morphiaflow writes: I live in Glendale, AZ and attended the premiere of the LORD OF THE RINGS—FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING symphony concert tour last night (Wednesday October 12, 2011), at the Arena. I offer my thoughts on the event for any who might care.

For starters, let me state that I’m a lifelong Tolkien/LOTR fan, as well as a fan of Peter Jackson in general, AND Howard Shore—I love not just his film scores, but as a huge Saturday Night Live fan, the fact that he was a crucial part of that show in its formative years makes him an extremely interesting individual to me. So the Jackson/Shore/Tolkien association has always been a multiple win in my book.

Also, back in fall 2009 I attended the “Star Wars In Concert” tour at the same venue, which featured musical suites from all six films, with live orchestra and choir, hosted and narrated by Anthony Daniels (C-3P0). The musical selections were arranged more or less chronologically in the Star Wars saga, but sometimes linked by a theme, a character or a specific part of the story arc, and were accompanied by visuals (but not dialogue) from the Star Wars films.

Tickets are still on sale at

This was an extremely entertaining and effective way of conveying the emotional core of the Star Wars films in a new form—strictly through its iconic visuals and music—and certainly, proved a worthy template for other such endeavors. Given how much I love the music for LORD OF THE RINGS—which seems to just get better and more impressive as time passes—I was really looking forward to seeing it get similar treatment.

Now, before anyone goes accusing me of making unfavorable comparisons to Star Wars (please, I have no interest in that age old debate, I’m a lifelong and equal fan of both Lucas and Tolkien), it really, truly IS a valid comparison in this case—especially given that the advertisements for the LOTR event seemed to promise something very similar, and along the lines of (I guess) previous LOTR symphonies that have previously been done elsewhere.

So bearing all of this in mind I was VERY excited to attend, doubly so because it was the opening night, right in my hometown.

Upon entering the lobby I saw that—like the Star Wars concert—there were various props from the film. (I presume they were the actual items and not replicas.) Elven helmets, Boromir’s sword, Gimli’s axe and helmet, life-sized Lurtz and Nazgul models—all very cool to see up close. I wish I’d brought a better camera than the one on my phone. Sadly, there was only a little bit of stuff, but it was still a nice touch. (Equally sadly, it was packed up and gone by the time the concert was over, thus denying those—such as myself—who’d planned to explore and examine it all afterwards the opportunity to do so.)

I purchased a program—slick, glossy, colorful, and a classy job all around ($25)—as well as the 2-disc LOTR symphony CD ($30—I haven’t listened to it yet, but I look forward to it.) I wish I could have afforded the $60 for Doug Adams’ “Music of LOTR” book which was also on sale, but my budget had already been exceeded for the night. Thank gods they didn’t have the “Complete Scores” box sets there as well or my temptation would have runneth over.

Anyway, on finding my seats, I was disappointed to see that there were maybe 1000 people (1500 tops) in a 12000+ capacity venue. Well, it WAS a school night, and we ARE in a bad economy, and the event was maybe not as well advertised as it might have been, but still—I missed the energy that a larger crowd would have provided. (I’m sure the California and Vegas shows will be much closer to sold out.) Arena is a fairly new venue, with excellent sound, and there’s really not a bad seat in the house, so that was all a plus. There was a giant screen at the far end of the auditorium, suspended above the platform with the performers on it, and then a number of floor seats—though less than half of what the floor could actually hold. (The whole back half of the floor—after the sound booth—was empty.)

In any case, shortly after I arrived, the concert began…and so did my gradual disappointment.

Rather than play a selection of music from the entire LOTR trilogy with accompanying visuals, they chose to show the entire film—the theatrical cut—while the orchestra and choir recreated the film’s score. (Obviously they had a specially edited version of the film that only contained dialogue and sound effects.) English subtitles were displayed through the whole movie. There was an intermission at the end of “The Council of Elrond”, exactly where the disc breaks off on the Extended DVD, and the musicians played on through the full closing credits sequence.

Let me go into the positives. Everything about the presentation was spot-on and uber-professional. (Not that I would expect any less.) I have not one single complaint about the quality of the music, the musicians, the performances or the overall production. Ludwig Wicki was an excellent conductor, the Munich Symphony, the Pacific Chorale, and the Phoenix Boys’ Choir all acquitted themselves beautifully and more than did justice to the original music, and as for soloist Kaitlyn Lusk—she has the voice of an angel, and the looks to match (I confess to being somewhat smitten). I simply cannot say enough positive things about any of them—every person on that stage was phenomenal.

And it is doubly impressive that they were able to play continuously for over three hours, so perfectly synchronized to the screen—to a movie that I and so many others know every scene and beat by heart. To someone incapable of reading or playing music, such as me, that degree of recall, discipline, whatever, is truly breathtaking and astonishing. My hats off to all who made it happen so smoothly and seamlessly. Their work was magnificent.

So then, why did I find the overall event so underwhelming?

It isn’t any one thing, it’s a number of factors. First, I’ll be the first to admit that my disappointment may stem in part from my mistaken expectation of something like the Star Wars concert—though in my defense, I’ll reiterate that this is precisely what much of the advertising implied.

On the irritating side, the music frequently drowned out the dialogue completely, and while the subtitles made up for this, they also distracted throughout—you can’t help but read them, which de-focuses your concentration from the main reason you’re there, which should be the music itself.

Beyond that, though, it comes down to the simple fact that as technically impressive as it was, it was neither dynamic—there was no element of “show” to speak of—nor emotionally engaging. The flip side to the fact that the musicians and singers produced note-perfect renditions of the film score is that, plain and simply…I might have just as easily watched the film at home on DVD. If I closed my eyes, or used my hand to block the platform from my field of view and only looked at the screen, I’d never have known there were live musicians playing.

I suppose that could be read as a compliment, but for an event that’s built up as “live in concert”, I don’t think this is a very good thing at all. And in any case, if I’m going to watch the DVD, it’s not going to be the theatrical cut (though I admit, it was better than I remembered it being—while it misses the subtlety, depth and nuance of the Extended Cut, I’d forgotten how tight and relentlessly paced it was.)

I suppose the best comparison I can make is this: I now have some idea what it might have been like to attend the spotting or scoring session for the film (discounting the presence of the audience of course). While that might be exciting for some, it wasn’t for me. (Maybe if I were sitting in Abbey Road studios, soaking in the vibes of the Beatles, the Floyd, Rush and of course, Mr. Shore, it would have been different…but I wasn’t, and it wasn’t.)

But ultimately, I guess, I just expected more and better. And I am certain I’m not the only one…a number of people, including most of those in my row, left at the intermission, and didn’t return.

Let me make it clear: it wasn’t bad. I didn’t hate it. It didn’t suck. It’s always a pleasure to see LOTR on the big screen, even in its truncated form. I was just…overwhelmingly…underwhelmed. Because unfortunately, the total effect was neither as interesting nor as entertaining one might have hoped.

To fans of LOTR thinking of checking out this event, please don’t let this review discourage you. Perhaps you will have a completely different take on it. I’ll say only this, go in knowing what to expect, and judge for yourself.

To Mr. Shore and/or anyone else connected to the event, please know that my critiques are not coming from a place of deliberate negativity. They are made and offered with genuine love and respect, and it is my hope that, perhaps, they may be of some value in future iterations of this event.

And I do look forward to those future iterations. Even if there are no drastic changes made to the presentations of The Two Towers and The Return of the King (presuming they happen), I’ll still attend. I just hope they do it…better.