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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey by Howard Shore (Review)

posted Dec 8, 2012, 4:38 PM by
Regardless of your opinions of the film series, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy is legendary in every sense of the word. Howard Shores’ scores for the three films have won industry awards, portrayed him in a new celestial light among film score composers, and won him the infinite adoration of countless fans both consumer and professional alike. With his score for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, what’s presented is both an improvement upon legacy themes as well as introduction of new ones, making The Hobbit’s score yet another rooted and timeless classic in its own right.

Opening track “My Dear Frodo” encapsulates and epitomizes so much of what we’ve come to expect from Shore’s work on the original LOTR trilogy’s scores, incorporating majestic horns and strings and both female and male choral vocals, portraying hope, optimism, trepidation, and reluctance all rolled into one. “Old Friends” outlines a comfortable and fun vibe, furthering to feelings of relaxation and content, yet displaying a barely noticeable surrounding of cascading apprehension. And thus the first of two discs continues, building upon a foundation of Shore’s legacy material with development into new and extrapolated themes: “Axe or Sword” alternates between striking confluences of string-construed hills and horn-excavated valleys; “The Adventure Begins” rouses the soul into a quick pace following its introduction, and “The World Is Ahead” carries upon the strength of Shore’s original trilogy inasmuch as its blood-stirring, triumphant, and inspirational construction. “An Ancient Enemy,” one of the first disc’s highlights, reintroduces male choral vocals shown at a prior point in the score, yet layers them over scathing string and horn work, thrusting forth a grandiose and impressive statuesque scope, reminiscent of the Balrog scene from The Fellowship of the Ring but brandishing a more gentle beauty and tumultuous evolution. “Radagast the Brown” begins with yearning female vocals and soon incorporates spiraling strings and quick-paced yet low-key percussion thrown into a cavity of scant LOTR thematic material which ends on a hair-raising escalation of horns. Tracks on the first disc continue to follow a similarly treacherous yet whimsical pattern, beginning with “The Trollshaws,” continued by the existential flair of “Roast Mutton,” and seemingly culminated in “The Hill of Sorcery,” introducing the pending and rousing tracks of the second disc with a quickened theme, intermittently slowed by cautious horns and strings that quickly break into a cavernous and intimidating volley reminiscent of The Fellowship of the Ring’s music surrounding the Moria scenes. “Warg-Scouts” ends the first disc’s collection of music by displaying an involved yet troublesome and somehow amiable web of orchestral provenance.

“The Hidden Valley” begins the second disc with recurrent themes with an undertow reminding of Inon Zur’s score to the wonderfully exalting The Lord of the Rings: The War In the North video game. It’s an excellent leadoff track, going from serene and heartfelt strings to a rousing march leading to “Moon Runes,” which yields female vocals that evoke majesty, egregious beauty, and utter timelessness early on. Soon later, “The White Council,” a personal highlight, floats onwards through volition through hapless, boundless acquisition to storied and fanatical gravitas, an ultimately influential and consequently important piece on the album. “Over Hill” carefully incorporates traits of the triumphant Bag-End theme from LOTR as it’s poisoned with suspense, while “A Thunder Battle” will move the listener to the musical accompaniment to LOTR’s Moria scenes yet again. “Brass Buttons” boldly defines the destiny of the score, injecting an exciting and imploding track of commanding authority and casual musical competence, all the while cementing the listener’s desire to retain synergy with the remainder of the score and its merits, after which it transforms into a haunting track of illustrational heritage as well as efficacious and developmental beauty. “Out of the Frying Pan” shows an insurmountable effectivity in suspense and nonchalant aplomb and compositional countenance, leading into “A Good Omen”’s singular string/horn lead being pummeled by juxtaposed string/synth and orchestral, serene conglomeration. “Song of the Lonely Mountain,” an acoustic yet pronounced piece, illustrates Neil Finn of Crowded House playing a monumental and summarily beautiful song, that strikes as slightly ineffectual relating to the film’s score itself, into which “Dreaming of Bag End” soars, soon and lovingly collapsing into tranquility rather than peaceful finality, alternately ending the original score on somewhat of a curious prelude (but perhaps intentionally). Additional tracks “A Very Respectable Hobbit,” “Erebor” (the first to incorporate bagpipes), “The Dwarf Lords,” and “The Edge of the Wild” simply encourage further involvement in the score, the last of which contains striking, distinct, and reckless awe via bass and horn branches reminiscent of Cliff Eidelman’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

With the score drawing to a close, I sensed an incalculable gap between it and any future scores in the series, which is much how I felt following The Fellowship of the Ring. I sincerely love Howard Shore and his music, and love it or not, The Hobbit will undoubtedly shape your opinion going forward. Whether you’re a fan of Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores, or not familiar with them at all, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will dazzle and uncontrollably undulate your senses with effortless character throughout its massive length. Make no mistake, Howard Shore has created a masterpiece here that rivals his work for the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, that somehow seems to not only incorporate his legacy series music, but also capitalize upon it with new themes and frighteningly apathetic motivation given the music’s quality. Howard Shore’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will rouse you more than Fellowship of the Ring, inspire you more than The Two Towers, and impress you more than that of The Return of the King, because what he introduces with The Hobbit score is the beginning of a new legendary and epic journey rather than a casual lap around the tracks which made him originally famous. I implore you, do not miss this work of heart-stopping beauty!

Note: The extended version of Shore’s score (reviewed here) contains six tracks of extended material totaling almost eight minutes, within “Old Friends,” “Radagast the Brown,” “Moon Runes,” “The White Council,” and “Song of the Lonely Mountain.” Also included in the extended edition are six bonus tracks totaling over eleven minutes, including “Blunt the Knives” and “The Trollshaws,” along with the second disc’s ending tracks “A Very Respectable Hobbit,” “Erebor,” “The Dwarf Lords,” and “The Edge of the Wild.”