The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Composed by: Howard Shore

The third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, became the third movie to win eleven academy awards. While the battle scenes are fun and there is no shortage of great moments regarding the characters, I find Return of the King to be a little overrated and undeserving of a couple of the Oscars (though some of those Oscars were awarded for the whole trilogy rather than just the last film). Attempts at forcing drama resulted in some unfortunate deviations from Tolkien’s story and themes. The ending is permeated with overdrawn slow-motion scenes of Hobbits crying or staring at something, which drove some audience members out of their minds.

The music, however, is the best of the trilogy. Howard Shore really earned his Oscar with this one. But if you want a good album, you’re going to have to shell out the money for the complete recordings, because the original release lacks some really good parts.  Before diving into the two releases, it would be good to get into some of the new major themes, or rather themes present in earlier films and only now developed to their full potential. The Gondor theme, which appeared in small bits in the first two films, is finally revealed in its full grandeur. Shore could have used it more, as part of the city was even seen early in the first film, but chose to reserve its full-fledged appearance for the last act. It’s a big, heroic fanfare for the greatest civilization confronting Sauron’s forces. The Gondor theme first caught major attention through a prominent rendition in the trailer. Its appearances in the film months later did not disappoint. Powerful usage at the end of “Minas Tirith” and in the beacons lighting scene immediately marked it as one of the greatest musical identities in the series. I recently read and confirmed that there are two versions of the full theme. One ends with descending notes while the other ascends by incorporating Aragorn’s motif. Continue reading

Dinosaur

Composed by: James Newton Howard

Towards the tail-end of its Renaissance era, Disney released an ambitious fully CGI dinosaur film simply titled Dinosaur. Visually the film is great, but the story and characters are so clichéd and predictable that it becomes a surprisingly forgettable experience. It’s telling that the best part of the movie is the first five or so minutes, when there is no dialogue. The plot itself concerns an orphaned Iguanodon named Aladar who is raised by lemurs. Displaced by the meteor that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs, he teaches a herd of migrating herbivores on how to work as a team. One of the positives is James Newton Howard’s score, one of the best of his career. Howard had a brief tenure as a lead composer for Disney as it shifted its animation department towards non-musical action-adventure films. While he does not have the songs to make his scores iconic as, say, Beauty and Beast or Lion King, I have to say that the actual instrumental scores are generally superior to Alan Menken’s. Continue reading

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

LOTR2 soundtrack.jpg

Composed and Conducted by: Howard Shore

The second installment of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy is a very good middle, although some of the meddling with the characters and storyline of the books felt uncalled for. On the more overwhelming positive side, The Two Towers introduced the awesome Riders of Rohan and Andy Serkis’ groundbreaking role as the twisted creature Gollum. Howard Shore wrote a score that matched and also developed the material from The Fellowship of the Ring. Shore has often stated that The Two Towers was the hardest of the three films to score due to the need to create a beginning that carried over from the previous film and a cliffhanger ending. He need not have worried because he does a great job. The actual original one-disc soundtrack doesn’t live up to the previous film’s thanks to some questionable edits, but the score taken as a whole is on the same level.

Most of the new themes and motifs can be separated into two sets. The first centers around Gollum. Gollum uses the Shadow theme, also referred to as the Gollum Pity theme, but this takes a backseat to two new identities. The first is a mischievous ditty heard in “The Taming of Smeagol.” It is used to represent the scheming, more sinister side of the Gollum. It’s quirkier, more playful variations are present on the complete recordings. The second theme is a tragic motif that plays at the start of the “Forbidden Pool,” from a memorable inner dialogue sequence. Continue reading