The first thing I thought after having heard this soundtrack, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Special Edition, in its entirety is that this is definitely the middle of the story. Like many second parts in a trilogy, it is darker, more serious in tone and feeling. Unlike the soundtrack of The Two Towers it has less noticeable themes that listeners can latch on to. Much of it sounds very similar from track to to track. I believe it takes a second listen to discern differences in themes. On my second listen I found the thematic differences were more subtle than in the previous film soundtrack, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
You can hear light echoes once again of themes in the Lord of the Rings such as in the track called A Necromancer. One can hear beginning themes of Isengard and also Sauron/Mordor. The Mirkwood theme was most surprising of all to me. It was a creepy, fairy-tale sort of darkness; enough to make you feel jumpy while listening to it. It is also one of the few recognizable themes that is distinct to this soundtrack and film. Not a different take on a familiar theme from the LOTR films. It starts off slightly amiss and becomes increasingly sinister sounding and then, like the track named My Armor Is Iron, abruptly ends.
Flies and Spiders begins calmly enough with a soft ethereal chorus, a beautiful start, and becomes darker as you can guess the dwarves and Bilbo are attacked by the spiders. This track has a motif references a much later track that is one of my favorites, called Beyond the Forest. This is also that pivotal time in the books and the film where Bilbo uses Sting (names it in the book) to great effect on the spiders. Interestingly, we get to hear a plaintive, subdued version of The History of the Ring theme, also heard in Gollum’s theme.
The most disappointing theme for me is The Woodland Realm. I expected to hear something more distinct and beautiful as this is where we meet the woodland realm elves and the hall of Thranduil. It is an intriguing one but not as heavenly as Rivendell or mysterious as Lothlorien until we get to the end of the track. Then it becomes mysterious as a subdued version of the Feast Of Starlight is heard.
The track Feast Of Starlight is a gentle, wonderful sounding track and one of my favorites on the album. Though it is distinctly unique to this soundtrack it is slightly reminiscent of the Breaking of the Fellowship theme.
The High Fells reminds me very much of a few motifs in The Return of the King (Twilight and Shadow? Minas Morgul? I don’t remember which, exactly) This can make for fun listening but new themes is what music fans usually want to hear. We do get a new one in Protector of the Common Folk and also I would like to point out that as we get further along in the listening experience, especially on the second disc we do hear brand new themes. Some of them magnificent, more subtle and more alien sounding which is befitting, considering the fact that there is a dragon in this film. We also get a bit of the hobbit theme in The Courage Of Hobbits which is a respite from the nearly unrelenting darkness in this soundtrack. Then we get to hear Smaug’s theme – very different from anything I’ve head so far and it is one of my favorites as well. Doug Adams describes it best:
“. . .Shore’s music for Smaug begins over a low heaving series of chords in low brass and divisi strings that alternate between major and minor settings of the same tonality. Above this, two intersecting lines twist and writhe in serpentine motion, creating. . .an enigmatic puzzle: the two lines’ opening are mirror images of each other. They are the same played back-to-front, front-to-back, or inverted. But therein lies the paradox, for although the lines are so thoroughly similar, they move at contrary rates. . .perhaps the indomitability of Smaug is itself a contradiction.”
Beyond the Forest is my favorite track, it is the most gorgeous sounding one and it is also the last track on the album. It combines both ethereal elven sound with a plaintive, haunting tone. I thin it is fitting for the elven realm of the Greenwood – and for Tauriel. Girion Lord of Dale presents itself in somber regalness and is also a new theme.
As for the physical album – this is a two disc album like the last one. The case itself is a surprising and beautiful shade of purple. Inside on each end we have maps of Eriador and Rhovanion. Also there are very nice photos of some of the characters in the film. But the most important part besides the actual discs is the generous written commentary on the music and themes of this soundtrack by Doug Adams. As Adams says in the commentary, this score, while not introducing as many varied themes as the last one pushes deeper into darker territory and suggests that there are new dangers – which is true because of the dragon and the Necromancer’s stirrings. It is also technically a more musically complex soundtrack. Its strength is not in easily recognizable themes but in its complexity and juxtapositions.
While not as wide ranging in thematic material it is a more subtle listen. At first these tracks may seem to run together and all sound similar but they don’t. It is a more subtle and definitely a more somber, darker listening experience and there are some truly outstanding tracks as well. A very good offering from Howard Shore, once again. I certainly enjoyed it! Four stars!
victorialadybug (V. A. Jeffrey) is a fantasy and science fiction author. She also loves music, art, history, cooking, baking, fermenting stuff, comic book movies and nearly anything Tolkien related. Her biggest writing inspirations are Shakespeare, Frank Herbert and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien. You can find her at: mymiddleearth.com.