Pick Of The Week

[Pick Of The Week - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - The Complete Recordings]

Last year, we were treated with a monumental soundtrack release - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - The Complete Recordings.  This four-disc box set included nearly every note of music from the Oscar-winning film score by Howard Shore, and now - nearly one year later - we are finally able to look at the next release in the series: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - The Complete Recordings.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the middle film in the trilogy, has the narrowest scope of the three, given the journey of the ring in Fellowship of the Ring and the epic battles of Return of the King. Focusing on two elements - the Ring's journey toward Mordor and the battle for Rohan - The Two Towers also has a very focused score, tonally and thematically. A large number of minor themes and motifs permeate the score and the trilogy, but the major theme featured in this film is for Rohan. One of my favorite cues from this film is the opening cue, here heard in "Glamdring", which tells the story of Galdalf's battle with the Balrog. It sets a dark, grim tone that is a far cry from the bouncy Shire theme that opened The Fellowship of the Ring. Building into an epic cue with a pulsing male choir that ends the cue solo, it sets up the darker elements of the film perfectly.

The Two Towers title appears over a scene with Frodo and Sam descending a cliff with "Elven Rope" but Shore uses a quiet version of the Rohan theme here to foreshadow its prominence in the film. This one of the few instances in the trilogy where the themes do not coincide with the scene. The two hobbits' journey continues with the Shire theme on clarinet in "Lost in Emym Muil", which then moves into darker territory with a soft choir in an extended cue. The Shire theme itself gets a darker treatment in "Uglik's Warriors", performed on the oboe and low woodwinds for Merry and Pippin's capture. The Uruk-Hai/Isengard theme makes a brief appearance at the end with a male choir.

The triumphant return of the Fellowship theme arrives in "Three Hunters" after a gradual brass introduction. It is performed here by a clear, solo trumpet and is then picked up by the oboe when Aragorn finds Pippin's Lorien pendant. The biggest new element in this score is, of course, the introduction and large presence of the Rohan theme. This theme sets a noble and tragic tone for the score, revolving around the proud but sometimes pessimistic King Theoden. His story arc through the second and third films is one of my favorites, and his thematic development follows his transformation from a puppet king to a powerful leader and warrior. This score merely sets the foundation for the character. The Rohan theme makes its first true appearance at the end of "Three Hunters" when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive at the plains in their hunt for the Uruk-Hai.

"The Banishment of Eomer" begins with Eomer finding Theodred after the orc attack and carrying him to Edoras. This part has a varied statement of the Rohan theme. The cue ends with the three hunters back on the trail of the Uruk-Hai with a slowed Fellowship theme on the trumpet over the choir. Much of the music that did not make the original soundtrack albums is from times in the film where the score took a back seat compared to its prominence during Fellowship theme statements, as an example.  Additionally, there are numerous pieces of score that Shore wrote for the films, but were unused - and make a welcome appearance on the albums, such as in "The Dead Marshes", for instance.  The first disc ends with "Heir of Numenor" and "Ent-Draught" which are two such cues. However, the inclusion of these parts of the score do help to flesh out the soundtrack and flesh out the myriad themes Shore has for the numerous elements in the trilogy.

Two other important cues on the first disc that are necessary to mention include the first instances of two themes. "Night Camp" introduces the Nature Reclamation theme in its complete form, after having been hinted at in two cues from Fellowship. This track opens with it on the solo clarinet when Merry and Pippin discuss the living trees as the orcs cut them down. The theme appears again at the end of The Two Towers and then for The Return of the King, where it will take on a new role and orchestration. "Gandalf the White" introduces the Shadowfax theme at the end of the track after an extended build up with the brass and choir.

The second disc opens with "Edoras", which introduces the solo Hardanger fiddle statements of the Rohan theme to set the tragic tone for Theoden's character. While "The Court of Meduseld" features a great choir and Isengard theme statement, "Theoden King" follows with a triumphant brass statement of the Rohan theme. It is then picked up by the solo fiddle when Theoden grasps his sword and slowly pulls it from the scabbard. This cue continues and features Miranda Otto's vocals for Eowyn's lament at Theodred's funeral. A number of the actors, including Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellan, provided their vocals on certain cues and it is nice to finally have them included on the soundtrack. The tragic tone of the fiddle returns again in "Exodus From Edoras".

The first half of this disc is dominated by the Rohan theme, which makes its last appearances in "Wolves of Isengard" and "Refuge at Helm's Deep", both featuring strong solos on the fiddle. The first cue is extended from the original soundtrack cut, "Helm's Deep" and is a great action cue based around the Rohan theme. Pounding drums underlie pulsing horn blasts that follow the chord progressions of the theme, then a bit of the fiddle comes in as an extended part of the cue before the brass line returns with a choir. The Isengard/Orc theme moves in with a darker choir and an extended low brass segment. The trumpet takes over with a new variation on the Rohan theme and a 6/8 tempo builds to a final brass climax. "Refuge at Helm's Deep" is quieter in contrast and ends with the sorrowful fiddle as opposed to its use in the former track as a tragic lead-in to the battle.

The cue "Evenstar" from the original soundtrack is extended to "One of the Dunedain" to include the added scenes of conversation between Aragorn and Eowyn. This cue contains a very brief statement of the Gondor theme when Aragorn reveals he is from the line of kings. Isabel Bayrakdarien's performance in "Evenstar" is one of the best vocal solos from the films, helping to define the very unique tone Shore chose for the elves and Arwen's story, much of which is told in dreams or memories. The Gondor theme makes its final appearance in this film (to be greatly developed in The Return of the King) in "Sons of the Steward", the added scenes of Faramir's memories of Boromir and his father at Osgiliath. The first statement is a triumphant fanfare, but a second one comes at the end of the scene when they show a glimpse of the Gondor flag. This statement is preceded by a hint at the Ring theme and is darker and more sorrowful, also ending with the very briefest hints at the Ring theme. These cues are part of the extended cut score that Howard Shore recorded following the film's theatrical release, also around the time he began developing the Gondor theme for The Return of the King. The second disc also ends on a quiet note with Frodo and Sam's scenes with Faramir in "Rock and Pool" and "Faramir's Good Council", the latter of which includes an choral piece for the Ring's seduction that was not used in the film.

The final CD is dominated by the battle at Helm's Deep. It begins with a longer version of the cue attached to the end of "Breath of Life" on the soundtrack, which is now "Arwen's Fate" from the second disc. "Aragorn's Return" is a moving cue featuring the most prominent statement of the Heroics of Aragorn theme (the booklet for this album set features highly detailed descriptions of the themes and their uses in the score, and is worth checking out for further information on less prominent themes). The versatility of the Rohan theme is showcased in the cues contained on this disc, from the slow, foreboding style in "Where is the Horse and His Rider" to the fast-paced militaristic statement on the trombones at the end of "The Battle of the Hornburg". The former can be considered the calm before the storm and accompanies the scene of King Theoden strapping on his armor, silhouetted by white light and the combination of the music and cinematography creates a very ethereal scene.

A secondary theme runs through these cues, which is the militarized Lothlorien theme for Haldar and his elves, introduced in "The Host of the Eldar" and repeated as an action motif in "The Breach of the Deeping Wall" which is followed by a statement of the Fellowship theme in a similar style. The track "Retreat" contains two cues, the first of which ends the Elven theme with Elizabeth Fraser's angelic "Haldir's Lament". This is followed by the heroic Fellowship theme statement when Aragorn and Gimli leap across to protect the gate. This cue ends the long run of Helm's Deep tracks.

"The Last March of the Ents" ends the Ent plot with the emergence of the full Nature theme performed by soprano Ben Del Maestro, which had started with a quiet statement of it in "Night Camp". The lyrics Del Maestro and the boy choir sing are in Entish and have a very interesting translation (featured in the online liner notes) that basically say that the Ents are waking and marching to war. This cue is used a second time in the film as Theoden prepares to ride out, but is not duplicated on this album again, as it is the "Complete Recordings". "The Nazgul Attack" slowly builds into the powerful, pulsating choir cue that had been tacked onto "Forth Eorlingas" on the original soundtrack, and still flows into that cue, but is from Frodo's encounter with the Nazgul at Osgiliath.

The two story lines of The Two Towers end in the next two tracks. One of the best pieces of score from the entire trilogy is contained in "Theoden Rides Forth", which brings together a large number of the film's thematic ideas. Opening with a heroic variation on the Rohan theme on the trumpet, it builds into a massive brass statement of the full Rohan theme before segueing into the Fellowship theme upon Gandalf's arrival. Between these two themes is a newly added choir bit, which was oddly not part of the original soundtrack cue. Ben Del Maestro's vocals return as Gandalf leads the charge toward Helm's Deep. This cue is truly impressive as it shows Shore's careful planning: he scored the largest action scene in the film with an ethereal vocal performance rather than the expected pounding percussion and brass of action sequences. To add to it, he follows this with a heroic statement of the Shadowfax theme as the horse breaks the ranks of the orcs. The end of the track is extended from the original cut of the film as the Rohirrim turn away the orcs and ride them into the waiting Ent army. The Nature theme is heard in part during this cue, hinting at the orchestral might with which the theme will be used in the final film.

The film ends on a quiet, yet dark note with Frodo and Sam following Gollum into Mordor. Taking a bit from the conclusion of Fellowship, hints of the "In Dreams" tune and the Journey theme (aka Hobbits' Understanding) appear here as Sam and Frodo set out from Osgiliath. The Shire and Fellowship themes also make their respective appearances in calm, unstrained statements. Gollum and Smeagol themes come in in subtle hints. The final track is a partial end credits suite that features Emiliana Torrini's "Gollum's Song".

The fourth disc is 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.  The menus are clear and straightforward, and nicely designed.  It will be interesting to see how they will release The Return of the King next year, since it is unlikely that they will be able to fit all of the music on one DVD with these options.  (Could it be that it will be a 4-CD, 2-DVD set?  We'll have to wait and see!)

As with last year's release of Fellowship of the Ring, the liner notes contained in the booklet with this disc set is almost worth the price itself.  Doug Adams, who is writing a book on the music of the trilogy, provides us with a hefty booklet which explores the themes and their various relationships.  On the official Lord of the Rings Soundtracks Website (see link below), there will be a PDF file - much as there was for Fellowship - which you can download and will provide you with in-depth track-by-track explanations of everything on the discs, including unused material, alternates, and discarded concepts, as well as all the lyrics and translations of the songs as sung by the choir and solo vocalists. The complexity of Shore's thematic development of Middle Earth is just astounding.

While the box set packageing is impressive and stylistic, unfortunately they carried over a flaw from the Fellowship box set: the plastic nub that holds the DVD in place. It is still difficult to put the disc back, and one has to shimmy back and forth to really get it to stick. Also, be careful not to put too much weight on the box, or the side walls might collapse or tear! (Keep it at the top of any piles!)

I have heard a number of people talk about The Two Towers as being a "middle film", and is therefore difficult because it has no beginning or end. However, the film contains a set of elements that come full circle and are resolved by the end. Eomer's banishment with the Rohirrim and their subsequent return with Gandalf to Helm's Deep, and King Theoden's rise to protect his people are two such cases. We also witness the defeat of Sauruman. With the exception of Frodo and Sam's journey, little holds over to The Return of the King. Musically, the score also has elements that come full circle, such as the Rohan theme, which at the end, is fused into the Fellowship theme. Other themes are, however, further developed from Fellowship only to be built upon in The Return of the King, such as the Nature theme. Developing themes from Fellowship as a stepping stone to the epic The Return of the King, The Two Towers can also stand alone, although the Rohan story does continue in the third film. Shore's music is, as an understatement, outstanding, as is the London Philharmonic's performance.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - The Complete Recordings comes out in stores on November 7 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 Nick Haussling at Warner Brothers Records for their help with this article.