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Soundtrack review: Going ape! (Elmer Bernstein – 1981)

Intrada corner

Soundtrack review: Going ape! (Elmer Bernstein – 1981)


“Going ape” is not a score I would usually get excited about. First, it’s written for a goofball comedy about a guy who inherits a family of orangutans and 5 million dollars, but with a catch: if any harm comes to any of the simians in three years, he loses everything. Naturally the zoological society president tries to make that happen and hires some dimwitted former mafia hit men to help make some accidents happen. Second, it’s a comedy score written by Elmer Bernstein and usually his comedic compositions are jazzy and that’s not my favorite kind of music. Intrada just released a complete edition and if they deemed this score worthy, I will give it a try.

The score welcomes us with the circus opening theme “Love Max” which morphs into an eerie piece of music. I could think the story involved some magic if I went by this one. The smooth jazz (including a man vocalizing to the tine) sneaks up on me in “Meet the apes”. The cue is fun and a good composer like Bernstein always adds something even to the lightest themes. Heard through the ears of someone who doesn’t enjoy jazz, the music is much more fun than I expected. I even get my vintage melodic fix with “Cyrano”. I could do with a score that sounded just like that. This theme is dramatic and beautiful and right in my comfort zone.

The listening experience of “Going ape” is varied. Every now and then we get a vocal song that doesn’t interfere with the flow of the score because this score is not about a cohesive listening experience, rather about moments and twist and turns and surprises. The cues could have been arrange din any order and the score would have worked the same.

“Chase is on” is the pivotal moment of the score and it’s most important piece, clocking in at 7 minutes. A chase scene involving apes could be fun and offers a lot of possibilities for the composer to improvise and make the experience even more enjoyable. “Chase is on” opens with an almost dramatic fanfare which reminds me of old suspense movies. This first half reminded me more of Bernard Hermann scores. Elmer Bernstein then takes a turn towards an almost Pink Panther like smoothness and I must admit that this track doesn’t really suggest a chase scene to me. I imagine people (or apes) hiding and staking out rather than running.

Some of the cues feel a bit like puzzles that weren’t put together right. I can’t connect with “End shot” or “Gas” because they are made of bits that don’t come together very well. They sound a bit rushed.

The extras on this Intrada edition are instrumental variations of some of the themes. We also get Bernstein’s reinterpretation of the magnificent       “Love theme from The Godfather” which I read plays to suggests the mob background of the hit met hired to mess with the apes. I do enjoy the song “It ain’t who’s right, It’s what’s right”, especially in the instrumental version because it reminds me of the Rocky music.

Even if it wasn’t for me, “Going ape” will be a fest for Elmer Berstein 80s comedy scores fans. It’s vintage maestro and I think the score is richer and more rewarding than the movie itself.

Cue rating: 74 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 7 / 49

Album excellence: 13%



It Ain’t Who’s Right, It’s What’s Right (instrumental)

Love theme from The Godfather

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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