Monday, February 16, 2015

Quick Review: The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Music composed by Howard Shore
Music conducted by Conrad Pope
Orchestrations by Conrad Pope, James Sizemore
Score performed by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Wellington Town Hall

Special Edition running time: 108 minutes
Available on Water Tower Music



After the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson and Howard Shore round out the Hobbit trilogy with Battle of the Five Armies.  While many a movie-goer and Tolkien fan have complained endlessly about the stretching of the original text to three films, I'm here to talk about the score.  Each film has continued the thematic world that Shore created for Lord of the Rings, with a few themes being held over into The Hobbit.

Without mentioning every moment, I wanted to continue my rundown of major themes and their variations.  Some of these themes first appear in the previous installments, so I'll include those links here: An Unexpected Journey (AUJ) and The Desolation of Smaug (DOS).  Without further ado, here is my rundown of 'Five Armies'.

As the film starts moments after the previous film, we begin with Smaug's destruction of Laketown.  The album begins with music from this scene, Fire and Water.  Like the ending of the DOS album, we get a heavy dose of Smaug's slithering dark theme with the themes for Girion and Bard woven in.  The familiar horn call of the Erebor theme ends the track.  Shores of the Long Lake has more variations of Bard's theme, the Laketown politicians theme, and the stunning Tauriel and Kili love theme (reprised from DOS).

Beyond Sorrow and Grief begins with the lower male voices in the fantastic House of Durin theme, with references to the Erebor theme and Smaug's theme.  Guardians of the Three (a score highlight) revisits some Lord of the Rings themes.  First we get the Lothlorian theme (which also appeared with Galadriel in AUJ).  We also hear snippets of Necromancer theme, now definitely related to Sauron's theme.  While this track hammers the darker side, a welcome action variation of the Rivendell theme appears alongside Gandalf's theme.  The choir stands out in this cue as it gets darker.

The Ruins of Dale begins with a statement of Laketown's theme.  A plaintive version of the Shire theme appears for the first time in this score.  Generally a dark track with pounding drums, Gandalf's theme makes a bold appearance at the end.  The Gathering of the Clouds features several DOS themes being built up - including material for Thranduil and the Mirkwood elves.  The Erebor and Durin statements make appearances, with a war-like style.  Mithril utilizes the creepy "dragon sickness" motif that reappears throughout many of Thorin's sequences in addition to haunting versions of Smaug's theme.  Building upon the war style, a nice statement of House of Durin's theme leads to the mash-up of villainous themes heard in Bred for War.


A Thief in the Night corresponds more with Bilbo, using his "sneaky" motif from the previous scores.  The Arkenstone's theme makes a brief appearance in this overall subdued track.  The last half of the track contains a darker variation on the Woodland Realm.  The Clouds Burst keeps the strings dissonant, with a solemn version of Thorin's theme.  We also get the first references to Dain's theme (new for the film) heard later in the battle cues.  With the titular battle at hand, the Erebor theme and Dain theme make appearances among strong string writing and majestic orchestral statements.  

The Darkest Hour starts the second disc off with a dramatic version of Gandalf's theme.  Continuing the battle between good and evil, we also get variations on the various Orc themes and pounding percussion musically squaring off against the House of Durin, Thorin and Erebor theme.  The most interesting is the hymn-like variation on the Laketown theme near the end of the cue.  One of the album highlights is Sons of Durin, naturally utilizing the Durin/Thorin/Erebor theme combo.  This is possibly the most stirring cue, matching the "Lighting of the Beacons" from Return of the King.            

The Fallen first uses the Woodland elf theme as a ghost-like lament.  A Shire reprise is hinted at, before the tension returns and the militaristic drums emerge.  The themes for Legolas/Woodland trade off heroically between Tauriel's theme in Ravenhill.  The Tauriel/Kili Love theme is hinted at, to return in a later track.  To The Death brings the struggle of hero and villain with a trade off of themes through the pounding action.  The fist-pumping moment occurs with the reprise of the "Nature's Reclamation" theme (in a new setting to boot!), a favorite of mine from the Lord of the Rings trilogy scores.  

Courage and Wisdom features one of the emotional reprises of Thorin's theme.  The choir also reprises the Tauriel/Kili theme as well as a slower version of her theme.  The most surprising is the thematic cameo of the Fellowship theme, instantly recognizable within the score and matching the connection on screen to the LOTR trilogy.  

The Return Journey musically begins the connecting tissue back to the Lord of the Rings.  After a noble statement of Thorin's theme, we turn to the Hobbit and Gandalf's themes.  The familiar tone of the Shire theme on whistle sends us back to the actual Shire - which continues in There and Back Again.  A sneaking reprise of the History of the Ring theme appears, giving us a hint of what is to come for Bilbo in the next films.  Rounding out the film score is another warm reprise of the Shire theme.

For the end credits, Pippin actor Billy Boyd sings The Last Goodbye.  It's a lovely way to end the Hobbit trilogy, and the choice of singer really connects the two trilogies.  However, the song suffers from the Into the West-syndrome - it sounds far too similar to the Oscar-winning song from Return of the King.  But after Neil Finn's Song of the Lonely Mountain and Ed Sheeran's I See Fire, this is my favorite of the songs in the Hobbit trilogy.  The strummed guitar style fits nicely as well as the gentle orchestral accompaniment.                       

Ironfoot is the suite of Dain's theme - with it starting right off the bat with bagpipes.  Both the theme and this soaring version are among the highlights of the album.  The track also contains some of Bard's heroic motif, and some action-oriented Laketown reprises.  As bonus tracks, we get Dragon-sickness and Thrain (the latter from the Extended Edition of DOS).  Both have interesting music and expand on material heard earlier in the scores.                 
When the Lord of the Rings trilogy was all the rage back in the early 2000s, we couldn't have guessed we would get more Tolkien adaptations (or three, given the film splits).  We also couldn't have guessed that Howard Shore could contribute more to his musical world, which awarded him 3 Academy Awards.  The musical themes expanded with a wealth of new material, even if it didn't all transition from one film to the next.  The thematic continuity between all 6 films is impressive, and his ability to weave them emotionally pays off for the listener/viewer.  There are some great standouts cues in this film, and I find myself pressed to rank The Hobbit scores. 

In my opinion, The Hobbit didn't live up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (an almost impossible task).  I do have to credit Shore's action and emotional writing, in addition to the leitmotivs expertly passed from film to film.  I'm sure we'll never get an epic set of films like the ones in Middle Earth, and probably not from Shore or Peter Jackson again.  It is fitting to give the characters and creative team a final goodbye - best summed up in the lyrics to the credit song: "I bid you all a very fond farewell."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Screen Credit Quiz (Round James & James)

It's time for a Screen Credit Quiz!  My last quiz (found here) was identifying Alan Silvestri from Alexandre Desplat.  For this quiz, let's confuse everyone and have each film either composed by James Horner or James Newton Howard.  Enjoy! 

Put your guesses in the comments! And have fun!!

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