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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Howard Shore -- The Lord of the Rings-The Fellowship of the Ring: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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Peter Jackson is a talented man. He took a trilogy of novels that are essentially unfilmable, and successfully filmed them. What's crazier, he filmed a property held in the highest regard by one of the most obsessive compulsive fanbases in existence (myself included), and in the process, somehow placated that fanbase. There are events in The Lord of the Rings films that differ from the books, and those differences bother me, yet these are some of my favorite films of all time. It is impossible to find epic fantasy done this well in one other film let alone an entire trilogy. These movies are a remarkable achievement. I've seen them a dozen times, and I could see them a dozen more. But of course, these are reviews of the soundtracks.
One of the wisest decisions Jackson made was his choice of composer. Howard Shore brings a respect, zeal, and most importantly, understanding of the material. He realizes full well that these films are meant to be taken seriously and gives them the epic treatment they deserve.
For the first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, Shore has some musical world building to do. He introduces the seductively memorable ring theme in the prologue before delving into the peaceful, whimsical world of the hobbits. Once he establishes the nostalgic, autumnal atmosphere of Hobbiton, he introduces the dark mystery of the ring into it, then the creeping terror of the dark forces that wish to take it. As the characters enter the larger world of Middle Earth, Shore's greatest instincts shine through. Taking a beat from Orff's Carmina Burana, Shore invokes the most powerful instrument in history: the human voice. The choral work Shore composes creates huge, ancient, unarguably epic bedrock for the film to rise upon. Nowhere does this manifest more strongly than the subterranean adventure of "The Bridge of Khazad Dum." Just try to imagine the scene this is taken from without the music. In fact, listen to this without watching the film, then watch the scene on mute. Which one is more evocative?

Or better yet, don't do that. Why have one when you can have it all? But if you can't watch the film, listening to this soundtrack is the next best thing. Shore's aural representations of Hobbiton, Rivendell, Moria, Lothlorien, and everywhere in between are just as important to the excellence of these films as anything. Shore's "Fellowship Theme," which plays anytime one of the characters, particularly Aragorn, does something heroic, is almost as memorable as John Williams' Star Wars theme. Oh, and I nearly forgot about Enya.
Enya lends her otherworldly voice and writing skills to a couple of key moments in the film, most significantly the ending. Her comforting voice works well in the context of The Fellowship of the Ring, which puts more focus on Frodo and the Hobbits than do The Two Towers and Return of the King. For some reason, the previoius sentence took a half an hour to write. I just mean that Enya's voice works well in the more intimate, smaller scale of The Fellowship of the Ring, but wouldn't fit in the vaster, battle-filled world of the two sequels. Not that there's anything wrong with that...
To finish this ramble on a soundtrack fan note, as opposed to simply a fanboy note, let me mention one more factor that puts this soundtrack on top as an actual album: sequencing. That's right, these tracks are actually in the order they appear during the film. You would think this is just a common sense decision on behalf of the soundtrack's producers, but for whatever reason, hardly any other soundtrack for a major film does this. The natural flow of the film translates just as well to the music, enhancing The Fellowship of the Ring: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack as a full and satisfying experience.

2001 Reprise Records
1. The Prophecy 3:55
2. Concerning Hobbits 2:55
3. The Shadow Of The Past 3:33
4. The Treason Of Isengard 4:00
5. The Black Rider 2:48
6. At The Sign Of The Prancing Pony 3:14
7. A Knife In The Dark 3:34
8. Flight To The Ford 4:14
9. Many Meetings 3:05
10. The Council Of Elrond (Featuring "Aniron (Theme For Aragorn And Arwen)") 3:49
11. The Ring Goes South 2:03
12. A Journey In The Dark 4:20
13. The Bridge Of Khazad Dum 5:57
14. Lothlorien (Lament For Gandalf) 4:33
15. The Great River 2:42
16. Amon Hen 5:02
17. The Breaking Of The Fellowship ( In Dreams) 7:20
18. May It Be (Enya) 3:26


Neal said...

I think this is my favorite of the three soundtracks, probably in part because it broke the ground and the other two soundtracks have to build off what is started in this first film. They just can't compete because of it, even though they're perfectly evocative (and I recall enjoying Treebeard's theme quite a bit... ethereal, ancient, and sleepily powerful).

And yeah... Bridge of Khazad Dum. That music and shooting work together perfectly. I recall realizing my heart was almost beating in time with the music during that sequence (and it's quite frenetic and long) the first, ummm, several times I saw that movie. It still gets me, but not as much as those early times, of course.

I did quite enjoy the bits from Enya and they work well, but Into the West by Annie Lennox (on the Return of the King soundtrack) really blows any of those out of the water. Pretty much a perfect emotional closure to the three movies. I always sit through the credits of movies to help process them and I must admit that one made me a little sad. They were all over, after about five or six years of anticipation (I kept track of their filming from early on in college and then during the three years they were coming out).

I doubt any movie series will grab me that much ever again, even if there are so many parts of them that I wish were better. Hmmm. I need to do a review of those movies and some tangential nerd ramblings, just so I can link to them whenever the subject comes up again. ;)

Nicholas said...

I think it may be my favorite as well.
Not sure if any movie series will grab me the same way again, either. All three came out during my birthday week, consecutively, during my sophomore, junior, and senior years of college, and they made that time between Finals and Christmas so special.