Saturday, July 26, 2014

In Context - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Michael Giacchino)

In-Context is a new series where I will deliver my thoughts on how an well original score functions within its specific context:  feature film, television program, or video game!   Our first stop is Matt Reeves' DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES with an original score by MICHAEL GIACCHINO.  You can watch this series on our Youtube channel and/or read the text version here on our blog!  Either way, let us know what you thought of the Giacchino's score as it performed in-context or what you think of this new series.


DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the perfect sequel to the vastly under-rated RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) and has become the high-water-mark for 2014 movies so far.  For DAWN the directorial reins moved from Rupert Wyatt to Matt Reeves and soon thereafter, the scoring duties from PATRICK DOYLE to MICHAEL GIACCHINO.  The focus of this sequel clearly takes the audience from the perspective of the humans to that of this newly rising community of intelligent apes.  With one race trying to hold on to its civilization and another trying to build its own, is conflict inevitable?  Ten years after the events of RISE, Reeves and Giacchino reunite us with our favorite ape characters: Caesar, Maurice, Rocket, and Koba and also introduce us to a small band of surviving humans and explore the answer to this question.

So let's take a look at how Giacchino's original score worked in context.

I watched this film at the AMC Theater in Downtown Disney, Orlando.  This is truly one of the best movie theaters in the Orlando area and one of the few equipped with a Dolby Atmos. Unfortunately, I did not see DAWN on this screen.  I sat about 1/2 way back at the on the left side of the center section.  This was the very same screen where I had one of my worst movie-audio experiences of my life ... GODZILLA (2014).   I'm happy to report that this was not the case this time and the sound mix and volume was fantastic and matched the emotion and intensity of the images being shown to myself and the rest of this packed house.

In context, MICHAEL GIACCHINO's original score is one of the most effective of any summer movie release this year. One of the more intriguing elements are the nods to Jerry Goldsmith's impressionistic style for the original PLANET OF THE APES from 1968.  Giacchino even goes as far as to include some of the unique instrumentation found in Goldsmith's original.  Our prolific composer tends to lean more and more upon these impressionistic tendencies as the plot advances and the potential for large-scale conflict increases.  His use of such techniques are certainly not just for nostalgic purposes, but to create an atmosphere of unease which cocoon's the audience in with their sense of fear and dread.  There are a couple of moments where we get a dose of dissonant strings and chorus that, along with the imagery, cannot help be evoke thoughts of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It's quite the rare thing to find this style score attached to a mainstream, summer, blockbuster film these days and due credit must be given to Reeves and Giacchino for daring to do so.

Now, MICHAEL GIACCHINO does not go as far experimentally as Goldsmith did and manages to keep his own, signature sound close at hand.  Aside from the chilling aspects of the score, the listener will likely take away two main musical ideas upon viewing the film.

First, is the harmonious, peaceful title theme, which hinges upon two, simple piano notes.  It is used all throughout the score, not only in this form, but at times, plucked on the harp or played by full orchestra.  It is a device used in quite a number of Giacchino's scores, but fans of the early seasons of LOST will be the group that most certainly recognizes it.  The overall effect of the theme, and in particular the abbreviated motif, is this sort of "fragile peace;" somehow telling the audience that everything is good ... for the moment.

The second takeaway is what could be called Koba's theme.  In stark contrast to the aforementioned peace-theme, Koba's theme is, at its core, a quick set of six notes.  It maintains the rising and falling shape of the two-note motif, but is usually delivered in militaristic fashion - often lead on brass and underscored strongly with various percussion.  As the plot develops, the theme grows and ultimately is played over the Apes community as the tragic, pieces fall into place and they mobilize for the inevitable conflict with the humans.

Overall, as had been said by many already, DAWN is easily one of the Summer's best films ... or even one of 2014's best.  MICHAEL GIACCHINO's score has a crucial part to play.  And while his most enjoyable music tends to be for original properties over reboots or inherited sequels, you will definitely want to hear his score in context ... probably more than once.

Be sure to lookout for more IN-CONTEXT episodes on our YOUTUBE channel and also for my full soundtrack review of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES in the very near future.

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