by Mike Brennan
Howard Shore's Oscar-winning, Golden Globe-nominated, and Grammy Award-winning score to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was just the beginning of an epic 12-hour long Lord of the Rings saga that would catapult him to the forefront of the film music world. Now, for the first time, the complete soundtrack to the extended DVD cut of the first film has been released in one very pretty package. Each film in the trilogy has a different tone, but in hindsight, The Fellowship of the Ring stands out more than its successors: it is the one that introduces and develops the majority of the key themes that would come to play massive roles in the world of middle-Earth and our understanding of it.
I would imagine that most buyers of this box set already own the original 2001 soundtrack release. Technically, the extended cut DVDs are seen as the "definitive" version of the films, and a complete "theatrical" soundtrack will most likely never see the light of day. As this is the complete recording from the "extended version", all of the music from that release is included here - but what is interesting is that some of the cues are different, since they were edited down for the soundtrack (or even extended for the DVD). A good example of this is "Balin's Tomb", which does not exactly correlate with the edited version of "A Journey in the Dark" from the original CD release. That having been said, this is a must-have for any fan of The Lord of the Rings. It includes every note, and for some films that would be overkill, or even dull. But this is not the case for Shore's work here. The album includes some incredible cues that fans have been seeking for four years.
As expected, the first disc opens with "Prologue: One Ring to Rule Them All", drawn out from the cut-down form on the soundtrack to its full length. The use of the Ring Theme here gives the music a very grim, apprehensive and foreshadowing feeling. The louder portions of the cue appeared in the shortened form, and the quieter Ring Theme development was generally what was cut. Further thematic introductions are made in "The Shire", giving us both the Hobbit and Fellowship Themes. "Bag End" includes Gandalf's (Ian McKellan) little song from the extended cut as well. The first disc of this set is primarily comprised of the Hobbit music, given the amount of time the film spends there, which is nice since they weren't represented as fully on the original soundtrack. So we get all the happy, folk-ish music before the story takes a dark twist.
"Farewell Dear Bilbo" introduces one of my favorite themes from the trilogy - that of the Journey Theme. This cue segues into the beginning of the darker music as Gandalf begins to suspect the true nature of the ring. Another new cue is "The Passing of the Elves", which wasn't written by Shore - it was written and performed by David Donaldson, David Long, Steve Roche and Janet Roddick. At the end of "Saruman the White", a powerful new choral performance of the Isengard Theme is heard. The first disc ends with "Nazgul", a dark dramatic cue that concludes with a short vocal by Viggo Mortensen.
The Nazgul hunt continues right into the second disc with "Weathertop", which segues right into Gandalf's trials in the "Caverns of Isengard", and features some great brass work and the first performance by boy soprano Edward Ross. This solo is the first variation of Shore's Nature Theme, which returns in the sequels, normally when an unexpected ally arrives. Generally, the second disc is split into three parts: The first part comes to a close with the short cue, "Orthanc". The second opens with the Hobbit Theme in "Rivendell" when Frodo wakes up.
Finally, fans can get their hands on the official version of the first appearance of the Realm of Gondor Theme in "The Great Eye", for Boromir's entrance. This cue is longer than I had thought, and continues long after the solo French horn in the low strings. The cue closes with the first full statement of the Fellowship Theme. Another new cue is the opening of "Gilraen's Memorial", featuring a solo choir in a very sorrowful and haunting performance. This second section of the disc closes with another great statement of the Fellowship Theme.
The Fellowship's journey starts out with the "Pass of Caradhras", where sullen vocals by the boys choir bursts into the Orthanc Theme as Saruman is seen at the top of the tower controlling the weather. The end of this track is new, and is an uplifting cue with a rising string of brass chords over the orchestra before it rumbles to a close. We then arrive at "Moria", with the full Watcher in the Water sequence, and the deep male choir makes its first appearance as the sound of the mines.
In another unreleased cue, "Gollum", the Journey Theme returns briefly on a solo flute while Gandalf and Frodo talk about Bilbo's pity. The second disc closes with the battle in "Balin's Tomb", an 8-minue cue that shows of Shore at his best. As mentioned previously, part of this was "A Journey in the Dark", but is now highly extended. Around the 3-minute mark, the action kicks in with racing strings and blasting brass backed by pounding timpani. The last part of the track contains most of the new music with a quieter tone in the aftermath of the battle, and some interesting hints at the Fellowship Theme. Then comes the best statement of this theme as they charge out of the tomb and into the massive cavern crawling with orcs (formerly opening the "Bridge of Khazad-Dum" track).
The third disc opens on a grim note, with the male choir chanting. This cue is also extended and covers the entire race through Moria to and across the bridge. This is the one cue that I might say goes on a bit too long, but that is remedied by Mabel Faletolu's haunting solo following their exit from Moria as the lament for Gandalf. We then return to the Elves in "Caras Galadhon" in another new cue, especially since this sequence was greatly extended in the film. The Elven voices get creepier in Lothlorien, and bring the long track to an eerie close.
"The Mirror of Galadriel" has an interesting opening in that it introduces the Minas Tirith theme, also heard prominently in The Return of the King. This cue also contains a large amount of new material, mostly on the slow side, but is a nice intercession between the two large battle scenes with some great choral work. Additionally, a motif that was first used in "Three is Company" on the first disc (for when the Hobbits set off on their journey) is used a second time at the end of this cue. It is a drawn out chort that finishes in a slow three note pattern.
The action returns in "The Fighting Uruk-Hai", with their pounding theme. Some more Elven music follows and segues into a bit of folk-ish music with a flute and acoustic guitar. More choral cue continue this slower track as the music builds into the scene on the Great River when they pass the two sentinels with the powerfull brass statement of the Ring Theme. Until this point, most of this track is new. The final battle, Boromir's betrayal and last stand, and Frodo's escape are all packed into one cue, "Parth Galen", where the Ring Theme again gains prominence. The Nature Theme is hinted at when Boromir comes charging to Merry and Pippin's rescue and, ultimately, into his last fight. A great male choral cue backed by trumpets is another new part. The brass work in this pounding cue is top notch as they range from the bold Uruk-Hai theme, to the heroic motifs for the Fellowship. The choir is also used to great effect here, and brings the intense cue to an end.
At this point, the music winds down with "The Departure of Boromir", which features more sorrowful choral music. A serene version of the Fellowship Theme is also played on a solo horn. The order of the last three tracks is surprising because it stickes Enya's song between "The Road Goes Ever On" Parts 1 and 2, which had been one track, "The Breaking of the Fellowship", previously. The Journey Theme makes its most prominent appearance here as Frodo leaves with Sam. Enya's song does not include any score at the end as it did on the first album; that comes back in with Edward Ross' "In Dreams" song in Part 2 of "The Road Goes Ever On". This is followed by a bit of Elven music, and a final statement of the Fellowship Theme - this last cue is basically an end credits suite. Missing from the release is the "Fan Credits Suite", but as much of the music has been heard in the album it's not really necessary.
The fourth disc is a real treat: a DVD featuring the contents of the first three CDs, in high-quality digital sound. There are four formats for you to choose from, depending on your equipment. Most people only have regular DVD players, and they will be given a choice of listening to the album in Dolby Digital 2.0, or immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. If you're fortunate to have a DVD-Audio compatible player, you will get the chance to hear the music in PPCM 2.0 or PPCM 5.1 uncompressed audio. Suffice it to say, the quality is excellent, but one drawback is that it reinforces the wetness of John Kurlander's recording, which some people might find a bit "slushy". The menus are clear and straightforward, and there is no real visual content - after all, this is all about the music!
The package also comes with a 45-page booklet, with liner notes by Film Score Monthly's Doug Adams, who is writing a book on the music for The Lord of the Rings. It doesn't give us a track-by-track breakdown; rather, it gives us a nice summary, and then proceeds to go into a thematic breakdown, which is notated to demonstrate the themes, and where they are used, and their importance. It borders on "too much", but it's really fascinating to see how much thought and detail went into the score. One minor gripe: the DVD is attached to the box separately, and instead of using a plastic "nub" to secure it, they used a rubber one. This makes putting the DVD back into the case to be slightly problematic, as it sticks - and it's very hard to seat the disc back in. The $60 price-tag might make most people cringe, especially when you consider that you can get the whole expanded trilogy (all 12 DVDs!) for about that price - and this is just the first of three releases!
It is a lot of fun to give The Fellowship of the Ring a fresh listen in the wake of the two sequels, because there is a lot more to understand once all is said and done. The thematic depth of Shore's work is still astounding even after so many listens. The choral music in this score stands out more in this complete release because so much of it had to be cut to fit on the original album. Few scores require or deserve a complete release, but even this soon after the trilogy ended, this album feels long overdue. It's an extensive album that truly highlights the scale and depth of Shore's work - and remember, this is the shortest film in the trilogy!
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - The Complete Recordings comes out in stores on December 13 from Reprise Records. For more information, keep an eye on the official soundtrack website, and also be sure to visit Howard Shore's official site.
Special thanks to Dan Goldwasser and Scott Braun at Chasen & Co. for their help with this article.