One can say and think many things about the commercialism that surrounds high-profile, big budget movie successes like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Much of the products that come out on the market as a result of these projects seem to have more to do with shameless ways of making money, sheer marketing tricks, than any actually good products that are worth the often horrendous prices they are sold at. But there is a definite good side of this: connected to these films are often, if they are successful enough, ”special edition” releases of the films’ scores - in the best cases expanded or even complete. Sometimes it is indeed so that there is not much more to these special editions than fancy packaging and a ridiculous price, but in the case of the complete release of the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring score, it is much more than that. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - The Complete Recordings finally enables us to hear the magnificent, operatic score Howard Shore wrote for the film in complete form; something that indeed is a unique listening experience, not found with many scores, and, for that matter, not with much music at all.
The original soundtrack album of The Fellowship of the Ring was a wonderful listen, perfectly balanced and well-rounded, containing all the best moments of the film score. When that is the case, complete releases such as this often lose their point somewhat, only feeling like more of the same but not really a better experience - just longer and perhaps even a bit boring. However, in the case of this lavish three-disc complete release, it is definitely not so. With this release, one can completely follow Shore’s intricate thematic development - how he turns themes into new ones, allows them to develop with the characters, as well as his complex orchestrations, varying with the settings of the film. It is a bit like orchestral suites from classical operas or incidental music - they are all very good listens (for example Bizet’s Carmen suites, or Grieg’s Peer Gynt suites), but that does not make the complete opera or complete incidental music an inferior listen - like the suites are a condensed form of the opera, the original soundtrack album for this score was a condensed form, only pieces from the great puzzle that is this score. To fully understand it, one needs to see the whole picture. In some cases, such as this, it deepens the experience of the music vastly. True - if you did not enjoy the original soundtrack album for The Fellowship of the Ring, you will hardly find it motivated to buy this quite pricey release, and I admit that you most likely would not enjoy it more in this form. But if you did enjoy the original release, even if only a little, I am quite sure that this will deepen your experience of the score and take it to a new level.
More or less, this complete recordings release is an isolated score from the extended DVD version of the film. There are some more music on the album than it is in the film though - some parts that were faded out in the film, where we now hear Shore’s original envisions for these scenes. Actually, much of what was on the original release is versions of the music that is not featured in the film (the Prologue, for example), so in many cases we now hear the film versions for the first time. The arranging of the album tracks is very good as well, no bad cuts and overly short tracks. The tracks work well as single pieces as well as the album as a whole works well as a coherent symphonic work. Sometimes these complete releases tend to stagger in parts, but with the amazing quality of Shore’s writing, it just does not happen here.
What in my opinion mainly motivates the buy of this release, apart from the fact that it is just more music from this fantastic score, is the opportunity to really follow Shore’s thematic development. This is very clear in the first part of the score, the Shire music, where you now clearly can follow the jaunty Hobbits’ theme presented on fiddle and whistle through its transformation into the sweeping hymn and ”understanding” versions of the theme heard later in the film. The way that Shore transforms this altogether happy theme into a majestic theme filled with both sorrow and beauty is nothing short of amazing. It is now also completely clear how the themes for the fellowship and Aragorn slowly enter the stage, first only fragmentarily, then slowly developing into their full forms. Thanks to the amazing liner notes, by Doug Adams (from the Music of the Lord of the Rings book, to be published later this year), the thematic structure is also completely straightened out for us, with the thematic material being analysed in short in the booklet complete with note examples and listening references on the CDs. Finally, Shore’s complex thematic considerations for all the characters, peoples, lands and monsters of Middle-earth stand completely clear.
I think it also is nice for the feeling of the score that the vocals of ”The Road Goes Ever On”, as performed by both Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Ian Holm (Bilbo) in the film. Of course, they are no singers, but the short vocals by them gives the right mood to the cues which I find a very good thing. Plus, the underscore Shore wrote for these scenes are supposed to accompany the vocals of this song, so of course it should be there. Some source type music has been included as well, for example the music played at Bilbo’s party and the song of the Elves which Frodo and Sam watches travel through the forest, both pieces composed and performed by Plan 9. I think it is great that they have completed the score with this music - this way the story is indeed told in the music as well, with all its moments of joy, sorrow, awe and fear. The Lord of the Rings is an amazing story, and Shore’s music has really managed to capture the many dimensions of it.
As well as the wonderful opening of the score with the Shire music and its development, the extended Rivendell sequence is also a highlight of this release. The noble introduction of the Gondor theme on solo horn is here, as is the sad theme for Aragorn’s mother Gilraen, a theme also used for the diminishment of the elves. On this release the part of the film in Lothlórien is given more time as well, allowing for more of the Elves’ music, as well as the introduction of the other theme of the human race, the Minas Tirith theme, which is a wonderfully majestic and melancholic theme introduced in ”The Mirror of Galadriel”, as Boromir speaks of his grand home city. And the finale of it all, in ”The Road Goes Ever On…” is of course an absolute highlight, on this album as as well as it was on the original, merging together a number of the themes in a wonderful, sombre, and very emotional ending.
The ultimate question is of course though - is it worth it? Is it worth its fifty dollars? And, even if it may be a bit overpriced, I will say that it is indeed worth it. The packaging is very beautiful, and there is in addition to the three score CDs a DVD included with the whole score in surround sound, which I am sure can come to great use if you have the equipment for it. There is in the end not much one can complain about with this release, even though it is very expensive. Its three hours have been well arranged, it comes with great liner notes, and it looks good in the shelf!
The main concern with this kind of releases is often that one worries that it might be too long - that it will just be too much of underscoring where more or less nothing happens. But in this case, it is not so. Thanks to Shore’s very operatic approach to the scoring of the Lord of the Rings films, music is playing almost the entire time, and all of it is well written, thematically attached, symphonic music. There is just no such thing as atmospheric underscore where nothing happens in this film. So do not worry. This complete release is a wonderful listen from start to finish with new things to discover each time - new things to discover about a score that I consider one of the finest masterpieces in the history of film music.