Patrick Doyle has likely had the most impressive run of scores of any composer in 2011. From the tender La Ligne Droite and Jig to the impressively modern yet thematically sensitive Thor, one of the finest composers in the business is going through a terrific purple patch of late. And Rise of the Planet of the Apes continues the trend. Rupert Wyatt's acclaimed reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise has drawn much praise for its intelligent storyline and remarkable motion capture effects. Indeed, if anyone on the production deserves awards recognition, it's Andy Serkis as lead ape Caesar, whose uprising against cruel oppressive humans sends Earth on a collision course with destiny. Serkis' ability to project layers of emotion through motion capture CGI is quite extraordinary, to the extent that he displaces the nominal human stars of the piece.
With Doyle on scoring duties, Wyatt was in safe hands musically. It must surely have been an intimidating prospect taking the project on, given the musical heritage of the franchise. Jerry Goldsmith provided a ground-breaking avant-garde score for the first Planet of the Apes film in 1968 and then there was Danny Elfman's thunderous effort on Tim Burton's 2001 remake. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rise bears stylistic similarities with Doyle's earlier Thor, a score whose modern nature surprised many listeners. "Where did the romantic, melancholy Doyle of old disappear to?" many decried. Well, Thor is a score that demands repeat listening; only then does it become apparent how successful Doyle is at merging his own voice with the in-vogue Remote Control sound demanded by the Marvel franchise owners.
Rise is successful in much the same way. Although the temptation is to see it as yet another modern day action score, just enough traces of Doyle's musical personality remain to make it memorable and enjoyable. Thor balanced ostinato driven action with a beautiful love theme; Rise juxtaposes moments of darkness with warm nobility. Given the film's subject matter, Rise is a somewhat brooding score for much of its length, Doyle making using of percussion and subtle vocal work to lend an "African" feel to the music. Rhythm is the key – particular emphasis is placed on strings to give a sense of movement. It was a device that worked effectively in Thor but Doyle has always had a flair for rhythmic scores (think Dead Again or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, both of which he composed for regular collaborator Kenneth Branagh).
What earmarks the score as a particularly modern (and possibly contentious) product is the merging of electronics with the orchestra. Doyle has always been a master of film music but electronics are not something he dabbles in very often. Fortunately, in this score he pulls it off with aplomb, embellishing the orchestra rather than overruling it, much in the way Jerry Goldsmith himself would have done. Much of the album is fairly low key, establishing the calm before the storm erupts later on. Moments of percussive action ("Bright Eyes Escapes"/Caesar Protects Charles") contrast with beautiful, if fleeting, moments, representing Caesar's humanity contained inside an apes body ("Lofty Swing"/"Off You Go"). It's in these latter sections that Doyle's voice is most recognisable, reminding listeners of innumerable humane moments from past scores.
However, it's in the final third of the album that the score really hits its stride. As Caesar takes charge and begins the first movement of the ape revolution, Doyle merges his theme with a powerful onslaught from the percussion, strings, brass and electronics, conveying a powerful sense of triumph as Caesar grows into an all-powerful ape leader. The music is however tempered with a sense of darkness, underscoring the animalistic nature of the apes themselves, the score cleverly building a sense of heroism and foreboding all at once. "Caesar's Stand" is a highlight, with what sound like throat singers building to a powerfully percussive finish. The climax, from the powerful "Gen-Sys Freedom" to "The Apes Attack" marks some of the most intricate action writing of Doyle's career. Long-term fans of the composer may be startled on hearing how uncompromisingly modern it all is but the music is thrilling stuff nonetheless. The terrific "Zoo Breakout" even weaves in sounds of an alarm, adding yet greater urgency to the apes' bid for freedom.
Wonderful as the action music is, the real emotional impact resides in the final two cues, "Caesar and Buck" and "Caesar's Home", two gorgeous pieces of music that restore genuine emotion to the album and film. As is normal for Doyle, he lets the strings take the bulk of the impact, really wrenching the heart before the brass sends the spirit soaring at the climax, leaving the window wide open for the sequel score (should he do it). It's immensely satisfying to note that even on a major Hollywood score such as this, Doyle's voice can still shine through. It's a testament to his skills as a composer but director Rupert Wyatt must also be applauded for allowing the composer to maintain his musical personality, even under the vast weight of expectation. Doyle has always been one of the most sensitive composers in the business, and by balancing the score's modern trappings with the sense of beauty for which he is renowned, ensures Rise of the Planet of the Apes is yet another winning score for 2011. Much like Thor, it demands repeat listening but rewards those willing to go the distance.