Home > Reviews > WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – Michael Giacchino

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – Michael Giacchino

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

War for the Planet of the Apes is the third and – at the time of writing – final installment of the rebooted Planet of the Apes film series, inspired by the novels of Pierre Boulle and the 1960s film series originally starring Charlton Heston. It continues the story of Caesar, the leader of a community of increasingly intelligent apes. In the first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar was given increased intelligence and the ability to speak after being infected by a genetically modified virus intended to cure Alzheimer’s disease, but which accidentally killed a large portion of the world’s human population instead. In the second film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar is struggling to create a stable ape society while trying to broker an uneasy truce with the humans remaining in what is left of San Francisco. Now, in this new film, Caesar and his ape colony are embroiled in an all-out war with a platoon of human soldiers under the command of a brutal colonel, a situation so dire that Caesar resolves to find a new home for his people, far away from the conflict.

The film is directed by Matt Reeves, and again stars the incredible Andy Serkis as Caesar, who is now surely enshrined as the most convincing mo-cap special effects character actor in the history of cinema. The range of expression and the depth of emotion that Serkis brings to his role is astonishingly accomplished, and the special effects that bring Caesar to life are, genuinely, some of the best I have ever seen. Woody Harrelson brings solid support to his role as Caesar’s foe, the Colonel, while the other mo-cap ape performers (Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary) are similarly excellent. The plot has been described as a homage to both classic war movies and classic westerns, with influences from both genres; there is also quite a lot of religious iconography in the film which paints Caesar as a sort of simian combination of both Jesus and Moses. The screenplay also addresses numerous weighty philosophical issues that add a great deal of depth and thoughtfulness to what, in other circumstances, could have been a very silly set of films.

The score for War for the Planet of the Apes is by Michael Giacchino, who returns to the franchise after scoring the second film in 2014. Back then I described Giacchino’s score in very broad-brush terms as “the emotional parts of his scores for Super 8 and the Lost TV series, combined with the vaguely jungley action music he wrote for things like Land of the Lost, and the Lost World: Jurassic Park video game series back in the 1990s,” which sounds a little flippant but is essentially correct. Thankfully, War for the Planet of the Apes is a significant improvement over Dawn, mostly for the fact that Giacchino takes those building blocks and adds to them in intelligent, creative ways, applying a number of new thematic ideas that relate to overarching concepts rather than specific characters.

The centerpiece of the score, as was the case in the previous installment, is the ‘big emotional theme’ that appears to represent Caesar’s destiny, and his hopes and dreams for a better life for his colony of apes, away from the dangerous influence of humans. The first performance of it in this score is in the animated and aggressive “The Ecstasy of the Bold,” where the theme is given a more heroic makeover with bright horns, a faster tempo, and accompanying chanted vocals. The theme is actually absent for a great deal of the score’s middle section, only returning during the film’s finale. It builds gradually through the stirring “Migration” and reaches its zenith in the warm and welcoming “Paradise Found,” the culmination of an epic journey to a promised land. This climactic performance begins with tender intimacy through several statements on a solo piano, but grows to fully embrace pseudo-religious glory with the full orchestra and choir – appropriately so, considering the symbolism of the moment.

The most prominent new thematic idea is, essentially, a ‘quest theme,’ accompanying Caesar, Rocket, Maurice, and the rest of the small group of apes who head off to deal with The Colonel and his men while the remainder of the colony heads for the promised land. It has a forthright, aggressive quality, and feels like it should be the main theme for a dark, gritty western, especially when it is performed on low, bold horns accompanied by Morricone-esque gruff chanting voices, sleigh bells, and guitars. It first appears towards the end of “Exodus Wounds” (around the 3:30 mark), and is featured strongly in several subsequent cues, notably “The Posse Polonaise,” the frantic “The Bad Ape Bagatelle,” “Don’t Luca Now,” and with a circus-like waltz-time variation in the “End Credits”.

The very observant amongst you will note that the Quest theme shares a number of similarities with Ennio Morricone’s score La Moglie Più Bella, an obscure euro-thriller from 1970; it’s clear that this piece was either in director Reeves’s temp track, or is being intentionally referenced by Giacchino, but either way it’s a superb piece, and no-one but the most ardent Morricone fans will even notice the resemblance.

The second of the new thematic ideas is a recurring twelve-note piano theme that appears to represent Caesar’s concept of family. On the album we first hear it in the third cue, “Exodus Wounds,” which builds from a solo piano rendition to encompass softer strings, and eventually the full orchestra and choir, growing to lovely, almost operatic proportions as it develops. The way it combines with the Caesar’s Destiny theme towards the end of that cue is superb, while later statements at the end of the emotional “Don’t Luca Now,” on solo cello in the middle of “Planet of the Escapes,” and in the devastating “More Red Than Alive” are all quite excellent.

A variation on this theme, reduced to seven notes, appears at the opening of “The Posse Polonaise,” and seems to relate directly to Nova, the mute human girl who Maurice the Orangutan finds and adopts during their journey – again, the notion of family. Subsequent statements of Nova’s theme appear at the beginning of the emotional “Don’t Luca Now” to underscore a quiet moment of friendship between a human and a chimpanzee, during the music box-like first half of “Apes Together Strong” where it slowly shifts from quiet glockenspiels and harps to warm oboes, and during the poignant conclusion of “A Tide in the Affairs of Apes”.

Beyond these central thematic ideas the score is generally concerned with tension and action, and this is where the score loses some of its steam. While Giacchino has always been good at rousing thematic statements and bold, flashy action sequences, for me he hasn’t quite developed an interesting style when it comes to suspense and understated dissonance. He uses string sustains, little drum patterns, and various electronic tones, but to me they always seem too much like they are treading water between the highlights and don’t have much to say on their own terms. It’s a shame that the opening cue, “Apes’ Past is Prologue,” is basically 10 minutes of this sort of thing. You can tell that Giacchino is trying to emulate Jerry Goldsmith a little with his use of clattering percussion and slightly out-of-tune sounding woodwind textures, and he tries to enliven it with some moments of choral power, but it never quite works and overall it causes the score’s opening sequence to drag.

(One note of curiosity is that, in the film’s end credits crawl, “Apes’ Past is Prologue” is listed as being written by the now 12-year old Griffin Giacchino, Michael’s youngest son, whereas the official copyright information sheet credits it solely to Michael. How much of that 10-minute cue young Griffin actually wrote is unclear but this fact, combined with the fact that Michael’s eldest son Mick Giacchino is formally credited as an orchestrator on Spider-Man: Homecoming, and had a cue credited to him on Jurassic World, indicates that a little composing dynasty may be developing).

Subsequent cues such as “Assault of the Earth,” “Koba Dependent,” the second half of “Apes Together Strong,” and “A Man Named Suicide” follow this same pattern, although one or two of these cues do feature some interesting touches in the orchestration and some moments of rhythmic tempestuousness that are quite exciting – the shrill flutes at the beginning of “Assault of the Earth,” for example. “A Tide in the Affairs of Apes” appears to be a cleverly deconstructed version of the Caesar’s Destiny theme, distorted and warped, with tribal orchestrations including metallic percussion items and an array of plucked string instruments. Perhaps the most interesting action cue is “Planet of the Escapes,” in which Giacchino takes a unique repeated rhythmic motif and throws it around the orchestra in almost comedic fashion, replete with hooting woodwinds, little plucked pizzicato ideas, and metallic percussion, before blending it with a more clear and recognizable statement of the Caesar’s Destiny theme.

I was a little dismissive of this score when I first heard it but, having now experienced it in the context of the film, I have to admit that most of my initial misgivings were incorrect. Although I still have a few reservations about the quality of the action and suspense music, the quartet of themes – the Caesar’s Destiny theme, the Quest theme, the Family theme, Nova’s theme – and the interplay between them is quite superb. The emotional high points are pitched perfectly, rendered to bring out the appropriate response in the audience without sounding mawkish or manipulative, and the travelling sequences where the Quest theme is most prominent give the project an adventurous sound which meshes well with the director’s intent to make it feel like a classic war movie/western.

It’s been interesting to watch Michael Giacchino’s career over the years, and how he has gone from a video-game scoring nobody to being arguably the most important composer in Hollywood right now (a title he shares with Hans Zimmer). As I mentioned in my review of Spider-Man: Homecoming, in just ten years he’s managed to put one Star Wars movie, three Star Trek movies, one Jurassic Park movie, two Mission Impossible movies, a handful of smash-hit Pixar animations, two Marvel super-hero movies, and now two Planet of the Apes movies onto his resume – a staggering achievement by anyone’s standard. Best of all, he’s done it by writing the theme-filled, richly orchestrated, emotionally strong film scores that are too often considered passé by highbrow art critics and apprehensive studio producers. Although, based purely on my personal taste, I still think that Doyle’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best score of the new rebooted series, there is still much to admire in Giacchino’s efforts, and this one is by far the best of his two.

Buy the War for the Planet of the Apes soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Apes’ Past is Prologue (10:53)
  • Assault of the Earth (5:29)
  • Exodus Wounds (4:23)
  • The Posse Polonaise (1:39)
  • The Bad Ape Bagatelle (1:13)
  • Don’t Luca Now (3:53)
  • Koba Dependent (2:54)
  • The Ecstasy of the Bold (1:57)
  • Apes Together Strong (7:12)
  • A Tide in the Affairs of Apes (5:31)
  • Planet of the Escapes (2:42)
  • The Hating Game (2:04)
  • A Man Named Suicide (5:32)
  • More Red Than Alive (2:41)
  • Migration (2:03)
  • Paradise Found (5:35)
  • End Credits (9:30)

Running Time: 75 minutes 11 seconds

Sony Masterworks (2017)

Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec and Jeff Kryka. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Jim Schultz. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.

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  1. July 18, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you for identifying Morricone’s The Most Beautiful Wife as the inspiration behind that theme. I couldn’t get my finger on it and it has been bugging me for days.

    • James Gordon
      July 22, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Too! Haha! After he mentioned, was clear as water the influence of Morricone on this piece.

  2. July 18, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    That LA MOGLIE PIU BELLA temp track scenario for the most essential part of the score of WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES left me flabbergasted! ok i admit that the structure is similar but it needs a man who adores Morricone and has seen the very rare Damiano Damiani 1971 movie to take such a peculiar decision to use music from this movie as a temp track for a 2017 Hollywood blockbuster…if this is what happened then i’m in awe of the Giacchino genius and the director’s depth of knowledge…

  1. September 3, 2017 at 8:17 am
  2. September 3, 2017 at 8:24 am

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