Zira and Cornelius, played by Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall, who were most convincing in their respective roles. The cast list is quite impressive, with Maurice Evans, James Whitmore and James Daly with superb direction from film maker Franklin J Schaffner an entertaining screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling that was adapted from the writings of Pierre Boulle and produced by Arthur P Jacobs, with that highly original neo avante garde score by Jerry Goldsmith and convincing make up created by John Chambers. Released by 20th century fox it was to be the first of five movies in the first series and also spawned the TV series and an animated series. It was a compulsive motion picture that is not only visually outstanding and intelligently constructed but also sent chills down ones spine when it eventually reached the final scene which along with the sight of the ape on horseback must be one of cinemas most iconic scenes. The sight of the statue of liberty or at least part of the statue rising out of the beach as Taylor makes his getaway with Nova is an imposing and memorable one and one could say it is shocking also as Taylor realises he is actually back on earth back home to the place that he was so desperately trying to get away from, the upside down planet ruled by apes is his planet destroyed by war or some disaster.
The second film in the ape series was BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, personally I still prefer the first movie in the series to any of the sequels, but BENEATH was still a good sequel and in many ways I think it would have probably been better to stop here rather than go on into the silliness and embarrassments that were to be included in ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES which was the third in the series. BENEATH was filled with action as we saw the apes preparing for war with the surviving humans who had made their home in the subterranean world beneath the area that the apes referred to as THE FORBIDDEN ZONE. The humans were mutants disfigured by a nuclear war and wore masks to cover these afflictions, they possessed the ability to make communication by thought rather than speech although they did resort to speech when they had to, for example when communicating with lesser beings. The film starred James Franciscus as Brent an astronaut who just happens to land in the same area as Taylor after being sent on a rescue mission from earth to find out what had happened to Taylor and his crew, Heston made an appearance in the movie but was seen at the beginning and also at the finale.
It is actually Brent that discovers the mutants first and also discovers that they have taken Taylor prisoner but also realises that these mutants worship a god that comes in the form of an atomic bomb. The situation worsens between the apes and their sworn enemies the mutants and the ape army invades the forbidden zone. The ape leaders pushing their soldiers onwards into a battle that no one can win. In the final scenes of the movie Brent is killed by the apes and Taylor is wounded but manages with his dying action to basically push the button and sets off the bomb which destroys the planet. The musical score for BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES was the work of composer Leonard Rosenman, and in some ways was similar to that of Jerry Goldsmith’s work on its predecessor by this I mean it was original and in many ways experimental or modern sounding, Rosenman at times blending certain phrases from Goldsmith’s original work into his own, the composer relying on musical sounds and dramatic action sounding cues rather than anything that was melodic. Nevertheless the end result was rewarding as his score went hand in hand with the action and scenarios that were unfolding on screen. Goldsmith was asked to return to score the second movie but was busy working on PATTON-LUST FOR GLORY. There are for me two outstanding pieces within the score, the lumbering and powerfully unsettling MARCH OF THE APES which accompanies the ape army on their journey from ape city to the barren wastelands of the forbidden zone and then onto the underground city of the mutants. Plus there is also the ingenious and discordant sounding MASS OF THE BOMB which although somewhat offbeat and bizarre was still a stroke of genius.
The soundtrack was originally released on AMOS records at the time of the films release but was only available as an import from the USA, it was a recording that also contained dialogue, and in fact like many soundtracks that were released at that time was a re-recording of the music which had been adapted or arranged for an LP release, so for example THE MARCH OF THE APES sounded very different from the original version that we had heard in the movie, but beggars cant be choosers as they say and we had to be contented with that until the original score was issued many years later on FSM, a release that not only contained the original score but also had the tracks from the LP release with dialogue, so everyone was happy I guess? The re-recording for the LP release featured a number of the days leading musicians these included Carol Kaye and Paul Beaver who was a pioneer of the moog synth. The part of General Ursus in BENEATH was originally offered to Orson Welles, but he turned it down as he did not want to spend all his time in make up and a mask, the part eventually went to James Gregory. Also the part of Cornelius in BENEATH was played by actor David Watson as Roddy McDowall was unavailable.
Ok now onto the third movie in the series and probably the one I like the least in the cycle. ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES was farcical an attempt to bring the apes to earth and into the 20th century, Zira and Cornelius accompanied by another chimpanzee Dr Milo (Sal Mineo), land on a beach in the United States (where else). They have taken off from their planet in Taylor’s space ship and see their world destroyed as they go into space, somehow they manage to go back in time to earth and anyway it all gets very silly, very confusing and also well I lost interest after about thirty minutes and the only reason I stayed to watch it was to hear Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which contained elements of his original APES score but elements which he had infused with something more akin to his soundtracks for the FLINT films.
Electric guitar enhancing and leading jazz influenced cues going side by side with dramatic and action led cues to create a score that I think outshines the film for which it was written. I suppose if you put the Ape movies into something that resembled chronological order it would begin with ESCAPE, then continue with, CONQUEST, BATTLE then PLANET and end with BENEATH at least I think that’s right. Roddy McDowall returned to the series for ESCAPE and reprised his role as Cornelius but at the end of ESCAPE we see both Zira and Cornelius killed and also their newly born baby (Milo) murdered, but all is not as it seems as the baby has unbeknown to the authorities been swapped and given to a circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban) to bring up. The film ends with the image of the young primate but with the soundtrack filled with the cooing of a human baby. Which informs the watching audience this is certainly not the last in the series.
In CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, baby Milo has grown and has also become Caesar, actor Roddy McDowall took on the role his character discovering mankind’s inhumanity and mistreatment of many life forms that shared planet earth in particular their cruelty and mistreatment of primates, who supposedly resembled man the most. The film was in my opinion probably the most savage episode of the series and showed humans and apes literally battling it out for the planet.
The music was written by Tom Scott who although primarily known for jazz and jazz fusion produced a serviceable score for the movie, even if the producers did utilise a cue from Jerry Goldsmith’s PLANET OF THE APES at the end of the movie. CONQUEST’S plot is one that has been touched upon more recently in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and although it is not a straight remake of CONQUEST it contains many of that movies themes and scenarios. The final instalment of the first ape series is BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Directed by J. lee Thompson and released in 1973, it stars Roddy McDowall, Paul Williams, Natalie Trundy and John Huston. Again one can draw comparisons between this and the second in the new series of the ape films DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES but as with CONQUEST and RISE it is not a direct re-make.
Composer Leonard Rosenman returned for this final instalment, and provided once again a serviceable soundtrack but one that was very similar to his previous outing on BENEATH, largely action fuelled and dramatic rather than melodic. BATTLE is set ten years after the events that we witnessed in CONQUEST and Caesar has taken command and has managed to get humans and apes to live in some sort of harmony, but elements of the ape community led by a hawkish General and also some humans are set against Caesars plans and plot to start a war. Love it or hate it the first ape series is an entertaining one and has as I have already said spawned a TV series numerous comic books, animated series and also a rebooted series of the ape stories. Just on a personal note for me the first film in the series from 1968, remains the best and also for me contains the most original and memorable score.