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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Album Cover Art
2003 Regular
2003 Limited
Album 2 Cover Art
2003 Limited Internet
Album 3 Cover Art
2003 Trilogy
Album 4 Cover Art
2007 Complete
Album 5 Cover Art
2010 Rarities Archive
Album 6 Cover Art
2018 Complete Re-Issue
Album 7 Cover Art
Composed, Orchestrated, Conducted, and Produced by:

Vocals Produced by:
Paul Broucek

Performed by:
The London Philharmonic Orchestra

The London Voices

The London Oratory School Schola

Solo Vocals by:
Annie Lennox
Renee Fleming
Sir James Galway
Ben del Maestro
Billy Boyd
Viggo Mortensen

Choral Text by:
J.R.R. Tolkien
Philippa Boyens
Fran Walsh
Labels Icon
Reprise Records
(November 25th, 2003)

Reprise Records
(Limited, Internet, and Trilogy)
(December 9th, 2003)

Reprise Records
(Complete Set)
(November 20th, 2007)

Howe Records
(Rarities Archive)
(October 5th, 2010)

Rhino/Reprise Records
(Re-issue Set)
(September 21st, 2018)
Availability Icon
The regular 2003 album originally priced between $14 to $16 in the stores is the regular U.S. release. The 2003 limited release is indicated by a higher price ($25), dark green cover, and typically a sticker indicating its "limited" nature on the front plastic. The 2003 Internet-only release was available through the label's website and has a dark red cover and even higher price ($30). The musical contents are the same on all products.

The 2003 trilogy set is essentially the original three albums from the films combined into one package (with no extra music). The value of the different cover inserts (on the trading block) is yet to be determined. They could very well end up useless unless you acquire a whole set of 5 covers.

The 2007 set includes the complete recordings, priced initially for between $55 and $65, and features the double-sided DVD with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound along with four CDs that offer 230 minutes from the score in 16-bit stereo sound. Other higher resolution variants on sound quality exist on the DVD (see review for details).

The 2010 Howe Records album called "The Rarities Archive" was only available in the back cover of the Doug Adams book The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Howard Shore's Scores. That book had an MSRP of $60 but initially sold new for under $40.

The 2018 complete set is a re-issue of the 2007 product but with a Blu-ray disc rather than a DVD for the surround sound option. It debuted for $85 but went out of print after about a year, escalating in price to $250 or more.
The song "Into the West" won a Golden Globe, a Grammy Award, and an Academy Award. The score won the same three awards and was nominated for a BAFTA Award.
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2007/2018 Complete Set Review | 2010 Book/Rarities Archive Review
Buy it... on the 2007 or 2018 complete sets if you seek one of the best scores of the digital age of film music in a DVD-quality presentation that will, if you are properly equipped, stun both you and the people living down the street.

Avoid it... on the 2007 or 2018 complete sets if you do not use a surround sound system for your regular listening enjoyment and would prefer, in terms of content, the 72-minute 2003 album of highlights from the score.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 11/23/03, REVISED 8/30/20
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: (Howard Shore) Destined to be one of the most successful trilogies of films in the history of cinema, The Lord of the Rings finished its snapshot succession of yearly sequels with its final chapter, The Return of the King, in 2003. The film piled on monumental grosses worldwide and overwhelmed the Academy Awards just a few months later with one of the best showings by a single film in history. The frenzied buzz surrounding the films, even in a mainstream population not usually attracted to the fantasy genre, had defeated strong competition from both the Harry Potter and The Matrix franchises. Even hardcore fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and his novels could have had a difficult time keeping up with all of the merchandise from the trilogy, including the different cuts of the films themselves, which, like the previous two entries, were promised with The Return of the King. Composer Howard Shore had entered this situation many years prior, knowing full well that his involvement in this trilogy would extend far beyond the basic duties of a composer on any normal project. Shore seemed well adjusted to the idea of scoring The Lord of the Rings in bits and pieces, writing new cues to the scores as additional scenes were added to the films; he worked closely with director Peter Jackson under a rambling schedule of additional recording sessions appended to the scores for the films long after the meat of the originals was already heard in theatres. In the case of The Return of the King, Shore recorded the score late in the summer of 2003 but was prepared to write and record additional material for the production in March of 2004 to accommodate additional scenes on the DVD release of the film. Over the course of Shore's adventures, from the original viewing of the shooting locations in New Zealand in 2000 to the last DVD release in 2004, Shore wrote music with large-scale talents of the London Philharmonic and London Voices in mind, not to mention his hand-chosen selection of instrumental and vocal soloists to accentuate certain concepts along the way with specific tones. Careful planning led to a score for The Return of the King that merged countless fragments of ideas hinted at in the previous two scores with the maturation of old favorites, requiring more patience and attention to detail than its predecessors.

With the music for The Return of the King, however, came a higher level of discontent from some listeners, many of whom pointing to aspects of the third score's production that reduced its status compared to The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. Criticism about the previous two recordings had come from audiophiles who were unhappy with the echoing, wet recording sound of the final mix of the orchestra and voices; individual instrumental performances were washed out to make way for a resounding whole, arguably improving the sheer mass of sound in some sections while also degrading solo contributions by lesser-powered elements. For The Return of the King, the same bass-heavy, echoing sound was utilized, though to perhaps a slightly lesser extent. Additionally, hardcore fans of the franchise noticed that with this final entry, more of Shore's score was either cut from the final version of the film or altered with an additional take in performance. Many of the score's most prominent cues in the film did not match the versions heard on the original soundtrack albums of 2003. Pieces of Shore's most intriguing and thoughtful cues were often dropped by Jackson or moved into places Shore had not intended them to be. Some took aim at the voice of Annie Lennox and the style and instrumental backing of her song. Finally, with the situation in Middle-earth in near chaos for much of this story, Shore's music refrains from the kind of singular statements of theme heard in the first two scores, instead developing them as necessary to represent their maturation and destinies. Such meticulous devotion to thematic integration and manipulation is a great study for keenly aware musical minds, but in terms of basic satisfaction in and apart from the film, Shore's final score doesn't shine with quite as clearly delineated ideas. The album presentation also, aside from the obvious existence of different versions of several cues, was forced to condense a much longer score (30 to 40 minutes longer than the previous entries) into a 72-minute presentation, casting aside not only the film edits and relying on Shore's earlier recordings in the process, but not providing anything close to complete picture of the score. All of these concerns carry some legitimacy, though The Return of the King also suffered the disadvantage of aiming to satisfy unrealistic expectations for most fans, a circumstance that has waned over the years.

The epic scale of the first two scores was obviously continued in the final chapter, completing Shore and Jackson's notions that the music was meant to be one massive, single score that had simply been divided into three parts. With The Return of the King, however, a case could be made that this third score in the trilogy has far less in common with its two predecessors than they had with each other. The Academy Award-winning score for The Fellowship of the Ring was naturally expanded upon in The Two Towers, with the second score clearly restating motifs and themes from the first one while establishing its own new ideas for Rohan, among others. This process does not carry over into The Return of the King; rather, since the third film's tumultuous events necessitate the awkward, fragmented merging of many of the themes into less obvious constructs, you hear the same stylistic motifs and chord progressions of the series without the satisfyingly steady statements of previous themes. Rhythms from one theme are combined with thematic progressions from another, and themes overlap each other to form almost dissonant mosaics. The themes commonly considered the identity of the previous scores merge with others to create new ideas for the next age of Middle-earth, thus short-changing their original incarnations. You hear many hints, adaptations, and faint echoes of the previously established ideas, but the consistency in The Return of the King is executed through the use of the same instruments, vocals, and, as mentioned before, basic and common motifs and chord progressions shared by many of the themes. This technique proved to be potentially disheartening for listeners who enjoyed the bold new theme for Rohan in The Two Towers and the concurrent, major statements of the first film's themes as well. Shore does offer major new themes for two concepts in The Return of the King, though their relative infrequency in performance diminishes their attempts to define the new score. The realm of Gondor receives a theme that is often inverted or otherwise manipulated to represent its fight, and a sub-theme for Minas Tirith manages to steal the show with its few monumental performances. A final theme for Grey Havens, translated into the Annie Lennox song, arrives too late to truly take the helm of the score.

All three of these major new themes for The Return of the King existed in faint hints in previous entries, though nearly any listener to the scores in 2001 and 2002 could not have known the extent to which Howard would apply these ideas in the last film. The Gondor fanfare was the most often heard before, developing into its final trumpet variation in The Two Towers. Its progressions are often intentionally manipulated by Shore to represent the peril of the culture as the armies of Mordor approach, though this theme still receives the most frequent applications of bombast as any in the score. The specific idea for the city of Minas Tirith is a superior idea that moves at an accelerated, almost Western-like rhythm as Gandalf rides up its heights and, most memorably, gloriously accompanies the beacon lighting sequence. By necessity, of course, this theme is not heard for much of the second half of the film. The Grey Havens theme makes its first and surprisingly stunning appearance in full at the end of "The Mouth of Sauron," as Sam physically carries Frodo to his destiny; it's arguably the turning point of the score, heralding the beginning of the end of the tale. The theme then occupies significant time in the departure scene before closing out the score in the end credits. While technically the Gondor theme is meant to be the heart of The Return of the King, it's hard not to be lured back to the Minas Tirith theme, despite its lesser role. This lack of clear dominance by one new theme in the score is indeed one of the aforementioned weaknesses of the work from a listenability standpoint, though one that Shore likely could (and should) have done nothing about. Almost all of the significant themes from previous scores do return, despite their transformations. Among the most adapted elements in The Return of the King are those for the Shire and the hobbits. The four main themes are tortured throughout much of the score but receive their salvation in the epilogue sequence following Sam and Frodo's rescue by the eagles. For the most part, Shore returns to the original spirit of these themes, and even conjures a new one for Sam's future. The lovely whistle and flute performances have lost some of their gleaming shine, but they do exist. Most interesting, though, is Shore's tragic manipulations of the concepts for the prologue involving Smeagol and his first encounter with the ring.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.31 Stars
***** 13,162 5 Stars
**** 5,742 4 Stars
*** 2,438 3 Stars
** 843 2 Stars
* 645 1 Stars
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FVSR Reviews LOTR Return Of The King
Brendan Cochran - May 6, 2015, at 11:14 p.m.
1 comment  (1096 views)
One star?...   Expand >>
Gashoe13 - July 26, 2011, at 6:08 a.m.
2 comments  (3811 views)
Newest: October 5, 2012, at 7:27 p.m. by
return of the king dvd menu music
keith - June 5, 2010, at 4:37 p.m.
1 comment  (2885 views)
So which is Gondor's theme?
Richard Kleiner - February 13, 2010, at 11:05 p.m.
1 comment  (3465 views)
soundhawk - May 31, 2009, at 8:51 a.m.
1 comment  (2023 views)
Oh, Christian ... sigh
G.K. - November 19, 2007, at 9:50 p.m.
1 comment  (2805 views)

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
2003 Regular Albums Tracks   ▼Total Time: 72:05
• 1. A Storm is Coming (2:52)
• 2. Hope and Memory (1:45)
• 3. Minas Tirith (3:37)
      featuring Ben del Maestro
• 4. The White Tree (3:25)
• 5. The Steward of Gondor (3:53)
      featuring Billy Boyd
• 6. Minas Morgul (1:58)
• 7. The Ride of the Rohirrim (2:08)
• 8. Twilight and Shadow (3:30)
      featuring Renee Fleming
• 9. Cirith Ungol (1:44)
• 10. Andúril (2:35)
• 11. Shelob's Lair (4:07)
• 12. Ash and Smoke (3:25)
• 13. The Fields of the Pelennor (3:26)
• 14. Hope Fails (2:20)
• 15. The Black Gate Opens (4:01)
       featuring Sir James Galway
• 16. The End of All Things (5:12)
       featuring Renee Fleming
• 17. The Return of the King (10:14)
       featuring Sir James Galway, Viggo Mortensen, and Renee Fleming
• 18. The Grey Havens (5:59)
       featuring Sir James Galway
• 19. Into the West (5:49)
       featuring Annie Lennox
2007/2018 Complete Sets Tracks   ▼Total Time: 229:15
2010 Rarities Archive Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 79:13

Notes Icon
The original 2003 (regular) album's insert includes notes from director Peter Jackson and composer Howard Shore. Also featured are lyrics from each of the ensemble vocal segments from the score, as well as the Annie Lennox song. Various useless goodies add to the cost of the 2003 limited album. Details about the differences between these releases existed on at the time, but that website has since been removed.

The trilogy 2003 set includes general notes about the trilogy. The 2007 and 2018 complete sets feature a 45-page booklet with extraordinary notation about the music by Film Score Monthly regular Doug Adams. Those sets include extensive packaging extras, with the four regular audio CDs existing in a smaller case that can be stored separately from the massive book-like exterior.

A detailed, track-by-track analysis (a supplement to the notes on the complete 2007 set) was available in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format for download from Warner Brothers at the following URL: It was not included in the product itself because of cost restrictions due to the booklet size and was available at that location for about five years before being removed.

There exists no actual packaging for the Howe Records album contained within the 2010 Adams book. It is initially difficult to extract the CD from its paper sleeve because they are glued tightly to the inside of the back cover.
Copyright © 2003-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
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 Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King are Copyright © 2003, 2007, 2010, 2018, Reprise Records (Regular), Reprise Records (Limited, Internet, and Trilogy), Reprise Records (Complete Set), Howe Records (Rarities Archive), Rhino/Reprise Records (Re-issue Set) and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 11/23/03 and last updated 8/30/20.
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