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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Album Cover Art
Regular Edition
Special Edition
Album 2 Cover Art
Composed and Produced by:

Co-Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Conrad Pope

Co-Orchestrated by:
James Sizemore

Performed by:
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

The London Voices

Tiffin Boys' Choir

Additional Music by:
Ed Sheeran
Labels Icon
WaterTower Music (America)
Decca Records (International)
(December 10th, 2013)
Availability Icon
All the albums are regular commercial releases, available in America from WaterTower Music and internationally from Decca Records. A vinyl release of the regular edition is available as well.
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you appreciate the complexity and nuance that Howard Shore brings to all of his scores for Middle Earth, this entry no less intelligent than its predecessors.

Avoid it... if your interest in these scores lies in the accessibility of their most vibrant themes and grandiose statements of harmonic fantasy, both of these elements strikingly muted for the first time in this series of music.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 12/30/13
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: (Howard Shore) The adventures from Middle Earth march forward into their fifth installment from Peter Jackson, 2013's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug the middle chapter of an elongated adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel "The Hobbit." Much criticism has been aimed at the film from concept loyalists who cannot see the justification in the expanding of the plotline, sometimes quite awkwardly, to fill three feature films. Pacing issues seem to be the primary concern regarding these movies, at times dragging while during others moving at too frenzied a speed. Added characters and action sequences may seem unnecessary, but for the purposes of tying in to Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, they are understandable from the viewpoint of the entertainment industry. In The Desolation of Smaug, the company of thirteen dwarves and a hobbit continue in their aim to retrieve the mystical Arkenstone from the lair of Smaug, the last dragon of the Earth, while the wizard, Gandalf, investigates the uprising of evil forces that would establish the confrontation in The Lord of the Rings. Meanwhile, the hobbit, Bilbo, continues to discover the power of the ring he possesses while on his fantastic journey, this time leading him through several new exciting locations. Not surprisingly, a catchy cliffhanger of an ending is befitting this entry, which features really no resolute opening or closing in and of itself. The reception to these Hobbit films has not been as spectacular as that received by those The Lord of the Rings classics from the early 2000's, however, and such qualms extend to the music for the franchise. One of the benefits of having three films dedicated to "The Hobbit" is the consequent amount of output required from concept veteran Howard Shore, whose music for Middle Earth represents some of the best material written for the big screen in the digital era. While the score for 2012's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a return to very familiar territory, both in the recording elements and the ultimate product on the screen, The Desolation of Smaug represents a shift in strategy. In its creation process, this project differed from its predecessors in that it was recorded in New Zealand (where early-produced parts of The Fellowship of the Ring were recorded) rather than in London, though the choral portions of the mix remained in the latter city. Also, Shore turned over orchestrating and conducting duties to frequent John Williams collaborator Conrad Pope, perhaps due to the stress of the production process at his age.

There are a number of different ways one could look at the music for The Desolation of Smaug. There's always the perspective that results when placing the combined mass of the music for The Hobbit against the equivalent for The Lord of the Rings, and, in such a case, the earlier trilogy is simply superior. Shore has, through the first two entries in The Hobbit, been unable to match his prior music in its lyrical accessibility and epic grandeur, despite utilizing all the same basic ingredients. Then, of course, you could compare The Desolation of Smaug to An Unexpected Journey, which would be somewhat unfair given that Shore's score for the prior entry was absolutely butchered by the filmmakers in the process of placing it to the film. Fortunately, Shore's music for The Desolation of Smaug doesn't suffer from the same issues, a handful of cues dialed out but none outright replaced to yield awkward results. The familiarity that brought solace to some listeners in An Unexpected Journey is largely gone from The Desolation of Smaug, which Shore uses as a true transitional work to guide the listener to the payoff in There and Back Again in 2014. There is a more tightly tuned organization to The Desolation of Smaug that will please listeners ready for the intellectual challenge of examining all of Shore's thematic and instrumental evolution for the concept. It is, in short, a more intelligent work of art. It also is, on the downside, a less memorable one for listeners in search of that payoff up front, that aforementioned lyrical accessibility that made the prior trilogy's music so overwhelmingly engaging. Of course, one final way to evaluate The Desolation of Smaug is to combine it with all of the Shore's predecessors for Middle Earth and remember the clear fact that this music is more sophisticated than damn near anything else being produced from the major studios in this era, so quibbling over the details of a particular theme's elimination here or there is a bit pointless. This final perspective reminds of Williams' forays back into the Star Wars universe in the early 2000's, the prequel scores not the classics that were the originals but still very well written and enjoyable works that placed highly amongst the top scores each of their respective years. When you listen to The Desolation of Smaug, you have to remember this perspective. It's a difficult score to grasp, in many ways, and most listeners won't appreciate it as often as those that came before. But it is an excellent composition that is, rather than better or worse than An Unexpected Journey, simply different.

One of the subtle changes that listeners will notice in The Desolation of Smaug is its ambient sound quality. Diminished in this entry is some of the larger-than-life reverberation that graced the prior four scores, this one a little more confined despite being recorded in a supposedly more open space. Some of the feeling of grandiose fantasy that resulted from the older scores is thus reduced here. The quality of the orchestrations is no less impressive, however, Pope stepping in well for Shore in this task. The use of gamelan gongs and other percussion elements is really well-conceived for the dragon, offering an Eastern sound (and thankfully not a Celtic one!) that is refreshing to hear in this franchise. As the cimbalom gave The Two Towers and Gollum a unique atmosphere, so do the chimes and gongs in for the villain in The Desolation of Smaug. The role for voices is not as dominant in these scores for The Hobbit, the number of ensemble and solo applications not as prevalent. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, Shore's highlights for The Desolation of Smaug involve the soothing Tauriel-related tones that do return to the harmonic bliss resulting from such singing. Another point of contention some may have with this score is its relatively infrequent bursts into outright action of an accessible form, most of the full ensemble performances in the score steering towards the dissonant, suspenseful end of the spectrum. When you look back at the momentous action cues of the last "middle child" of a Middle Earth trilogy, you can't help but admire what Shore accomplished in The Two Towers. There are only two or three truly accessible action cues in The Desolation of Smaug, and without an excess of the cooing or otherwise orchestrally pleasant character themes in this work, one is left with a long series of cues dedicated to the maintenance of gravity. The new character identities, including those simply hinted at in An Unexpected Journey, are intriguing and very well executed, but not particularly enjoyable as rendered. Shore seems to have handled this film as each scene required, not really utilizing any themes or devices (outside of the two main themes for Smaug) to carry the entire score's narrative forward. There is no distinct beginning and end to this score's flow, in other words, leaving the listener grasping at individual moments of interest along the way. The composer compensates for this meandering spirit by maintaining excellent continuity in the themes he chooses to reprise, develop, or introduce, nary a moment passing by in the work without a phrase from something in progress. In some regards, the sheer complication of the painted canvass has become the highlight in and of itself.

Shore utilizes his orchestral ensemble with the same general style as before in the franchise (though dropping the slammed metallic elements as necessary), woodwind solos and muscular deep brass often times the lead attraction. His choice of rhythms is also remarkably consistent, the Rohan theme's underlying movement, for instance, informing multiple identities in this work. Because of this similarity of sound, listeners will try to latch on to the themes and their development, and in The Desolation of Smaug, that's where the picture gets really muddy. Endless arguments can be made about the purposes of the various themes conjured by Shore (and others) for these films, and there is evolutionary overlap between many of them that allow a single idea to serve multiple purposes. Complicating matters is the continued insistence by Jackson that there be a pop-artist contributor to the score, last time Plan 9 offering a major theme that became the basis for the song. In The Desolation of Smaug, the Ed Sheeran song returns to the procedural choices made in The Fellowship of the Ring, the song's melody not informing the score just as Enya's contribution remained structurally separate. The franchise has reached the point where you have to examine the non-original themes by placing them in one of four different categories: those from The Lord of the Rings that have returned in both Hobbit scores, those from The Lord of the Rings that returned in An Unexpected Journey but are now absent in The Desolation of Smaug, those that debuted in An Unexpected Journey that continue in its sequel, and those that debuted in An Unexpected Journey that are absent from The Desolation of Smaug. Most of the fuss regarding this score seems to involve that last group of themes, because Shore's arguably three best remembered or prettiest identities from An Unexpected Journey are nearly gone from its successor. Another thing to contend with in The Desolation of Smaug is the evolving nature of the themes of evil in the franchise, a handful of ideas maturing in ways that are combining their various facets into the themes of evil that were heard in The Lord of the Rings. Since so much of the secondary storyline in The Desolation of Smaug is related to the rise of the forces of Sauron, expect for there to be significant time dedicated to that development. Most importantly, however, no matter how you look at this franchise's music, one definite area ripe for debate in regards to The Desolation of Smaug is Shore's seeming inability to give it any overarching primary theme (or set of a couple of themes) whatsoever, a trait that might carry over to all three Hobbit scores as a whole.

Ratings Icon
Average: 3.88 Stars
***** 586 5 Stars
**** 268 4 Stars
*** 234 3 Stars
** 119 2 Stars
* 87 1 Stars
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Why do you end on such a positive note and *****?
Vincent - June 10, 2015, at 1:57 a.m.
1 comment  (832 views)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra   Expand >>
Snaky - January 18, 2014, at 10:39 p.m.
2 comments  (2194 views)
Newest: January 19, 2014, at 2:56 p.m. by
Markie 224
Melodic Continuity
alfaddur - January 18, 2014, at 9:14 a.m.
1 comment  (1606 views)
Nicely Done
Craig Richard Lysy - January 17, 2014, at 9:18 a.m.
1 comment  (1215 views)
For god's sake, Christian, it's "Er*e*bor"! *NM*   Expand >>
GK - January 17, 2014, at 6:24 a.m.
4 comments  (2995 views)
Newest: January 18, 2014, at 10:11 a.m. by
Richard Kleiner
RCC - January 17, 2014, at 12:06 a.m.
1 comment  (1091 views)

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
Regular Edition Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 115:32
CD 1: (50:01)
• 1. The Quest for Erebor (3:21)
• 2. Wilderland (4:54)
• 3. The House of Beorn (3:41)
• 4. Mirkwood (4:26)
• 5. Flies and Spiders (7:49)
• 6. The Woodland Realm (4:26)
• 7. Feast of Starlight (2:49)
• 8. Barrels Out of Bond (1:50)
• 9. The Forest River (4:54)
• 10. Bard, A Man of Lake-Town (2:30)
• 11. The High Fells (2:35)
• 12. The Nature of Evil (3:17)
• 13. Protector of the Common Folk (3:37)
CD 2: (65:33)
• 1. Thrice Welcome (3:32)
• 2. Girion, Lord of Dale (3:30)
• 3. Durin's Foke (2:28)
• 4. In the Shadow of the Mountain (2:15)
• 5. A Spell of Concealment (2:51)
• 6. On the Doorstep (7:46)
• 7. The Courage of Hobbits (3:00)
• 8. Inside Information (3:46)
• 9. Kingsfoil (2:25)
• 10. A Liar and a Thief (3:40)
• 11. The Hunters (9:04)
• 12. Smaug (5:24)
• 13. My Armor is Iron (5:16)
• 14. I See Fire* (4:58)
• 15. Beyond the Forest (5:28)
* composed/performed by Ed Sheeran
Special Edition Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 132:21

Notes Icon
The insert of the "Special Edition" contains more information than that of the "Regular Edition," including a note from the director and extended notes about the score's themes from author Doug Adams. The packaging of the "Special Edition" varies depending on whether you purchase the American or international release. The "Special Edition" contains a fold-out "interactive sheet music" poster as well.
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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: The Desolation of Smaug are Copyright © 2013, WaterTower Music (America) Decca Records (International) and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 12/30/13 (and not updated significantly since).
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