February 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: The Complete Recordings  
Music composed by Howard Shore
  Available on REPRISE (49454-2)
Running Times: Three CDs and enhanced DVD Audio (58:37, 59:09, 1:03:03, 3:00:49)
Amazon UK   Amazon US

How do you properly assess a milestone? A work of both artistic excellence and historic importance?  I could rightly praise the wonderful presentation of this 4 CD set, I could wax lyrical about the informative, intelligent booklet that provides insights into the work on both a technical and an aesthetic level, or most particularly, the fact that the fourth CD included is the entire work found on the other three discs in advanced resolution DVD audio (which is tremendous!). All of these things are truly worthy of applause and appreciation.

But ultimately it is really about Howard Shore’s music. Not everyone considers this work to be the towering achievement I believe it to be, some reviewers finding fault with the stylistic choices the composer made when he approached what is an undisputed classic of literature, a tome that is absolutely revered by the fandom community. But what cannot be denied, whatever your view may be, is the sheer depth of the composition and the attention to detail in its thematic structure. Many of Shore’s motifs have now become a part of film music lore and his trilogy of scores has attained a notable position in the historic development of film scoring. The simple fact that he wrote a cinematic musical opus on such a grand, epic scale means that it stands unparalleled (Williams’ entire Star Wars series is the only thing that even comes close).

Sometimes projects come with such a weight of expectation that it’s difficult to imagine anything living up to what was hoped for. The fact that Shore’s music has won so many awards and praise across the board proves he more than succeeded in his appointed task. If you own a copy of the original Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack, as magnificent as that undoubtedly is, do not hesitate to go out and add this new release to your collection.  Yes, it is expensive and few works could justify such an elaborate and ambitious project. But Shore’s masterwork is not like any other. The fact that there will be comparable releases for The Two Towers and The Return of the King further illustrates the uniqueness and the magnitude of not only what Howard Shore has accomplished, but also how highly these scores are thought of.

For my own part, I do not say lightly that I consider the music from the Rings trilogy to be my own personal nomination as the single greatest achievement in the art of film composing.  Of course, it’s all subjective. An opinion is an opinion, but there will surely be few who would argue that with this presentation and the others that will follow, Shore’s work has been given a deserved accolade. Simply stated, if I could award more than five stars I would. But it’s enough to say that some soundtrack recordings are must haves. This is one of them. Go and buy it quickly while you can!

Mark Hockley


Gary Dalkin adds:-

This is a nicely packaged set with a CD's worth of good music, maybe a little more, spread over 3 CDs, and repeated on a single DVD. I can't help but think it would have made more sense for the customer, if not the label, to release separate CD and DVD versions; who, but the most ardent audiophile, needs both? A more reasonably-priced set might have resulted.

Further, given the supposed definitive nature of this set, it is 100% unacceptable that 29 pages of the booklet are missing from the box, and are only available as a downloadable PDF file from the companion website. Not only does not everyone have internet access – it should not be taken as a given – it is simply wrong to ask people to pay anywhere between £35-50 for a luxury box set then expect them to expend their own time and ink printing the rest of the booklet. The pages which contain the useful track by track guide which comes as a standard feature of, for example, every Film Score Monthly booklet. Adding insult to injury, had the superfluous SACD been omitted the money could have been saved to provide a complete booklet.

As for the music. There is a considerable amount of appealing material here which was absent from the original, single disc version of the soundtrack. Unfortunately the every-last-note (including it would seem, Bilbo’s to the milkman) approach means the inclusion of yet more of the inappropriate Celtic folk influenced material which blights the score. Hobbits are Home Counties bods and their music should be in the English folk tradition, not pander to some borderline racist Hollywood notion of lovable ‘Orish pixies having a jig – but all know that in post Braveheart and Titanic Hollywood a) however inappropriate, cod Irish music sells, and b) the English are dull stick-in-the-mud neo-Nazis who wouldn’t know how to have fun if a bucket load of monkeys on laughing gas fell on their heads, while the ‘Orish are salt of the earth ragamuffin funsters always up for a good crack.

There’s a similar problem with the Maori “grunting”. This is not a racist comment, simply a recognition that the Maori sound is so distinctive it can not be mistaken for anything other than exactly what it is, and as such can never have any legitimate place in Tolkien’s imaginative world, rooted so firmly as it is in the myths, legends and folk cultures of England and Northern Europe. Finally there’s the problem of the short snippets of song scattered through the score; Gandalf’s opening number sounds pretty much like the mumblings of a drunk on their way home from the pub, and really isn’t necessary apart from the film.

Otherwise there is some impressive music, but how much better these films could have been directed by an Englishman with English sensibilities, filmed in North European locations and scored by a composer such as Christopher Gunning, Patrick Doyle, Adrian Johnson or Debbie Wiseman.

Gary Dalkin


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