One of the main highlights of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was its complex and brooding score. Howard Shore was an unusual choice for this genre of film, being more associated with other types of movies, such as The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Cell and David Cronenberg's films, including Dead Ringers and Crash.
Howard Shore is somebody who does a lot of experimentation; The Lord of the Rings trilogy needed something traditional, but with a unique spin. Well, I was a big fan of Shore's music for The Fly and Looking for Richard, both of which handle large orchestral forces, and, in the case of the latter, a chorus of fire and brimstone. When I first heard Shore would be composing the music for this trilogy, I actually relaxed and waited eagerly (hoping against hope his score wouldn't be rejected). I had faith in Howard Shore's ability to do something on this scale.
I wasn't disappointed. Furthermore, the score played an intergral role in the film. Several scenes, most notably Boromir's death at the end, play out with minimal sound effects and no dialogue, allowing the music to carry the film. The score was also mixed very aggressively in 6.1 as well, with the orchestra wrapping around your front and the choir behind you. Great care was taken with this aspect of the film, as there had been with all other elements of production, allowing for the films to have the completeness that has made them such repeatable viewing.
Shore did quite a bit of research for the music, not only into the cultures that inspired Tolkien in the creation of the different races depicted in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but also in how The Lord of the Rings has entered into pop culture and the mythology of a new age. His goal, he said, was to achieve something that did not sound like a film score, but rather a tone poem, an ancient musical text.
As a result, the score was, in a way, designed to be the last word for Middle Earth, musically. And it certainly comes across that way. Great in scope, rich in texture, broad in orchestration, Shore's score is a perfect example of what the film score art is capable of. There are many moments in The Fellowship of the Ring that are dark and harsh, but there are also moments of rapturous beauty. It can be very bold and straightforward, but it can also be subtle and complex.
The score for The Two Towers is designed to be a continuation of that for Fellowship; certain thematic material was actually introduced in the extended version of the film that came out on DVD in November of 2002 (a cue from which, "Farewell to Lorien," was available only in the leatherbound special limited edition package of the soundtrack from The Two Towers, but it was worth the extra price). Other material is brand new, the most noticable being the theme for the Rohan that dominates this score.
Listening to Fellowship and Two Towers on CD one after the other, the listener finds that the transition from one to the other is seamless. Although a wealth of thematic material is introduced in The Two Towers, Fellowship introduces themes throughout its length. The Two Towers is the second movement, not a sequel score.
Of course, the difference in the album production muddies things up a bit; while Fellowship is 95% chronological, the record of Two Towers is a mishmash of cues from all over the place, lumped together in no discernable fashion (although Shore is better at doing this sort of thing than John Williams is, to be sure; Two Towers is listenable, while some Williams soundtrack albums aren't at all). The entire sequence from when Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn ride into Edoras to the arrival of the two children as Theoden mourns Theodred is on the album, but split up and buried in four... count 'em, four! other tracks on the CD.
Part of the reason for this might be that the film itself demanded a much less varied score from Shore. While Fellowship starts in the Shire and moves through Eriador, Rivendell, Moria and Amon Hen, in Two Towers, the characters tend to inhabit a specific area... Merry and Pippin are in the forests with Treebeard, Sam and Frodo are in the armpits of Middle Earth with Gollum, and Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are tied up in the Rohan. While there are many worlds to depict, the travel element of the first film is gone; if the CD version touches on several bases as it plays out, it is nevertheless softened by not being in context.
Either way, the score as it appears in the film is, even more so than in Fellowship, a major aspect of the storytelling process. So much is communicated through the score. In context of its predecessor, it shines even the brighter for its willingness to be different but the same. To hear the way thematic material is being developed in an arc over the course of three films is a wonderful experience.
Shore's Oscar win in 2002 for Fellowship may have soured his chances to win for The Return of the King (Two Towers was rendered ineligible for nomination because of one of the Academy's patented "This rule is for this year only" rules, since it relied heavily on thematic material from the first film, it was deemed that it did not qualify as a fully original score), but either way it seems likely that the complete scores will be released on CD following the extended DVD edition of The Return of the King in November of 2004.
I was also quite interested in that snatch of music that Shore is seen recording for the extended version of The Two Towers. It appears to be a more heroic rendition of the theme for Gondor from the first film.
Howard Shore's music is not easy for many to get into. His brand of restrained intensity has meant that films like The Silence of the Lambs are perfectly scored, and the music is hauntingly beautiful, but it is dark and not necessarily accessible to a wide audience. This trilogy is some of his most approachable work to date, but the CDs of these scores, suffering from abridgement (each score runs three times the length of the CDs and, in the case of Fellowship, quite a bit was added to the extended cut of the film) do not always show the scores in the best light, although I have listened to each CD a billion times, I must admit.
It is the music that I feel takes me over the edge in the Forth Eorlingas scene (see my August 28th entry). Shore's music for this scene is some of the most rousing and cathartic music I have ever heard. Ben del Maestro's vocal matches in sound what the appearance of the sun breaking over the hill achieves visually, which is that the hope that the survivors had hung on to has been vindicated.
The epic grandeur of this undertaking leads me to compare what Shore is doing with these films with what Richard Wagner did with his Ring cycle. It is a bold statement, I know, but one that I think, when the trilogy is fully complete next November, will be bourne out. Shore is accomplishing a work of great importance.
If Sam's courage and constancy raises Frodo's spirits, it could well be that the hymn version of the Hobbit theme that closes both films raises Sam's.