Howard Shore’s score for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was, for many of us, a nostalgic trip back to Middle-earth. Regardless of the differences between some of the music on the album and the final film,
the score brought us back comfortably to musical territory that we knew – while also setting up a number of themes that would come back full force in the next films.
Let me tell you – if any of you were hoping for more original material from Mr. Shore, you’ve got your wish. In spades. The score for The Desolation of Smaug is almost completely devoid of any music from the previous trilogy (excepting the ever present History of the Ring theme and some brief quotes of the Shire and Bree themes – and one other that I’ll avoid mentioning for the sake of spoilers). The new music includes themes for Beorn, Tauriel, Bard, Girion, and Laketown and more. Returning from An Unexpected Journey, but developed in new ways, are the Erebor and Smaug themes, among others.
One of the most notable things about this score is how it plunges right into the action. We get an introduction to the score with “The Quest for Erebor” (which wonderfully, if briefly, reprises the Bree theme from The Fellowship of the Ring) – but after that, the score plunges ahead and rarely lets go. While the best of the score comes in during the second disc, the first disc is no slouch. We are introduced to the most emotional aspect of the score in “Feast of Starlight”. In an album full of pulsing action and tension, the theme for Tauriel and Kili provides the perfect counterbalance. Tauriel‘s own theme is also introduced in the first disc – providing some of the most fun in the score, acting as the dominant “hero” music of the piece (in that sense, doing the job of the Misty Mountains theme in the first film).
Shore has always been great bringing intensity the action scenes of the series, and the chaotic music in “Flies and Spiders” is no different. The track exudes creepiness and hits you with incredible scoring that makes the Shelob music from The Return of the King seem tame by comparison. I can only image that this scene in the film will have me on the edge of
my theater seat – because the music’s already done that. Also standing out on the first disc is a tremendous bit of scoring in “The Forest River”, which ratchets up the action, bring in Tauriel‘s theme to great effect. Also introduced on the first disc is the music for Gandalf’s journey into the
High Fells and Dol Guldur. I won’t say too much about this music – but you will recognize some of the thematic material from the earlier trilogy in these tracks, and it’s thrilling.
Moving onto the second disc, the score is taken over by the beautiful Laketown theme – first hinted at near the end of Disc 1. It is Shore’s ability to make a piece of music sound like you’ve heard it a thousand times before on your first listen – and that is exactly what he accomplishes by the time the theme comes full force in “Thrice Welcome”. He also introduces a magnificent theme for Girion, Lord of Dale – as well as music for Bard, that will surely come to full force in the final film.
The music thus far in the score is phenomenal. As a lover of Shore’s scores for The Lord of the Rings and An Unexpected Journey, his score for The Desolation of Smaug lives up to the standard he’s created. Darker than the previous score, and introducing a wealth of new material (some of it very subtle, some of it appropriately unsubtle) – the music is what you’ve come to expect from Shore.
But I’ve forgotten something…oh, yes. As we get a reprisal of the Shire theme in “The Courage of Hobbits”, the score gives way to the most sinister of its thematic material – Smaug’s Theme. As Bilbo enters the lair of the great beast, the entire score transforms. Introduced in An Unexpected Journey, this theme is seductively simple and chilling. It’s presence in the previous film’s score does nothing to prepare you for what lies ahead in the final tracks of the new score. It creeps in, unsettling you, and then hits you over the head (I mean this in the best possible way), leaving you gasping for breath as the action rages on inside Erebor. Though brought in earlier in the score (in “Wilderland”), it takes you by surprise in the final section of the album. It is by far the highlight of the score, and leaves you shaking when it dramatically cuts off, segueing into Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire”.
The score closes out with a beautiful reprisal of the Elven material in “Beyond the Forest” – almost as if Shore is trying to calm you down
again after the massive assault on your senses that he’s just unleashed. It’s hard to imagine Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug not being the highlight of the film – because it is this section of the music that is the most affecting.
Shore has crafted another masterpiece in The Desolation of Smaug. It barely resembles it’s predecessors – and, yet, it fits in perfectly with them. If you haven’t yet added this score to your collection – do not hesitate. If you’re among those who do not desire to hear the score
before seeing the film – then prepare yourself. You are about to have
your aural senses rocked. While being completely aware of my obvious bias – this is the score of 2013. Chilling, beautiful, and terrifying – Mr. Shore brings it all.
The Special Edition of this album comes in the same gorgeous digi-book style packaging of An Unexpected Journey – though colored dark purple this time. The discs are housed in cardboard sleeves (which I could do without – I’ve removed my discs and placed them in separate cases to avoid scratches), and the package includes a booklet with images from the film and liner notes from “The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films” author Doug Adams (visit his blog here). As an added bonus, the package includes Interactive Sheet Music (see below image), which comes to life with artwork and videos when you download the Watertower Music App and point your device (iOs and select Android devices) at it.
Final Verdict: Why are you still reading this? Go listen to the music!
Reviewed by: John Webster (aka Aragorn the Elfstone)