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Soundtrack review: War for the planet of the apes (Michael Giacchino – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: War for the planet of the apes (Michael Giacchino – 2017)


It only took two movies for the new “Planet of the apes” series to become one of my favourite franchises; actually it only took the end of the first movie, with Caesar and the other apes running free into the forest and taking charge and a fantastically dense and emotional second movie to get me to look forward to what comes next. It’s been three years since “Dawn of the planet of the apes” and the movie still lingers inside me, as does its score by Michael Giacchino. Actually this franchise is a rare case where the evolution of the movies echo that of the scores: a setup first movie, maybe larger forgettable as was the Patrick Doyle score and then a memorable second one. I still listen to the themes from “Dawn”, especially “Primates for life” and I still remember how emotional I personally felt writing that review since it was only my fifth.

The story of “War for the planet of the apes” takes place two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar and his apes have been at war against the humans. As the apes start suffering heavy losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts in order to face the Colonel and the traitorous gorilla Red. This confrontation will determine the fate of apes and humans alike and the future of Earth. The music is once again written by Michael Giacchino and I am so hyped about the movie and I will be so immersed in it and so deprived of objectivity that I want to write my thoughts about the score before seeing the movie so I could focus on the music and only the music.

Michael Giacchino has had years to hone his textural talents on the TV show “Lost” and the opening cue, the 11 minutes long “Apes past is prologue” takes me back to the island and to fearing or looking for “The others” with a dark and quiet sound that keeps me on the edge; every now and then percussion and woodwind signal like lighthouses in a foggy night and the first half of the cue drowns in this darkness. Then comes the choir and the music rises as a crazy mix of voices fills the gaps between percussion and woodwind instruments. It’s as if this cue tells all the story of the apes from fear of the humans to them rising and then settling into a life and community of their own. With the exception of that middle section the music doesn’t get loud but makes its point and drags me into a dark and world where there still is some hope.
There have been cases when I didn’t enjoy that much quiet Giacchino but this time the determination and depth in the music show me from the first cue that he is on the top of his game.

The music quietly slithers inside me and curls up in there; it sounds as if an invisible clock is ticking in dissonant tones and the countdown isn’t to something pretty. Giacchino contains and controls his music in the beginning of this score and only lets out sound that make me think of the menace of creatures like Godzilla; the percussion still leads and I hear that urgency of dangerous creatures that lurk but aren’t yet visibl; the composer is able to create a very clear atmosphere as he weaves a dark net around me.

The magical and wonderful piano needs no companion to express heartbreak like it does in the beginning of “Exodus wounds”; no matter how many scores I listen to few motifs will have an effect as poignant on me as a solo piano motif has. And when that piano piece gets a louder reprise further down the road with added choir and strings I have a cue that I will remember at the end of the year when I am counting down my favourites. “Exodus wounds” shows Giacchino at his most emotional and matches my expectations for the movie. The score is building up cohesively and the cues are connected with one another in a musical story.

The choral work is remarkable on this score; it makes me think of the common voice of the apes and how strong they are together. The composer doesn’t over use it but when it’s heard it makes quite an impression. I cannot help but notice the difference between this dark and dense score and the very light and playful composition Giacchino did for “Spider-man: Homecoming”; same composer, two very different movies, two scores that are not even on the same planet. “War of the apes” is the most opera like score he has written since “Jupiter ascending”; just like the main theme from “Dawn”, the main theme from “War” will echo in my head long after the score is done; it’s a simple piano motif, both emotional and accusing, and you can also hear it at the end of “Don’t Luca now” (yes, it’s a Giacchino score so the pun cue titles are here).

What I like the most about “War for the planet of the apes” is the overall elegiac tone; I hear it in every cue and it gets to me, there’s no other way to put it. I never thought I would hear Michael Giacchino write a minimalistic score but here it is, and for a movie so intense. The occasional moments when the music is not minimalistic and the composer lets it get louder only make the score more poignant; I like the return of my dear “Dawn” theme in “The ecstasy of the bold”; it connects the two movies nicely and I welcome a very dear old friend.

“Apes together strong” gets me misty eyed from the first minute; the sombre choir and the chimes make me think of something beautiful, it makes me think of home with everything it means. This is my favourite motif from “War for the planet of the apes”. With every new cue this score gets more surprising and more beautiful; Michael Giacchino chose to focus his music on the feelings of the characters, on their love, on their fear and not at all on their violence except some occasional moments; but everything feels natural, the transition between cues or between different motifs in the same cue feels natural just as if everything came from the inside of the same soul.

“A tide in the affairs of apes” and “Planet of the escapes” could be both the most experimental and the most playful tracks Giacchino has ever written; they are fascinating to listen to with their mood swings and the interplay of the various motifs from the score, from the main theme to the chiming motif I love so much. The composer build a score that he could expand on forever in my view; there are threads everywhere, threads of joy, of sadness, of mourning, or playfulness and each on can be pulled for a most rewarding journey. And when “Primates for life”, my favourite motif from “Dawn of the planet of the apes” blends with my favourite motif from this score at the end of “Paradise found”, I can only agree with the title.

It’s rare that a score keeps my hunger for discovery alive for it’s entire duration; sure the feeling of discovery comes with every new score but usually as I listen to it my feelings change, for the good, or for the bad, they get other shapes and by the time the score is over there’s nothing more to be discovered and I don’t still have the joy of discovery; “War for the planet of the apes” keeps me stunned in that same place where I began. The music is so fascinating that every cue gives me the joy of discovery and the curiosity and anticipation of what might come next. Michael Giacchino wrote a score like he hasn’t written before, minimalistic and tender, mournful and playful, thickly textural and hypnotic; for me “War for the planet of the apes” shows a composer at the peak of his self confidence and with unlimited musical resources who wrote a score that shattered me emotionally and made me question my ressources as a writer since it was quite hard to find words that match his music.

Every now and the Michael Giacchino gets into a zone where he creates pure art. He’s always been a fantastic composer, he’s heir to John Williams and one of the top 3 or 4 composers working today but even he has his moments when he just goes beyond all that and writes something that transcends music; Unbelievably deep in its simplicity, “War of the planet of the apes” is a fairy tale, a lesson in how to express emotions musically, a story I will never get tired of hearing. Without a doubt, this is the score of the year 2017 so far.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 75 / 75

Album excellence: 100%

Apes’ Past is Prologue
Assault of the Earth
Exodus Wounds
The Posse Polonaise
The Bad Ape Bagatelle
Don’t Luca Now
Koba Dependent
The Ecstasy of the Bold
Apes Together Strong
A Tide in the Affairs of Apes
Planet of the Escapes
The Hating Game
A Man Named Suicide
More Red Than Alive
Paradise Found
End Credits

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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  1. Megan 15th April 2019

    I believe that just as the films in this trilogy get progressively better, so do the scores. ‘War’ remains to be one of my favourites!


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