First of all, let me share a strong feeling with you that I have right now: frankly, I'm a little intimidated by the thought of writing a review about this Soundtrack Box. That is not only because the music is so utterly beautiful that words can't describe its impact, it's first and foremost the complexity and the background of this score. I just don't know where to begin. I've written about Williams, I've reviewed Star Wars, but this one tops them all.
Maybe I should just start with a little background information on the scoring process of "Fellowship Of The Ring".
In early 2000, director Peter Jackson tried to pick the right composer for his adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings.
He was looking for a man who had the time and who was able and willing to summon enough energy and enthusiasm to get involved with the scoring of an epic trilogy. The dark elegance of Howard Shore's earlier works like "Crash" or "The Fly" swept Jackson away, and what was even more important: Shore works in a very operatic style and that's just what Jackson was looking for. So, Peter Jackson called him up and invited him over to New Zealand to visit the sets. Shore, after realising the scope of the project, immediately agreed to take on this task.
From that point on, he worked on Fellowship, not only by writing themes, but also, and maybe especially, by studying Tolkien's themes and other Ring mythologies. "While writing the score, Tolkien's book was always open on my desk" says Shore, and the more he learned about not only Tolkien, but the historical and mythological background, the more he fell in love with it. Consequently, this score, as well as the following two, go far beyond the normal scoring duties you find in stores en masse. They are a labour of love, captivating, enchanting, rich in thematic detail, brilliant in development and execution, one grand piece of musical art, architecture and beauty equaled by nothing.
Howard Shore took on the monstrous task of conceptualising an 11 hour opera, separated into three movements, and he pulled it off!
Fellowship of the Ring is first and above all about hobbits, especially Frodo, the fellowship of the ring and the breaking of it, caused by the Ring itself. And that's how the score is thematically centered and interwoven.
Dozens of interrelated leitmotifs are perfectly able to tell the story on their own, without any help from visuals. But it's not only the themes, it's literally the architecture of the music that brings different cultures to life; the dwarves for instance not only get their own, very specific choral voice, but also very symmetric harmonies. Later in the film, as the Balrog approaches, these harmonies get disturbed and mutilated by dissonances more and more, until the Balrog gets its own musical gesture.
Often people complain that Shore's Lord of the Rings is often compared to Wagner's Nibelungen saga. And obviously, Lord of the Rings is not 100% opera, it's still a film score, and sure enough it's Howard Shore's own voice, but it's the way the leitmotifs are treated and developed that makes LotR and Die Nibelungen very similar.
And that Shore is not exactly a friend of mickey- mousing certainly is helpful, too. The music is a mirror image of the things we see on the screen, and yet it never becomes merely "supportive" music. So much in Lord of the Rings is just wordless scenes, imagery, looks, so the music very often takes center stage. With its architecture and choral poems it gives the scenes a meaning, a deeper context; it moves them along, ties them together. It doesn't only connect scenes, but also all three films.
This gem comes in a hardboard box which is not much bigger than a standard jewel case, only much thicker. It comprises three audio CDs with the complete score in a separate, wonderfully designed folder and a bonus DVD with the full score in Dolby Surround Sound. The accompanying booklet is in my opinion the crowning jewel of this boxed set. On 45 pages, Shore- expert Douglas Adams explains all the thematic material and orchestral fine- tunes, what it describes, how it evolves and what Howard Shore himself says about it. There are also printed score excerpts, as well as descriptions of all the specific instruments that brought the cultures of Middle- Earth to life. There are even a couple of pages about the performers.
Concerning the quality of the music, the perfect presentation and the gorgeous box itself, the price of 50 bucks is definitely not too high. Every soundtrack collector should have this jewel on his shelve, since this is the biggest, most comprehensive score release ever, until The Two Towers comes out in mid- 2006.
And bear in mind: this is only the beginning of the adventure!