When Peter Jackson returned to directed The Hobbit films after the departure of Guillermo Del Toro, I was happy. After all, the world of Middle Earth belongs to him. For me, there was an even greater excitement in knowing that when Peter Jackson comes back to Middle Earth, Howard Shore comes with him. Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores are some of my favorite film music of all time.
Last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey soundtrack was another wonderful entry into the Lord of the Rings music canon. It introduced new themes, like the powerful Plan 9 “Song of the Lonely Mountain,”and brought back old themes, like those of the Ring itself, “Gollum,” and “Hobbitton”. Two versions of the soundtrack were released, a single disc and a two disc special edition. The special edition had extended versions of several songs and bonus tracks that are not on the single disc edition. Oddly enough, some of the songs had different arrangements between albums (most notably “Out of the Frying Pan”). In addition, the score must have been modified for the film after these recordings were complete. The main group/Lonely Mountain Theme was almost absent from the body of the score with one or two exceptions, while it is more prevalent in the film. Also, the cue featured during Thorin and Azog’s confrontation in the burning forest (which hearkens, at least not yet, to the Dark Lord Sauron and Mordor) is missing as well. This “deluxe edition” was not a complete recording like the now VERY RARE Fellowship/Two Towers/Return of King Complete Recording. Instead, it was a just a longer, albeit incomplete, version of the film’s score. An Unexpected Journey’s score was good, but it’s probably my least favorite of Shore’s Middle Earth scores to date.
This year’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is given the same treatment, a single disc edition and a deluxe two-disc special edition. The special edition features 29 tracks, including extended versions of 12 of them and a bonus track, “A Necromancer”. Composer Howard Shore is back at it again this time with the backing of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (their first soundtrack trip to Middle Earth). Having not seen the film yet, I can only imagine the scenes that this score represents. It is a significantly darker than An Unexpected Journey’s score and this is one of Shore’s best Middle Earth efforts to date. Judging by what I can infer from the music and track titles alone (ed. note – We were provided a digital copy for review so the deluxe liner notes were unavailable), we get intense action scene accompaniment (“Flies and Spiders” and “Barrels Out of Bond”), new character themes (“The House of Beorn” and “Bard, a Man of Laketown’), and of course, “Smaug”. Based on where the tracks fall, It appears Smaug does not make his appearance until the back third of the film, but boy, what a presence he must have. The score slinks and threatens with building intensity (“Smaug”) and fuels what I am guessing is the final climax of the film (“My Armor is Iron”).
I would also be remiss if I don’t mention Ed Sheeran’s end credits song, “I See Fire”. Initially, I thought Sheeran was an odd choice for an Middle Earth movie end credits singer (joining the likes of the original trilogy of Enya, Annie Lennox, and Bjork), but it appears that out-of-box is what they want with this new Hobbit Trilogy. Neil Finn and Plan 9’s “Song of the Lonely Mountain” was an okay song, but was better represented in the score of the film. Sheeran’s “I See Fire” is, at least on the soundtrack, not represented in the film at all but as an end credit song. It is a song that has stuck with me in these weeks since its release as a single and using Thorin’s line of “If this is to end in fire, then we’ll all burn together” hammers home a powerful melody that builds throughout the song.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a powerful and heavy score that serves as a stark contrast to the previous film. Out of the gate, this score has more memorable themes and a driving force that will help SMAUG serve as the harrowing middle chapter of this new trilogy. If you’re a fan of Shore’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit sound so far, there is pretty much no reason that you should skip out on this soundtrack and of course, get the special edition.
Let this also serve as a challenge to WaterTower Music: we want COMPLETE RECORDINGS of these Hobbit movies. I know from what Shore associate Doug Adams has said in the past, this is no small effort in terms of cost or availability, but judging by the secondary market pricing of the now unavailable Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers recordings, the demand is there. PLEASE make this happen. The first Hobbit film has made over $1 billion globally. Surely, there is a demand for a complete recording of the soundtrack.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is currently available in single disc and two-disc special editions from WaterTower Music.