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War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Composed by Michael Giacchino
  • Sony Classical / 2017 / 76m

The three Planets of the Apes films in the new series confound expectations in many ways: a modern reboot series that’s actually very good; a trilogy where each film is better than the one before it; summer blockbusters that get equal love from audiences and critics.  The third entry picks up three years after the events of the second, with Caesar and his clan still living in Muir Woods near San Francisco, now confronted by a human military unit led by Woody Harrelson and featuring various apes who have defected in protest at Caesar’s leadership style (or perhaps in protest at him being named after the world’s most popular salad).

Picking up where he left off is composer Michael Giacchino, scoring his fourth film for one-time J.J. Abrams associate Matt Reeves.  I wrote at the time that his music for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – while a very fine film score – wasn’t one of his most engaging albums, with its dark tone and great length; and while he uses that score as a springboard (and reprises some of its material), Giacchino takes War off in different directions and in doing so solves the problems that led to its predecessor being better within the film than without it.  A number of mainstream film critics have hailed his work on the new film – virtually unheard-of for a traditional, orchestral, “proper” film score in the 21st century.

On the Apes scoring stage

Does it warrant the praise?  In a word, yes: this is a masterful work by a mature, assured film composer who adds some new elements to his unmistakable musical voice to create a score that is endlessly impressive.  You may be forgiven for thinking I’ve lost my mind when you listen to the eleven-minute opening “Apes’ Past is Prologue” for the first time: it’s a harsh, bleak soundscape with a vague nod to some of the techniques Jerry Goldsmith used in his classic score for the 1968 original.  They’re only vague though (more in instrumental choices than anything else).  About four minutes in, a five-note motif emerges for timpani – it’s like a distant jungle rumble, accompanied by unusual wind sounds evoking the sounds of the forest; following this, some quasi-religious choral material ups the stakes further.  It’s very tense, cacophonous at times, rarely pleasant.  The piercingly high flutes shrieking out over tribal choral music at one point remind me of John Barry – a bit like his King Kong with some early Bond action music – and interestingly, this is far from the last apparent reference to great film composers of the past.

There are another five minutes of pretty similar material next, in “Assault of the Earth” – yet more Barry/Bond winds (different ones, this time) early in the cue, Goldsmithian echoing percussion (achieved acoustically by Giacchino, but it sounds much like what Goldsmith did with an echoplex in his Apes), that timpani theme reprised in much grander style this time, a much more immediate presence – again it’s tense, again it’s uncomfortable.  But then comes the payoff: “Exodus Wounds” sees the tension released in a brilliantly-executed display of emotion with a new theme, three sets of four repeated notes, heard initially for solo piano, emotions laid bare – it’s very beautiful, obviously reminiscent of similar material the composer wrote for Lost but it’s its own thing.  When it soars away for the full orchestra, it’s a thing to behold.  The impact is all the greater for what has gone before: that makes the emotional release feel well earned.  Just as the cue ends – after another melody is introduced, interestingly sounding like a kind of variant on the main Caesar theme from the previous score (for the sake of giving it a name, I’ll call it the friendship theme) – comes this one’s other major new theme, which is an interesting mix of feeling of John Barry and Ennio Morricone, with a bit of a spaghetti western feel – and the choral chanting very reminiscent of The Hateful Eight.  It’s developed further in “The Posse Polonaise” which follows, and then in a very different guise in the action cue “The Bad Ape Bagatelle”, all frantic brass, exciting and powerful.

“Don’t Luca Now” is more emotional again, the friendship theme first heard near the end of “Exodus Wounds” being developed further, along with another airing for the twelve-note piano theme.  “Koba Dependent” is a suspenseful piece, the most interesting part of which is the instrumentation, with the use of what sounds like a kind of dulcimer inevitably drawing yet more comparison with John Barry.  Then comes one of the score’s true highlights, the majestic “The Ecstasy of the Bold” (you can’t read that title and tell me the Morricone references are not intentional) – this time we hear the proper Caesar theme from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes but in a very different way from how it was used at any point in that score, taking on a heroic air with a real “man alone” feeling, once more evoking a spaghetti western.

The friendship theme gets an extremely sweet variation to open “Apes Together Strong”, gradually swelling up into greater and greater orchestral proportions over the cue’s opening few minutes – but then out of nowhere comes some pretty harsh, stinging action material in the cue’s second half.  It’s quite aggressive at times, with a raw, guttural sound – and, guess what, there’s a suspense figure at the end which could be straight from Goldfinger or You Only Live Twice.  I’ve no idea what may have prompted all the Barry here (the Morricone is easier to understand, with the western feeling from the film; and the Goldsmith influence clearly needs no explanation) – but whatever it was, it works a treat.  “A Tide in the Affairs of Apes” offers an impressive stripped-down version of the Caesar theme at one point before reaching another emotional release point for its conclusion after some more dogged suspense (and occasionally action) material,, with a version of the friendship theme at first gentle with ethereal choral accompaniment to the piano, building into something a little different at the end.

This leads into the excellent standalone action cue “Planet of the Escapes”, which has a bit of Danny Elfman to it in the way Giacchino incorporates the feeling of black comedy.  Even here he finds chance to offer a melodic treat with a beautiful string-based take on the twelve-note theme appearing as the soothing jam in the middle of the action sandwich.  “The Hating Game” is like a little pause for breath (a melodic, surprisingly pleasant pause) before more uncompromising action and suspense in “A Man Named Suicide” (with some little Morricone/Leone touches of flair evident particularly near the cue’s opening).  At the end of the cue there’s a brief reprise of the piano theme from the previous score.

The final four cues are remarkably good.  The first of them is the profoundly moving “More Red than Alive”, with brilliant renditions of the twelve-note theme and the family theme; the soaring version of the former which ends the cue is really brilliant.  Then comes “Migration”, which has a really epic feel to it, a kind of religious fervour building up, which leads into the magical “Paradise Found”, a gorgeous piece which gives a starring role to Caesar’s theme, sounding warmer than it’s ever sounded before.  Everything is neatly summed up in the excellent end credits piece, which follows Giacchino’s tradition of giving each of his themes a full-blown treatment (but which, sadly, ends with an easter egg after a bit of a pause, the second album in a row from the composer that does that – I hope he doesn’t do it again).

Michael Giacchino has written some brilliant music so far in his career but War for the Planet of the Apes feels like a bit of a milestone to me: for my money it’s not just the best film music he’s ever written, it’s the manner of the score, the construction of the dramatic narrative, the very deliberate emotional prods that make it stand out as a special achievement.  I love that he was able to bring in such nice little homages to great film composers of the past at the same time as writing music that couldn’t be mistaken for anyone’s but his own: he’s a confident, mature composer at the very top of his game.

Giacchino’s finest film score to date

See also:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes Patrick Doyle
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Michael Giacchino | |

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  1. Jules (Reply) on Wednesday 19 July, 2017 at 03:02

    Giachino is blowing me away with how quick he is working at the moment. This, the Book of Henry and Spiderman just came out within a month of each other, and before that was Star Wars movie in December. He’s also rocketed to the top of my favourites – loved everything about this score, but I am a sucker for unabashed emotionalism. Just beautiful work.

    Very excited for Coco, in November I think. God knows how he had time for that as well.

    • Simon (Reply) on Thursday 20 July, 2017 at 03:31

      Hate to break it to you but Giacchino is well known nowadays for not writing any of his own music. 🙁

      • Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 20 July, 2017 at 05:26

        Really? Well known? This is the first I’ve heard of it. I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he’s had some help, but well-known is pushing it I think

      • Jules (Reply) on Friday 21 July, 2017 at 02:22

        Hate to break it to you, but that’s sort of true of most composers, particularly Hans Zimmer. Have you got a specific source on that? Sounds like baseless speculation to me…

        • Jules on Friday 21 July, 2017 at 05:10

          That came off as a little too rude, apologies. I’d still like a source, though.

        • J.B. on Friday 21 July, 2017 at 10:10

          You’re not going to get a source for that because there isn’t one. Note that he says “any” of his music, which is absurd. Giacchino might (MIGHT) get help occasionally, as sometimes happens with tight deadlines but he very clearly writes the vast majority (if not all) of the music on his projects.

  2. mastadge (Reply) on Wednesday 19 July, 2017 at 04:55

    No one had an answer on the boards so I’ll ask here too: In the film “Apes’ Past is Prologue” is credited to Griffith Giacchino. Does anyone know whether he wrote the whole cue as heard on the album?

    • James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 19 July, 2017 at 10:59

      Erik Woods asked Giacchino this on Twitter but I don’t think he replied. The album copyright information credits It to Michael. Given Griffith is only 12 years old I don’t suppose he wrote it but who knows.

  3. , Andre>>Cape Town (Reply) on Wednesday 19 July, 2017 at 14:24

    BASIL POLEDOURIS did something similar Mastage! He credited his then nine-year old daughter ZOE as co-composer of The Orgy cue from `Conan, the Barbarian`….this was way back in the 1980s. I suppose it`s a lure for a budding protege to start honing compositional skills for the mighty and glamourous Cinema industry.

    • mastadge (Reply) on Wednesday 19 July, 2017 at 19:21

      Hi Andre, yes, I’m very familiar with Conan — it’s my first and greatest film score love! As I recall Zoë is credited with coming up with the counterpoint to the main melody, or something like that, and that’s what I wondered about Griffy: what component of the thing did he contribute? A melody? A choral idea?

      • tiago (Reply) on Thursday 20 July, 2017 at 05:02

        I think the main question is: is this cue even on the movie? I wouldn’t know that, since the movie didn’t came out in Brazil, where I live, yet,but I find it very quite hard to believe that the movie’s producers and Matt Reeves let 10 minutes of their super-expensive blockbuster movie being scored by a 12-year-old boy.

        • J.B. on Thursday 20 July, 2017 at 10:57

          Yes, “Apes’ Past is Prologue” underscores the first eleven minutes of the movie.

        • tiago on Saturday 22 July, 2017 at 04:57

          Thanks for answering that. I still find hard to believe that Reeves and the people at Fox let such an enourmous amount of movie being scored by a young boy, even with papa Giacchino helping him. But who knows…

      • James Gordon (Reply) on Saturday 22 July, 2017 at 23:44

        Tiago, this is the kind of thing parents usually do to their kids to make them feel part of their job.
        This is even a reason for healthy “joke” for americans: “Take your child to a day of work with your daddy / mommy”

  4. , Andre>>Cape Town (Reply) on Monday 24 July, 2017 at 22:56

    Have just seen the movie. It opens with the 20th Century Fox Logo, and ALFRED NEWMAN`S celebrated fanfare.being orchestrated for Simian drums and horns, as befits a Planet of the Apes. And GIACCHINO`S beautiful piano theme [it`s magical when accompanied by the orchestra] is written for an orphaned Human child–a female mute–who is adopted by an orangutan, and accompanies Caesar and three of his lieutenants as they hunt the brutal Woody Harrelson character. A masterful score has been created, with hostile discordant music vying with emotive thematic material and psychological underscoring. The `Migration` music accompanying the apes crossing a desert starts with undisguised phrases from a George Gershwin Musical [sorry, I can`t recall the title] before morphing into GIACCHINO`S theme. And the End Credits Music is just amazing! I also viewed The Circle, with an electronic score by DANNY ELFMAN.

  5. David Hand (Reply) on Monday 11 September, 2017 at 17:34

    I agree, this is one of his best ever film scores, such amazing themes and a worthy end to the trilogy.

  6. Rick Horner (Reply) on Friday 29 June, 2018 at 17:38

    Does anyone have the sheet music for this? Or, at least, can anyone fully decipher the lyrics/chants at the end of End Credits? I tried to make them out but I am unsure if I got them right. Thanks!

  7. ANDRE>>Cape Town (Reply) on Monday 1 October, 2018 at 23:58

    I swiched on Cape Town’s Classical Music Radio—-and playing, was the GERSHWIIN melody that features so prominently in this score WITHOUT being creditied….it’s from the ‘Porgy and Bess’ musical and is titled ‘It ain’t necessaritly so”. I first noticed it on the ‘Don’t Luca Now’ track, following the pretty 8-note piano-motiff for the orphaned child….then it reappears on other tracks, including the Migration theme as the Apes search for a new home. It’s such a popular and recognisable GERSHWIN meolody that it’s inconceivable that its adaptation for ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ wasn’t acknowledged by GIACCHINO or the producers.

  8. Rory (Reply) on Wednesday 7 November, 2018 at 06:37

    Any plans to review Bad Times at the El Royale? Very much has the same edge to it in certain places.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 7 November, 2018 at 09:49

      Yes definitely. It’s next on my list actually.