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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Album Cover Art
2012 Regular Edition
2012 Special Edition
Album 2 Cover Art
Composed, Orchestrated, Conducted, and Co-Produced by:

Performed by:
The London Philharmonic Orchestra

The London Voices

Tiffin Boys' Choir

Additional Music by:
David Donaldson
David Long
Steve Roche
Janet Roddick
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WaterTower Music
(All Albums)
(December 11th, 2012)
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Both 2012 albums are regular U.S. releases.
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Decorative Nonsense
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you desire a satisfying continuation of this franchise's musical identity by courtesy of Howard Shore's remarkably intelligent balance of existing themes and over a dozen new ones rendered impressively in the same style.

Avoid it... on either of the 2012 albums if you expect to hear a remotely accurate presentation of the controversial but appealing replacement music that caused long portions of Shore's original composition to be dropped from the picture.
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WRITTEN 2/16/13
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: (Howard Shore) How can it be, given all the lessons taught by George Lucas with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999, that movie-goers and film score collectors have forgotten everything they needed to remember about high profile trilogy prequels in cinema prior to approaching Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth in 2012? Despite the extraordinary buzz generated ahead of The Phantom Menace, the film never stood a remote chance of meeting audience expectations, especially amongst the most die-hard fanatics of the concept. Its vision of the Star Wars universe was critiqued to death, largely negatively, and its music, despite exhibiting solid, often brilliant material by John Williams, was reduced in stature by both those same expectations and a butchering of the recorded score in the film's hasty, last-minute edits. Fast forward thirteen years and that exact scenario has repeated itself with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The legendary status of nearly every aspect of the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy of 2001 to 2003 spawned a demand for continued, across-the-board excellence when Jackson and the studios behind the J.R.R. Tolkien concept adaptations announced first a pair of films devoted to The Hobbit, then three. In almost humorously predictable fashion, there were inevitable production problems, some resulting from studio financial woes and others caused by conflicting scheduling and the loss of Guillermo del Toro as the director for the projects. The split of the two films into three rather late in the process caused havoc in the pacing of the adaptation, forcing Jackson to wildly embellish portions of the original Tolkien tale and, in so doing, causing the first entry in the three films, An Unexpected Journey, to languish in its storytelling. Critics lamented the decline of the concept in widely disgruntled reviews. Audiences did not elevate the film to the fiscal powerhouse status enjoyed by its predecessors, relatively speaking given inflation; in fact, the prequel struggled to match the other, higher-grossing films of 2012. Film score fans, ecstatic for a reunion between Jackson and composer Howard Shore that was not guaranteed given their split over the 2005 remake of King Kong, were confronted by challenges made obvious by the film's post-production troubles, adding their general discontent to the equation.

And yet, there still stands The Phantom Menace, long beleaguered by the lashings it took in the early 2000's but eventually recognized as, quite frankly, an achievement that stands above and beyond most equivalent entertainment of its era. Despite losing the expectations game and retaining residual resentment from some Star Wars purists, it is still a marvelous spectacle of fantasy when compared to its contemporary peers, both in the fun of its cinematic entirety and the prowess of Williams' music. The score remains, regardless of its trials at the time, among the best of its year. All the same lessons apply to An Unexpected Journey, and perhaps it is fitting that the film music community has recognized these circumstances better than mainstream viewers and awards groups. So much has been documented about the three scores for The Lord of the Rings that the initial absence of such clarity in the creative process for An Unexpected Journey caused heartache and endless questions about the decisions that led to an undoubtedly messy but still basically effective final soundtrack for the picture. Whereas Shore's popular musical tapestry for the prior trilogy was finely tuned to the point of absurdity, An Unexpected Journey surprises in that it raises questions and challenges at all. Time is destined to tell the answers to these conundrums, but until that day, enthusiasts of Shore's sound for Middle Earth are left for the first time wondering why senseless thematic attributions were tracked into inappropriate places in this universe. While not an absolutely certainty, the absolution of Shore for these curiosities is likely merited; it is not difficult to imagine (and based upon the original album releases, actually appreciate) the musical journey that Shore intended to provide for The Hobbit, only for Jackson and his remaining crew's late efforts to rearrange their work and reaffirm their affection for Shore's prior achievements to sully the final soundtrack with re-recordings of occasionally bizarre material from especially the first and third The Lord of the Rings scores. As such, whatever negative criticism that results henceforth in this review is a reaction to circumstances outside of Shore's control. All veteran composers have dealt with rejections and last-minute re-recordings, but few expected Shore to deal with such daunting sets of rearrangements in this context. Perhaps relationship issues from King Kong did indeed linger through the years and rear their ugly heads once again.

One of the intriguing consequences of Jackson's bloating of the early elements of Tolkien's story for An Unexpected Journey is that Shore was presented with more avenues of exploration for character and concept themes than one might otherwise have expected. The basic story is intact, Gandalf the wizard convincing hobbit Bilbo Baggins to accompany a group of thirteen dwarfs on their journey to reclaim their kingdom from Smaug, the evil dragon displacing the dwarves from their treasure and home. Along their journey, they run into a number of obstacles old and new (for audiences, at least), some of which exhibiting awkward special effects and taking viewers on tangents meant to simply justify the existence of a trilogy rather than a duo of films. By the end, the dwarves, the hobbit, and the wizard form a fellowship much like that at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, gazing off to a preview of the next leg of their adventure. Despite existing in the same Middle Earth environment, the story's wealth of additional elements allowed Shore to not only revisit a variety of fan favorite themes from the previous trilogy, but introduce a dozen new identities that, at least in a few cases, were not intended to make full sense in this first installment. One thing can be made absolutely clear about Shore's approach to An Unexpected Journey: there are motific and instrumental techniques on display in this score that were strictly stated for the purpose of foreshadowing. Regardless of your opinion of the thematic results of Shore's labor, there is little debate about the continued intelligence of the composer's approach to this concept. He has recaptured his essence of Middle Earth through the continued employment of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and supplemental group and solo vocalists with ease, despite the replacement of some favorite instrumental colors (anvil, Hardanger fiddle, cimbalom) and seeming diminishment of the overall quantity of flashy solo applications. Do not expect, for instance, to hear as wide a variety of solo vocalists of both genders in this initial prequel work. But Shore's strict rules of structural methodology are all he really needed to carry over to make An Unexpected Journey sound so familiar. His knack for utilizing common phrases, keys, meters, inversions, orchestrations, and other tools to connect concepts musically is still masterful, and most listeners will probably recognize this loyalty in the process of interpreting that the overall tone of the music is a continuation of both nostalgic comfort and intellectual satisfaction.

If anyone doubted Shore's dedicated to his craft for this concept, all you have to do is analyze the application of the themes from The Lord of the Rings, at least as he intended before the re-write process started. Even within the obvious motific statements, there are fragmented references so intelligent that something like the Fellowship theme, the de facto identity of the prior trilogy, can be referenced in just a single note, exposed by what comes immediately before and smartly left to hang as a hinting indicator of what is to come. It is truly a pleasure to hear such subtleties be perpetuated in an era of film scoring expediency, the industry plagued by the kind of brainless music that results when ease of process and an intellectually devoid public result in scores that all sound like Hans Zimmer leftovers. From the opening bars of An Unexpected Journey, you know you're in for a transcendent experience, no matter how you haggle with the placement of thematic attributes. From a reviewing standpoint, these scores are a nightmare, if only because there is so much happening in every moment that no regular review will suffice. Author Doug Adams, who has made a new career out of an incredibly deep understanding of Shore's work for this concept, realizes this fact more than anyone else. No doubt, this review at Filmtracks will undergo several revisions as more of the procedural mysteries (both in the tracking/revision issues and in the revelations of the subsequent films) are solved. Complicating matters even further for this review are, like The Fellowship of the Ring, a dissatisfactory initial album situation and the lack of 5.1 DVD audio with which to compare the true sound quality of the prequel scores to their predecessors. Fortunately, the commercialization issues with An Unexpected Journey are nowhere near as offensive as those facing score collectors when The Fellowship of the Ring smacked the community with an emphasis on Enya trading cards. In fact, at least some effort was made to release more than just a single CD's-worth of highlights, regardless of the medium and despite the lengthier "special edition" product's laughably ludicrous claim that it contains the complete score for the film. The lack of DVD-quality audio for this review's initial incarnation is more problematic. So much of the mystique of the previous Shore scores rested in the immense size of the recordings, along with their controversially wet mixing qualities. Hearing this universe reduced to standard stereo sound after listening to it exclusively in DVD audio quality for many years is a challenge by itself.

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Average: 3.92 Stars
***** 691 5 Stars
**** 296 4 Stars
*** 224 3 Stars
** 146 2 Stars
* 95 1 Stars
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Newest: April 23, 2013, at 3:35 a.m. by
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My 2 cents
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Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
Regular Edition Tracks   ▼Total Time: 107:57
CD 1: (51:58)
• 1. My Dear Frodo (8:04)
• 2. Old Friends (4:29)
• 3. An Unexpected Party (3:52)
• 4. Axe or Sword? (5:59)
• 5. Misty Mountains - performed by Richard Armitage and The Dwarf Cast (1:43)
• 6. The Adventure Begins (2:05)
• 7. The World is Ahead (2:20)
• 8. An Ancient Enemy (4:58)
• 9. Radagast the Brown (4:55)
• 10. Roast Mutton (4:03)
• 11. A Troll-hoard (2:39)
• 12. The Hill of Sorcery (3:51)
• 13. Warg-scouts (3:02)

CD 2: (55:59)
• 1. The Hidden Valley (3:52)
• 2. Moon Runes (3:20)
• 3. The Defiler (1:14)
• 4. The White Council (7:20)
• 5. Over Hill (3:44)
• 6. A Thunder Battle (3:55)
• 7. Under Hill (1:55)
• 8. Riddles in the Dark (5:21)
• 9. Brass Buttons (7:38)
• 10. Out of the Frying-Pan (5:55)
• 11. A Good Omen (5:47)
• 12. Song of the Lonely Mountain - performed by Neil Finn (4:10)
• 13. Dreaming of Bag End (1:49)
Special Edition Tracks   ▼Total Time: 127:26

Notes Icon
Both 2012 albums' inserts include general notes from author Doug Adams about the composer and the score. The "Special Edition" is packaged in a hardcover digibook and features a longer version of the notes, pictures from the recording sessions, lyrics to the songs, and a mini-insert advertising the label's mobile app.
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The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey are Copyright © 2012, WaterTower Music (All Albums) and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 2/16/13 (and not updated significantly since).
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