Recently, I discovered that rollingstone.com was streaming the soundtrack from Peter Jackson’s upcoming Middle Earth epic, The Hobbit. Being a huge fan of Howard Shore, due to the fabulous work he did on The Lord of the Rings, I dove at the chance to get an early listen to the new film’s orchestration.
I have not been disappointed in Shore’s return to Middle Earth. Well, except for Neil Finn’s performance of “The Lonely Mountain Song,” which will run under the film’s credits. The light, reverb-laden vocal interpretation of an otherwise excellent theme did not succeed in capturing the essence of the Tolkien universe the way Annie Lennox’s “Into the West,” or Enya’s “May It Be” did.
That small failing aside, The Hobbit soundtrack strikes a wonderful balance between resonance and awe. The interpolation of themes Shore used in The Lord of the Rings creates the exact feeling that readers who return to Tolkien’s work time and time again crave–that sense of immersion in the atmosphere of his story world. The Hobbit’s warm clarinet rendering of the Shire theme is just as perfect as it was played on wood flute in The Fellowship of the Ring. The underscore of Bilbo’s departure on the adventure recalls the flight of the hobbits from Farmer Maggot in Jackson’s first trilogy, and it beautifully sets the tone as yet another hobbit flees from a small set of problems into larger dangers.
The dwarves’ theme is equally soaring and weighty, and is perfectly suited to the serious side of the dwarves that Jackson places on screen, giving them a chance to be majestic and awe-inspiring. For a long-time Tolkien fan like me, this came as a great relief, since in The Lord of the Rings, the only dwarf represented, Gimli, ended up shouldering the bulk of the movie’s comic relief—a decidedly un-dwarvish job. Sure, there will be members of the company that will still inspire laughs, but Shore’s soundtrack helps undergird and remind the viewer of the dwarves’ formidable nature.
When the movie draws characters into deeper peril, Shore does not shy away from the use of instrumental performance for atmospheric sound. Many of the later tracks in the score contain heavy dissonance, brash playing, and the use of improvised percussion instrumentation–all perfectly suited to clashes with goblins and the darker forces of Middle Earth. He makes use of dramatic and imposing men’s vocals, and pits them against ethereal women’s choral work (for example, Galadriel’s vaguely eastern-inspired theme) and the purity of boys’ choir.
I’m excited to see how the themes I now have had the opportunity to internalize will enhance the visuals Peter Jackson has chosen to depict on screen. My advance familiarity with the score will free me up to appreciate the amazing synergy between sound and image The Hobbit is bound to offer.