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OK, Vik... It's Hobbit discussion time! (Part 1 of X)
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• Posted by: Christian Kühn
• Date: Saturday, January 22, 2022, at 7:00 a.m.
• IP Address:
• Now Playing: The Da Vinci Code (HanZ, ****)


Your original post from August, 2018, will be quoted in full, and I'll throw my $0.02 in where I deem necessary. tongue

> The vast majority of my friends with whom I regularly discuss film music are people I met
> online.

Story of my life.

> About a year ago, I had the good fortune of finally meeting some of these friends
> in person in Los Angeles for a John Williams concert.

Did I ever state unequivocally that you all look ravishing in your group photo that Antonio used back then? (I was also on vacation and without internet right when that took place in late summer, 2017, and only found out about this momentous occasion later...)

> Our first night in L.A., four of us were driving back to the house we were staying at, and, > as I was sitting shotgun, I was in charge of music.

A role previously filled out by the one, the only, the Jens E. Dietrich. (Brendan will remember this, too...)

> I put on “The White Tree,” a.k.a. “The Lighting of the Beacons,” from Return of the King.

It's a tree, there should have been some...Ent-angle to the music as well, donchagree?

> Immediately, everyone’s attention snaps to the music.

*proud CK grin*

> When the moment came (you know the one), all of us started singing the string arpeggios,
> and soon after, one of us switched to the brass counterpoint.

That was probably, and I wasn't even there. Not hitting all the notes, but as I mentioned on the T2T Discord, I have neither perfect pitch nor perfect catch. Which for a gay film music nut, is a depressing combination. indifferent

> By the time we hit that rousing rendition of the Gondor theme, the speedometer had crept
> above 85 mph as we sped down the freeway in the middle of the night, singing orchestral
> music at the top of our lungs.

*sheds a single manly tear*

> Several years prior, during my freshman year of college, I had my dorm door propped open
> while I was working on homework. The Two Towers was playing from my speakers, and one
> person walking by stopped and asked “Is that ‘Last March of the Ents’?” Why yes, yes it
> was. Hi there new friend, have a seat, let’s talk!

Happened to me twice, once with whistling the Fellowship Theme while going up some stairs, and somebody further down finishing the line. A "Well done!" was called down the stairwell.

> A few years before that, my future roommate and his friend were sitting at their computers
> at work, alone and bored. To pass the time, they found a YouTube video called “10 Hours of > the Shire Theme” ( ) and played it for the rest > of their shift.

You have heard (of) the epic Shire theme, right? Or this one:

> I could spend several pages spinning yarns related to the Lord of the Rings scores, both my
> own and my friends’ stories, but you get the gist. Perhaps it’s because the LOTR films were
> released when I and many of my friends were at a formative age, but Howard Shore’s triple-
> Oscar-winning trilogy left myself and many others with indelible memories and stories.

Very much so. It's only a bit disconcerting that FotR came out literally half a lifetime ago.

> I have no such anecdotes about The Hobbit scores.

I do, but they are indeed fewer and of, uhm, a smaller stature.

> That doesn’t seem right to me. The Hobbit is a trilogy of similar length, with a similar
> setting, and, most important, the same composer working with the same director.

The old adage goes "You can't step into the same Forest River twice. Take the Eagles at the Carrock..." Or something.

> And yet, Shore’s music for The Hobbit never matched the quality of his first trilogy, nor
> did it leave a cultural impact to rival it. We’re now roughly five years from the Hobbit
> films, and while my opinion of the music has changed,

I guess you'll expand on that further down (I'm reading your essay as I'm replying to it). Pausing here to give some thought whether or not my opinion of the Hobbit scores has changed...yes and no. I still enjoy the music as much as I did when I first heard it, with the minor caveat that "The Desolation of Smaug" has, from my first exposure to it, always been a smidge below the four scores preceding it, and the one following it. For reference, I point the interested reader to my first-impression assessment of it here:

> listening to these scores still elicits delight and disappointment, bafflement and
> bitterness.

Bitterness? oh

> I wanted to revisit Shore’s prequel trilogy (and the star-crossed films they accompanied)
> and explore why, with all the same pieces in place, The Hobbit never would, nor ever could,
> reach the same heights that The Lord of the Rings did.

The emphasis lies on "could", I think. Firstly, the source material isn't anywhere near as strong, intricate or deep as LotR turned out to be. Secondly, post-enormous-success-in-the-2010!PJ wasn't pre-megafame-2000!PJ, and as was already apparent by King Kong, has no control over his excessiveness. I continue to maintain that had the Hobbit remained a two-part instalment, and had less non-source-material additions forced upon it, it would've fared better. Both as films, and as a consequence, the scores.

> 1. Lightning in a Bottle
> “This task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.”
> Before delving into why The Hobbit scores were disappointing, I ought to contextualize just > how remarkably, implausibly, absurdly good The Lord of the Rings music trilogy was.
> Composer Howard Shore was afforded luxuries no franchise composer before him had. With all
> three films shot and made back to back to back, director Peter Jackson and Shore were able > to approach the series as one massive 10-hour film (or in the case of the extended
> editions, more like a 12-hour film).

There were (are) times when I ponder the (unrealistic) scenario of Shore working on that 10-hour film "in one go". Because there ways the music evolved over the three years that I think would have been different if Shore had continuously worked on it. This is hard to explain, but it is somewhat connected to the following:

> Shore was hired more than a year before The Fellowship of the Ring’s release, and spent
> roughly a year writing and recording each of the film’s scores. Blessed with foresight, a
> love for the source material, and all the time he needed, Shore had the optimal conditions
> for success.

I think FotR is the most accomplished musically, as he had the most time for it and could let his mind bubble up with truly original takes that were considered and re-considered up to (and of course during) the recording sessions. With T2T and RotK, it is well documented how crazy the synchronous writing, orchestrating and recording process became. Because of that urgency foisted upon him, I sometimes feel as if RotK in particular stumbles. It still comes together amazingly well, but there a singular decisions and/or applications of thematic and/or orchestrational material that ever so slightly make me think that more time had resulted in a smoother composition.

> On the similarities between LOTR and Richard Wagner’s four-part opera Der Ring des
> Nibelungen, J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Both rings were round, and there the resemblance
> ceases.”

Kudos for some proper research done here! smile

> With that in mind, it may have been to Tolkien’s chagrin to find that Shore approached
> LOTR’s music with a rigorous leitmotivic approach in the vein of Wagner. Shore wrote so
> many interconnected major themes and smaller motifs that one could write an entire book on
> it. In fact, one has. ( ) Despite the large volume of
> musical identities competing for attention, Shore was able to ground his music in three
> simple and indelible themes. There’s the slithering History of the Ring theme, heard at the
> beginning of each film; the heroic Fellowship theme, making every walking montage more
> triumphant; and the pastoral Shire theme, representing the hobbits and the home they’re
> fighting to save.

There is something Doug wrote about the approach Shore took (way before the book became a thing), and I hope he won't mind me quoting the following bit (emphasis in bold is mine):

Past composers who have tackled Tolkien's legend have, pretty consistently, only addressed one of these two concerns. Leonard Rosenman's score to the 1978 Ralph Bakshi animated version is unquestionably a strict account of the story as heard through Rosenman's mental filter -- an "about the world" score. Same goes for Johan de Meij's popular First Symphony based on his reading of the book's characters. Several lesser known works have found composers setting Tolkien lyrics to music, and in such, almost entirely suppressing their musical personalities to create music consistently "from the world" -- music that, say, a Hobbit supposedly could have written. Still, neither of these polarized approaches could have been entirely successful in Jackson's new films. An "about the world" score, a score that related events only through the perspective and interpretation of someone outside of the film's reality, would stand between the audience and the story. Yet a diagetic/period score would fail to acknowledge the story's larger issues, dramatic connections, and resonance.

Howard Shore has long been known for his talent to tie music to film. In works like Crash, Naked Lunch, The Game and so on, he related music to stories that didn't immediately suggest simple musical counterparts. But the Lord of the Rings challenge was one he had not faced before, because not only did it require the above stylistic balancing act, but it demanded an unprecedented scope and scale. Happily, Shore proves himself more than up to the requirements, in one of the most intelligent and emotionally satisfying scores of 2001.

> The Lord of the Rings is in many ways a travel novel, which Shore reflected by representing
> each race and region with a different sound and texture.

While not a completely novel approach, Shore's meticulous constructing and following this scheme allows the scores to sound different (and work much better, IMHO) and sets them apart from what, say, Elfman or specially Horner would have come up.

> Howard Shore won three Academy Awards, released a concert arrangement of his music, and
> toured the LOTR scores in concert around the world. These scores arguably also kick-started
> the current proliferation of live-to-projection concerts, where the orchestra performs the
> score as the film plays overhead.

I once laid out why I believe that Fellowship winning the Oscar was a singular feat that year. That the music took a second life in the concert hall wasn't a first, but LotR blew the doors right off their hinges for film music to be performed world-wide and regularly.

> Tolkien fans have a reputation for being completionists, making them and film score
> enthusiasts the perfect market for the Complete Recordings, a 10-CD and three DVD
> collection released piecewise from 2006 to 2008,

We are also nit-picking perfectionists: 2005 to 2007. tongue

> containing practically every bit of music heard in the Extended Editions of the films. It
> could not have possibly gotten better.

As it turned out, it actually could have. There was a minute change of modus operandi for RotK's complete set, which essentially means it has music written and recorded for use in the film/extended edition, whereas T2T and FotR in particular are absent such material.

Did I mention the nit-picking perfectionists?

> It didn’t.

That assessment, while not necessarily incorrect, does come across as a bit too harsh.

> 2. A Whole Lotta Less Love
> “I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”
> When the three Hobbit scores (An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle
> of the Five Armies) came out, the critical reception was far less enthusiastic than it was
> for Lord of the Rings. From FSMO as well as other notable film score critics, the five-star
> raves they had given each LOTR score gave way to more measured four-star ratings. While
> Filmtracks’ Christian Clemmensen still gave each one five stars, each review contained
> moments admitting they were not on par with the LOTR trilogy, before insisting that Shore’s
> prequel scores were better than nearly everything else coming out of Hollywood.

Understandable, as CC explains that he has used two different sets of parametres. The scores as judged by themselves and in relation to what has come before, vs. the scores in relation to contemporary film music by other composers.

> Meanwhile, MovieWave’s James Southall was particularly scathing in his reviews, describing
> An Unexpected Journey as “so wearingly bleak” and portions of Desolation of Smaug as
> “horrendous” and full of “austere seriousness.”

Ironically, I don't think James is wrong with this particular assessment. I would still love to read his review of "THe Battle of the Five Armies", if only for the sake of completeness.

> Each year, every film-based awards body ignored Shore’s scores, and the International Film
> Music Critics Association (IFMCA) gave the trilogy just six nominations in total, with no
> wins, not even nominating Battle of the Five Armies for Film Score of the Year.

Yeah, I found this puzzling back then, because I would suggest (in my usual round-about way) that when LotR domineered the field back in 2001-03, it did so in face of very strong competition.

> MovieMusicUK’s Jon Broxton had a beautiful line at the end of his review of Battle of the
> Five Armies: “I doubt we will ever hear a score like this again, and so my advice to you
> all is to savor this. Drink it in. Go there, and go back again, and again, and again.”

Coincidentally, Edmund just yesterday echoed Jon's sentiment (referring to RotK in this case, but getting to the same conclusion).

> When I started working on this piece, I asked Jon if his opinions of the Hobbit trilogy had
> changed over the past five years. He said they hadn’t, but he also admitted that it had
> been at least few years since he had listened to any of them straight through, which to me
> speaks to the gulf of quality between Bilbo’s musical journey and Frodo’s.

Speaking for myself, I kinda get that argument, even though it doesn't apply for me completely. I mentioned that "The Desolation of Smaug" is my least favourite of the six Middle-Earth scores, yet iTunes tells me it's the most listened to (likely a combination of my trying to "get it" and it playing often during my final PhD-year).

And this is where your "too much butter" citation comes into play, I believe. This is likely the fundamental issue with the Hobbit scores, both each individually, and taken as a second trilogy. There is so much ground Shore has to cover, and while he had to do the same in case of LotR as well, this time the "in-between" music isn't as focused and, as a consequence, compelling. Funnily, I can use Brendan's "giant chords" argument here...LotR has quite a bit of what has been called Shore's innate sombreness that can give music a one-note quality, but there, the mournful and passive shifting chords and minor modalities are extraordinarily evocative. In the case of the Hobbit scores, these, let's call them "transitionary parts", seem less mournful and passive, but also less evocative. Despite, for example, the orchestrational inventiveness of Smaug's music.

> Shore wrote three themes to represent Thorin Oakenshield, the band of exiled dwarfs he
> leads, and the lost kingdom of Erebor.

Three SIMPLE themes. *points to that fact because I can't find the proper words for making an argument*

> Dwarves and their culture do not factor prominently in the Lord of the Rings films, save
> for the middle of Fellowship of the Ring, when the Fellowship passes through Moria and sees
> the ruins of the abandoned dwarf kingdom. And yet, the music from this scene, some of the
> first bits of music Shore wrote for the entire trilogy
> ( ), is the seed
> from which each of the dwarf themes in The Hobbit seem to grow, both in their somber
> majesty and in their orchestration.

Agreed and yet I would argue that in the Hobbit, these themes and their offspring have lost both their sombreness and majesty. They're suitably dramatic, but devoid of both that deep sense of history and suffering that Shore managed to impart upon them for LotR.

> All of the music related to the Mirkwood elf Tauriel

Who? .... Oh, yeah, that.

> is excellent, though both her theme and her love theme bear passing resemblances to Shore’s
> own Silence of the Lambs and Hans Zimmer’s The Lion King, respectively.

SIMPLE theme and SIMPLE love theme. It struck as "off" the very first time I heard it in the movie.

Hang on...did we skip "An Unexpected Journey"?

> And the theme for the evil dragon Smaug is deliciously sinister and trippy, with gamelans
> to resemble the sound of coins and the gold upon which he sits. When Smaug is slain and
> Thorin succumbs to dragon sickness in Battle of the Five Armies, Shore brilliantly
> transfers Smaug’s theme over to Thorin, the maddening effect of the gold outliving the
> dragon. To top it off, there’s some outstanding action music, headlined by the delightfully
> florid “The Forest River.”

The full version is even more outstanding and florid!

> 3. Random Acts of Self-Sabotage, and Other Problems
> “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places.”

Which is perhaps where James Southall comes from with his arguments...and which I can actually grant, because save the beginning of AUJ and end of Bot5A, there lotsa peril and many dark places for Shore to write music for.

> Despite all the components of The Hobbit scores that are just as brilliant as anything in
> LOTR, the connective tissue between these flashes of excellence are where the weaknesses
> lie.

Ha! Am I prescient, or what? big grin

> Worse, many of these shortcomings seem to stem from head-scratching decisions made by both
> Jackson and Shore.
> One problem is that An Unexpected Journey is plagued with numerous moments with clear temp
> track influence, where Jackson had dropped an old piece of LOTR music in and Shore either
> decided or was forced to basically quote the old phrase wholesale (based on Shore’s choices
> on his soundtrack albums, it would seem that the vast majority of these temp track
> duplications were not of his making). These passages range from painfully obvious to
> bizarrely inappropriate. Many moments pertaining to Bilbo
> ( ) are temped with
> renditions of the Shire theme, especially as heard near the end of Fellowship of the Ring.
> As a result, it inadvertently feels as if Shore is just playing the classics when he could
> be showing off something unique to the prequel. Why not use Bilbo’s theme instead? Bilbo
> has a theme, right? (We’ll get back to that.)

Agreed with all of this. Interestingly, the issue of Bilbo's theme being substitued by Shire music didn't occur to me until much later.

> The biggest temp track issue, however, comes at the climax of the film
> ( ), when Thorin battles
> the evil orc Azog, and as Thorin charges into the fight, he’s musically accompanied by…the
> Nazgul theme. Because it’s nighttime and they’re on a mountaintop/cliff thing and there’s
> fire I guess.

Back when first seeing the movie, I was "WTF?!" for a hot second, and then scoregasmed so hard! You win some, you lose some.

> Minutes later, when Thorin reconciles with Bilbo to conclude the movie
> ( ), instead of a
> statement of Thorin’s theme, a variation on Bilbo’s theme, or one related to the dwarfs, we
> hear music from Aragorn’s coronation at the end of Return of the King.

Conversely, this moment was all "WTF?!".

> Temp tracking seems to play a smaller role in the next two scores—almost as if Peter Jackson got wind of the criticism

Unlikely, but either Shore put in a word and a bit of a fight (only a bit, he's Canadian, after all!) or PJ had too much else to worry about. Still curious about the decision (made solely on Shore's end?) that led to the involvement of Conrad Pope et al. in assisting Shore with the orchestration and conducting in New Zealand.

> —but Desolation of Smaug has a distinct difference in sound from An Unexpected Journey.

Which was completely unexpected. It worked in relation to Smaug, but sadly not much anywhere else. Whether this was all due to some compositional decisions taken by Shore, or that the addition of "voices" in the aforementioned orchestration and conducting front, thus "diluting" Shore's voice, I still am undecided about (and no substantive information has ever come out from "the inner circle", perhaps understandably so).

> The music in Desolation of Smaug is less weighty,

Is it? I continue to find it the most weighty of the trilogy, if not more so. It's different in its weightiness to both the one heard in AUJ, and to the one in Bot5A, which also is different to AUJ. Again, kinda hard to make an academically sound and musically supported argument as to why I feel this to be the case.

> and part of that may be due to the shift of orchestration and conducting duties from Shore
> to Conrad Pope.

..... OK, I've been saying this since I first heard Dos and Bot5A (and should have in on record as per my original posts from back then), I REALLY hope that there's a citation at the end of your essay, YES?! wink

> Additionally, entire themes introduced in AUJ never appear again, even when the characters
> do in Desolation of Smaug and Battle of the Five Armies. (Again, let’s put a pin in that.)

Desplite my misgivings about "Misty Mountains" not being a Shore theme, "just" an arrangement used (especially at PJ's urging) during key moment in AUJ, I felt that its disppearance was a major miscalculation. I never bought into Doug's argument that once the Misty Mountains are passed in the story, the score can abandon the theme wholesale. Re-name it as "Misty Mountains (but only when to the West of 'em!)" or something, but it clearly plays to the Company's larger quest. I'm sure Shore could (and would) have come up with interesting and engaging variations, especially when the Quest is achieved and perhaps combined it with Bilbo's material once he returns to the Shire at the end of Bot5A, but perhaps he didn't want to. The jury is still out on that particular issue, I suppose. (I still call in question PJ's decision to not go with Shore to begin with for providing such a major thematic application...I guess Plan 9 and PJ are high school buddies...OK, nasty insinuation...)

> Another issue the Hobbit scores suffer from is a terrible mix. Each of the LOTR scores had > a very wet mix, where the reverb was very high. This helped lend it an epic, larger-than-
> life scale. Here, however, the reverb is excessive, and the music regularly sounds stifled. > Shore attempts to use trilling brass à la Elliot Goldenthal, but here it often sounds messy > and lacking in clarity.

Without looking it up, who recorded these scores (same person as for LotR, or was there a change, both between the trilogies and then between England and New Zealand for the Hobbit trilogy? Can't recall...)?

> Smaug’s death sounds anti-climactic,

I'd argue this is both a function of (a) so much time having been spent on less-than-interesting stuff up to we actually get to Smaug, then during his temper tantrum and (b) that it opens Bot5A instead of closing DoS. Which, because of the 2-to-3 separation probably couldn't have been done much differently, but it still causes the music to kinda wander aimlessly for extended periods of time. When the climax does arrive, we are already worn out (that being said, the complete sequence is highly engaging).

> and Azog’s theme on low brass sounds like an actual fart. As a result of these head-
> scratching choices, attempting to sit through all of the Hobbit scores has become an
> effortful task. Despite the merits of the Hobbit scores, going there and back again and
> again and again too often yields diminishing returns.

I'd argue it's not so much a case of diminishing returns, rather of not providing new revelations the way LotR did (and does to this guy).

OK, Imma put in a break here as well, because (a) this has been about the longest I've spent on typing a (hopefully consistent AND coherent) reply in quite some time, (b) I've drunk a whole pot of black tea while doing so and (c) my laptop is being oddly sluggish about my posting today (as a consequence, I've been copy-pasting this into a Word file and saving it every couple of minutes, because holy fuck I would NOT get it together a second time! big grin)

More tomorrow, Vikram. Excellent stuff so far (I don't think the second part is going to be different, as it really isn't a second part, just as LotR is not a three-part story!), and I'm looking forward to some more thought-processing tomorrow. You may also keep any typos, grammatical idiocies, off-kilter references and outright contradictions you might find... smile

Ta & tata,

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