Saturday, August 12, 2017

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) - Thoughts on Silence

The first thing I noticed about WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the silence. At first I feared that the quiet opening and subdued aural composition of the first few seconds of the film was a technical glitch but then the natural sound effects of people walking through a forest became audible and I realized that it was intentional. Soon it was clear that sound was going to play a major role on the way the story was going to be told.

The rest of the movie demonstrated that director Matt Reeves fully understands how to use sound to tell his story as well as draw an emotional response and a quickening of interest in the viewer. Often he drops specific, expected noises out from underneath images in such a way that it draws attention to violence or action. He is cleverly using his soundtrack to underline character traits the same way a visualist will use costuming or lighting to color our perceptions. At one point a character is crouched in snow with tears trickling down his face and what we hear is his slightly stifled sniffle. This shows his pain better than any conversation could. At another point two antagonists scream while attacking each other as slow motion machine gunfire tracks across a floor and wall seeking a target but all we hear is breathing and the score. The tension is unnerving and I don't think I could have had a more emotional response if all the fury and rage were blasting my ears.

This use of silence often  seems wholly natural because of the wintertime setting. Given that the majority of the story takes place in the harsh cold it's easy to suppose that the general hush over the story comes from that choice alone. I would be curious to know if the filmmakers chose to set the film in the colder months or if it were mere happenstance. Silence over snowy landscapes and cold frigid vistas is a standard movie visual but Reeves and his team clearly know that silence is also something useful in both contemplative sequences as well as scenes of frantic action. On more than just the one occasion described above gunfire, explosions and screams all drop away and we're left with only the music or incidental sound effects giving us an expressive and often profound  view of the emotional content of the violence on screen. This isn't the first film to use silence in this way but, as a technique, I thought it had gone the way black & white photography. I'm glad to see a modern director employ the lack of sound creatively where bombast seems the standard.

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