*Note: I purchased and will be reviewing the Special Edition of Howard Shore’s score to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which features several extended and additional tracks. It is worth the extra money!
I’m a relatively new fan to Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth, but I’m familiar enough to know how fantastic Howard Shore’s scores to the original films are. As a result, I was quite excited to hear his score for the first of the three films based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit, called An Unexpected Journey, and I was right to be: Shore’s music holds just as much fantasy and adventure as it did all those years ago.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens with some familiar themes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The most prominent of these is the theme for the Shire/Bag End, heard in “My Dear Frodo,” “Old Friends,” and in a couple of other tracks throughout. Another is the theme that I associate with the One Ring, which doesn’t make an appearance until “Riddles in the Dark.” The genius of these familiar themes is that they are not exactly the same as they were in the original film trilogy; each theme is a slight variation from the way it was originally heard in The Lord of the Rings. In fact, the theme for the One Ring is teased throughout the first half of the score, all the way up to the moment it is finally revealed in “Riddles in the Dark.”
Aside from what is familiar, Shore has composed quite a bit of new material, which is altogether lighter in nature than that of The Lord of the Rings; after all, this is a younger Middle-Earth, a Middle-Earth that exists several years before the return of Sauron. Tracks such as “An Unexpected Party” and “The World Is Ahead” display this lightness, but that does not mean that darkness is not present in this score. Tracks such as “An Ancient Enemy” and “Warg-scouts,” among others, reflect this darkness and the building threat of the mission at hand.
Shore’s greatest strength is his use of choirs to convey emotion and to build upon the music in a way that instruments cannot do alone. Even in his use of choirs we hear variety, from the use of a heavy, deep men’s choir in tracks like “An Ancient Enemy,” a boys’ choir such as in “The Hidden Valley,” or a full chorus such as in “Out of the Frying Pan.” Also, his incorporation of Tolkien’s original text for songs (which he also did in The Lord of the Rings film series) is wonderful, heard in the Special Edition bonus track “Blunt the Knives” and in the main theme for the film, “Misty Mountains.” Speaking of this theme, “Misty Mountains” is heard at several points throughout the score and conveys the same sense of purpose and adventure as the his themes for the Fellowship or for Théoden King. One of my favorite moments in the score is in the track “Over Hill,” where he juxtaposes the “Misty Mountains” theme with the theme for the Shire.
I could go on and on forever talking about this score and how fantastic it is, but I’ll leave that to you to discover. Howard Shore may not have quite the track record of John Williams or Hans Zimmer, but his work on The Lord of the Rings and now on The Hobbit is unparalleled – a masterpiece in every sense of the word. While the scope of The Hobbit is not as great as the story that follows it, the score is worthy of occupying the same world, living up to every expectation Shore set for himself. Also, as I mentioned before, the Special Edition is worth the extra money, so go for it!
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
1. “My Dear Frodo” 8:03
2. “Old Friends” (Extended Version) 5:00
3. “An Unexpected Party” 4:08
4. “Blunt the Knives” (performed by The Dwarf Cast, Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:01
5. “Axe or Sword?” 5:59
6. “Misty Mountains” (performed by Richard Armitage and The Dwarf Cast) 1:42
7. “The Adventure Begins” 2:04
8. “The World is Ahead” 2:19
9. “An Ancient Enemy” 4:56
10. “Radagast the Brown” (Extended Version) 6:37
11. “The Trollshaws” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 2:08
12. “Roast Mutton” (Extended Version) 4:56
13. “A Troll-hoard” 3:38
14. “The Hill of Sorcery” 3:50
15. “Warg-scouts” 3:02
1. “The Hidden Valley” 2:49
2. “Moon Runes” (Extended Version) 3:39
3. “The Defiler” 1:14
4. “The White Council” (Extended Version) 9:40
5. “Over Hill” 3:42
6. “A Thunder Battle” 3:54
7. “Under Hill” 1:54
8. “Riddles in the Dark” 5:21
9. “Brass Buttons” 7:37
10. “Out of the Frying-Pan” 5:55
11. “A Good Omen” 5:45
12. “Song of the Lonely Mountain” (performed by Neil Finn, Extended Version) 6:00
13. “Dreaming of Bag End” 1:56
14. “A Very Respectable Hobbit” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:20
15. “Erebor” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 1:19
16. “The Dwarf Lords” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 2:01
17. “The Edge of the Wild” (Exclusive Bonus Track) 3:34
Total Length: app. 128 min.
P.S. – Read my review of the film here!