Not to sound as alarmist as Fredegar Bolger rousing the Hobbit-folk in the wee hours of a peaceful Shire morning, but perhaps the time has come for fans of Howard Shore’s scores to sit up and reconcile themselves to a very dismaying possibility – that the unheard music of Middle-earth might well in fact never be heard.
It’s Earl, your soundtrack-obsessed TORn-staffer, and the reason I’m venturing to make this statement is because of the recently announced Limited Collector’s Edition of the movies, which makes it almost excruciatingly clear that the Warner Bros studio is so very, very far removed from knowing what fans really, truly want, and are willing to pay for.
The Extended Editions of the two trilogies, with their accompanying Appendices, set a new standard of commitment and class for home releases, not just in terms of the stunning packaging, but more importantly the filmmakers’ determination to involve the fans in the filmmaking experience, from the first storyboard to the very final edit. And the appreciation of fans towards those who created and produced those editions continues to this day. Yet now, when the same creative team offered to put together the ultimate anthology of their cinematic journey to Middle-earth, their offer was turned down. Surely the studio must know that this was The One release fans were most anticipating for more than a decade, but alas, it seems to be not worth their while, or their money.
And that brings me to the as-yet-unreleased music written for Middle-earth…
Just like the movies, the music of The Lord of the Rings films in its many ensembles was much-acclaimed. While the period between 2001 and 2003 saw the releases of the Standard and Limited Edition soundtracks, later years gave us first the short film Creating The Lord of the Rings Symphony and then the elaborate Complete Recordings for each of the three films. Fans were finally able to indulge in Howard Shore’s sweeping operatic score the way it was meant to be heard, from the first haunting notes that underscored Galadriel’s ominous words heralding the changing of the world to the final melancholic strains of Bilbo’s Song written specially for the Extended Edition of The Return of the King. The Complete Recordings were undoubtedly a labour, and a gift, of love. So it was both unsurprising and yet an unlooked-for delight when we got what might be termed the “Appendices” to the score in the form of Doug Adams’ wonderful tell-all book The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films which represented an unprecedented exploration into Shore’s compositions, complete with an archival CD that provided glimpses of early thematic ideas and alternate versions written for iconic scenes in the trilogy.
When all has been said and done, the music for The Lord of the Rings films has been a triumph for all involved – the composer, the fans, and all those who worked to bring it to life in its various forms – and has been celebrated in the Lord of the Rings Symphony in Six Movements and the Live-to-Projection concerts.
I do not consider myself an expert on film music, but I have done a fair bit of pottering about on such forums to know that very few soundtracks get such lavish treatment or have as vast and dedicated a fan-base. As one of those fans myself, I always envisioned that when it came to The Hobbit films, besides the Standard and Deluxe Editions that were released between 2012 and 2014, we would eventually see the Complete Recordings in the vein of the prior trilogy, and of course, the follow-up book by Doug Adams on The Music of the Hobbit Films.
Those who follow Doug on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and his Blog) will know that he has happily initiated, and contributed to, discussions surrounding the themes, lyrics, and alternate versions that were used in The Hobbit films but not featured on the released soundtracks; like Thorin charging down Azog through the burning pine trees to a variation of The Ringwraiths theme, which, along with much of the Shire music that played over the scenes of Old Bilbo and Frodo in the prologue, was not released; neither was the soaring version of the Nature’s Reclamation theme as the Eagles bore the Dwarves over the Misty Mountains. A year later, these included the quirky music as the Dwarves sheepishly emerged from Beorn’s house, and the piteous notes as Thrain’s madness lifted and he remembered his old friend in the dungeons of Dol Guldur. And finally, in the Extended Edition of The Battle of the Five Armies, we got to hear the heartbreaking funeral music for the Heirs of Durin which moved us to tears yet again.
But as time passed Doug’s posts on the music for these films and his accompanying book steadily diminished without any indication of a release, which is odd given that he has been working on the book since 2012. And the last we heard about the Complete Recordings for The Hobbit films was almost a year ago in October 2015, when in response to a fan’s question Doug tweeted:
“I’m afraid no Hobbit CRs are in the planning stages at this time. Doesn’t mean they’ll never happen, but no motion yet.”
Yet now all the signs seem to portend that these music-related projects are also no longer the certainty many of us thought they were. And just like the Limited Collector’s Edition of the films, perhaps the biggest letdown is that although the creators themselves are fully committed to this endeavour, the powers-that-be seem unwilling to invest their financial resources. Even the Complete Recordings of The Lord of the Rings have now been out of print for many years, and many fans, both old and new, often have to resort to buying them second-hand for insane sums instead of being able to purchase their own personal copies.
Only time will tell if it’s possible for the studio to recognize that the music of these films transcends the cinematic realm, and if they will deign to allow us to hear it in its entirety and appreciate it for decades to come.
Until then, all we can do is hope – hope that someday we will be able to truly and fittingly bid Middle-earth, and its music, a last goodbye.
Earl can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.