We’ve been gifted with two movies this summer that rely more heavily on the art of visual storytelling than on the heavy use of dialogue to convey story. While Dunkirk was also light on dialogue and heavy on visuals and score, for me, it was War for the Planet of the Apes that packed the greater emotional punch and was, frankly, the better film.
The rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, has been surprisingly good. Each entry was better than the one before it with War being the strongest of the three. War for the Planet of the Apes utilizes a fantastic musical score, stunning visuals, and state of the art motion capture to tell a primarily visual story that will you keep you engaged and captivated until the end credits roll.
If you’re going to go for a more visually-driven movie, you really better have a good soundtrack. If you think about it, most of the more well known visually stunning movies basically all have fantastic musical scores. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sunshine, Mad Max: Fury Road, Interstellar, and The Fountain are just a few examples. As with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The War for the Planet of the Apes soundtrack was composed by Michael Giacchino, a composer well known for his most recent work on Spiderman: Homecoming, but who’s other works include Doctor Strange, Rogue One, Star Trek: Beyond, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The work he’s done on War, however, outshines any of his past endeavours in my opinion.
While perhaps not as epic as some of the musical scores of Hans Zimmer, Giacchino’s score for War is basically perfect for the tone, mood and emotion of each scene of the movie. One of the score’s strongest aspects is the fact that there are many moments in the film where you don’t even notice it. It’s used to subtly add tension, fear, sadness, or anger (where appropriate) and complement the visual aspects of the story. At the same time, though, there are other moments when the score is grand and moving and really stands out for its beauty. Together, the music and the visuals create a very captivating film experience.
War for the Planet of the Apes shows us, if nothing else, that you don’t always need a lot of dialogue to tell a moving story.
The cinematography of War for the Planet of the Apes is also really quite incredible. The film is shot very heavily in natural spaces and uses the natural beauty of the landscape to add emotional weight. As the apes go from a position of strength (claiming victory over the human military forces) to a position of weakness (being kept as slaves and being routinely killed by human forces), the environment also changes, with lush green forests coming to be replaced by harsh, unforgiving snowy environments. Plus, most of the film’s shots are just objectively very pretty. The waterfalls, forests, mountains, and snow-covered landscapes are all just shot in a way that is quite visually remarkable.
You can’t talk about the new Planet of the Apes movies without praising the motion capture work. We’ve never seen motion capture this good before. Ever. I was able to get through pretty much the entire film without ever thinking, “Oh, that doesn’t look very real.” The level of depth and detail in the look of the apes on screen is truly incredible. Actor Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, has once again proven that he is the best in the business when it comes to motion capture. The motion capture in these films is all-the-more important because of how much the apes rely on non-verbal methods of communication. Serkis and his motion capture team bring these apes to life and are able to convey emotion expertly with nothing but body and face movement. (I have a friend, actually, that admits to downloading an un-subtitled copy of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and not realizing his mistake until the movie was almost over.)
War for the Planet of the Apes, then, presents a feat in visually storytelling that we don’t often see. The musical score of Michael Giacchino, the beautiful cinematography, and the stunning motion capture acting and technology all work in concert to bring us a captivating and emotional end to Caesar’s story. War for the Planet of the Apes shows us, if nothing else, that you don’t always need a lot of dialogue to tell a moving story.
What did you think of War for the Planet of the Apes? Does it beat out Dunkirk as the most visually-stunning movie of the summer? Be sure to let me know in the comment section below.