• Ben Erickson

War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes is the ninth film to be made in the Planet of the Apes media franchise, and the third to continue the story of Caesar in the current trilogy. It is the second big blockbuster film of the summer scored by Michael Giacchino, following Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it features his best score to date. Giacchino has been very busy in recent years, writing for several colossal series, including the 2009 Star Trek reboot, the Planet of the Apes trilogy, the first film of the Star Wars anthology series, and two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The credits speak for themselves, and his success has been well earned. Giacchino has written bold themes in the footsteps of renowned film composers John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and Danny Elfman, making him an A-List composer in Hollywood today. Jerry Goldsmith composed the score for the original 1968 Planet of the Apes, writing a completely avant-garde composition; aurally aggressive and tonally challenging, pushing every aesthetic boundary while remaining functional, with clever spotting. The score employed serialism, a number of indeterminate musical features, performance techniques involving brass instruments played without their mouth pieces, the use of ram's horns, and abstract, pseudo-instruments made of materials from the trunk of a car. The Goldsmith influence is most prominent in the opening cue of War for the Planet of the Apes (abbreviated hereafter as War) as the human soldiers stealthily seek out the hidden settlement of the apes. The other more prominent musical influence is Ennio Morricone, famous for his Spaghetti Western scores of the twentieth century. Many visual and story driven elements of War were influenced by the Western genre, making it fitting that we should hear the same relationship in the music. Inaugurating the film is the Twentieth-Century Fox fanfare, bursting forth with an African drum and putting the audience in the jungle as the first cue begins ("Ape's Past is Prologue"). We are met by a lengthy build of sustained strings and woodwind textures as we follow soldiers deeper through the foliage. Light percussion and horns join to create an echoplex effect, a device Goldsmith was fond of, causing a repetitive, delayed echo. At the sight of an ape-built trench a weighty bass drum enters with sleigh bells and a cymbal brush mounting the downbeat. The drums, with this spurring effect, foreshadow music to be heard later in the film, cutting out when the soldier's assault begins. The next voice to be heard is that of the choir, entering as the camera surveys the battle from above, with flutes entering in response to the dying apes. After a short interlude on the harp the choir re-enters in full force, appearing with the new wave of apes to join the fight. When the battle ends the Morricone-style drums roll once again as the few soldiers living are taken prisoner. At the end of the cue we hear the first rendering of the theme for Caesar's family, characterized by a simple chord progression that moves gradually from Gm to FM (ii - V/ii - IV - I), marking Caesar's first appearance. The full theme, with a twelve-note, descending melody from the piano, enters overtop the same harmony as the apes hold a funeral en masse down river for their dead. The music indicates a revered, respectful attitude toward Caesar from the ape colony, while the melody expresses great depths of grief in its simplicity. As the audience is brought to the ape settlement we hear Caesar's theme, written by Giacchino for the previous film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The theme bestows an intangible impression of humanity on the apes, nearly overwhelming the space of the enclosure as Caesar embraces his family. The next cue, "Assault of the Earth", begins while Caesar watches over his family that same night. We are met with yet more Goldsmith-isms via screeching strings and alarming flutes as Caesar discovers a cable, indicating the imminent danger. Drums enter with thickened brass as we find soldiers in the tunnels, and the sleigh bells return alongside reverberating drums as the Colonel makes his exit from the hit on Caesar's family, with more active drums in the ensuing struggle. The flutes cut out as the Colonel cuts the rope, making his escape.

"Exodus Wounds" recaps the family melody when Cornelius comes out of hiding, performed on solo piano while Caesar weighs his losses, with a powerful reprisal taken up in the horns as he makes the decision to leave the colony behind. Caesar is joined by his close friends, introducing a new processional theme as the posse travels through the woods. A slithering horn takes up the melody, supported by guitar strumming and a grunting choir, heard again in "The Posse Polonaise" and "The Bad Bagatelle". The music becomes much more lively in the latter, with interjecting instruments taking part as the party chases down a rogue ape. Nova's theme makes its entrance shortly after the posse vacates the abandoned cabin with the girl. This cue is heard in "The Posse Polonaise"; a delicate theme played in the harp, often appearing at moments of kindness and sincerity between Nova and the ape posse. During the posse's reconnaissance of the camp we hear the soldier's motif once again. The five-note drum pattern is much more prominent in the film than the soundtrack, appearing often when the soldiers are on screen or when we encounter the Colonel. "Koba Dependent" illustrates a shrieking string on this line, slowly trading between a brass descent and a bent guitar string as Caesar is faced by hallucinations of Koba, and the family theme is taken up once again when Caesar is captured and thrown in a cell with his colony. This brings us to our first hearing of Caesar's destiny, when he defies the Colonel in the work camp. If the Morricone influence was not already obvious, "The Ecstasy of the Bold" quells all doubt. A stirring, fearless progression with a horn melody made up of arpeggiations to form a gallant orchestration of the new theme.

The solider's motif makes its most crucial presentation when the Colonel speaks to Caesar, inhabiting a mournful quality as he shares the loss of his son and the sacrifices he has made for the sake of humankind. The cue "Apes Together Strong" comes in with a bright setting of Nova's theme with layered orchestration to create a compassionate texture as Nova feeds the starving Caesar, returning to an intimate duet when their moment is interrupted. Sharp, crude violins enter with equally raw rhythms as Rocket sacrifices himself to keep Nova safe, and a near Death Star quality of pondering harp, horns, and percussion is reached with the arrival of the Colonel. Ending the cue is a determined setting of Caesar's destiny as the apes affirm their resolve to Caesar. It is also around this time that we revisit Koba's theme in another hallucination, written for the previous film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. "A Tide in the Affair of Apes" introduces a pulsing thrum alongside a warped glissandi string as the Colonel finds a doll left behind by Nova, moving on to a new percussive exercise beside strumming guitar as the slave colony mines in the camp. While the apes come up with a plan of escape, Nova and Maurice share a moment in which she is given her name, restoring Nova's theme. The cue to follow, "Planet of the Escapes", opens with a mischievous motif on muted brass as the 'Bad Ape' helps set things in motion, passing through Caesar's family and ending with Caesar's destiny as the apes are smuggled out of the camp. When the battle begins we hear malevolent, militant strings, followed by a series of tense textures in that same, ponderous style heard before ("A Man Named Suicide"). Nova's theme enters the fray amidst tragic orchestration as the Colonel is found infected with the Simian virus, moving to a consoling piano as the threat passes, and Caesar's family finds crippled footing in the orchestra as the colony is discovered escaping, with a violent exhalation made by the choir just before Caesar is shot. The exhausted journey these apes have gone through is echoed in the solitary piano, revitalized only when a traitor ape helps Caesar in his most desperate hour. "Migration" renders a final, steady, triumphant build as the colony finally journeys to their new home. Upon their arrival, the cue "Paradise Found" commences, concluding the era with a pastoral passage of Caesar's theme. Absent since the beginning of the film, this theme signals the end of Caesar's journey, passing on in a brilliant, full orchestra eruption before reaching a governing counterpoint between Caesar's destiny and Caesar's family. With the rest of the colony to carry on the evolution as the now dominant species on the Earth the choir reaches a climax before the camera tilts to the skies, awaiting the inevitable arrival of future travelers. One last lesson Giacchino could stand to learn from Goldsmith is the use of proper cue titles. Obviously this is not a criticism on the music, merely a request for candid communication when trying to determine where a given cue belongs within the film. Many composers accomplish this without excessively on the nose puns while still being clever, writing cue titles that are completely transparent and leave the listener without a doubt as to their orientation within the film. But given this is the only accusation I am able to make in relation to the music we need not dwell on the subject. What matters is that the score Giacchino composed works phenomenally within the film, using bountiful variety, an extraordinary thematic palette, and skilled compositional development. The emotional delivery exceeded expectation and, combined with incredible motion capture performances, the music lends undeniable humanity to creatures that have ever been treated as the younger sibling to intelligent life.