Friday, 10 January 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Score Review

Title: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Composer/s: Howard Shore

Length: 2 hours, 9 minutes

Track Count: 29 tracks (Extended Edition) 

Year of Release: 2013


Why friends, it's finally that time! Howard Shore's score to the very anticipated film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a film I adored, has been released! Actually, it was released a couple of weeks ago; it's just that Blogger hates me, and decided that I wasn't aloud to release any reviews for a while. Well, now I can, so I bring to you the review to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Extended Edition score.

I'm going to begin with explaining my love for the rest of the Middle Earth scores. I recently decided to have a listen to Fellowship of the Ring, the extended edition of Return of the King, and An Unexpected Journey. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a decent version of The Two Towers on Spotify, so I decided to leave that out for now. What I found, is that all the scores are full of incredibly wonderful, elaborate music. My favourite score out of that 3 has to be Fellowship of the Ring, as it introduces us to the world of Middle Earth in spectacular fashion. An Unexpected Journey is, though, second to Fellowship, with it's large array of themes, and new and exciting music! I loved it, and it's one of my favourite scores from 2012. Now... Desolation of Smaug. I ordered the extended edition from Intrada, and am I disappointed in what Shore has given us? Partially, I must say. Desolation isn't as full of variety or excitement as An Unexpected Journey, and repeat listens are almost necessary to be able to fully take in what Shore has given. It's not all bad, though, so I'll get into what I liked and what I didn't.

I'm going to begin with the pieces and themes that I did really adore. The Lake-Town theme, which appears in both Protector of the Common Folk and Thrice Welcome, is one of my favourite themes from all of the music of Middle Earth. It's powerful, fun and ultimately, very simple. I can play it on my keyboard, for damn's sakes! It's an easy theme to whistle, and it'll stick in your head for days. The secondary theme for Tauriel, a very beautiful Elvish themed piece, has fortunately grown on me, since my first listen. This theme appears within Beyond The Forest, most prominently, which is one of my favourite pieces from the score. It's emotional, well composed and a joy to listen to. The theme to Beorn as well, which appears in the self-titled House of Beorn is also very good. For the most part, the music is still quite as exciting and dramatic as it always has been. Unfortunately though, a lot of this score seems, to me at least, to be filler.

The Quest For Erebor is the first piece on the score, and it's a bit of a letdown. It throws us into the thick of it a little too quickly, and whilst composed well, isn't that good a listen. Of course, it has the obligatory Hobbit theme, which I quite enjoy, but apart from that, it's quite dull. A lot of the score is like this. It feels, on the first few listens at least, like Shore is just trying to pound us over the head with depressing, dark music. I mean, seriously! We get it, Desolation of Smaug is full of more peril and danger than the previous film! He takes this to the extreme, and it can get quite irritating. Sure, we get some excitement in pieces such as Barrels out of Bond, one of my favourite pieces on the card. It still has that dark undertone to it, but at least it's got a bit of pace and some peaks. A lot of the score just stays slow and deep, and it gets a little boring after a while. 

Like I mentioned, we do have some excitement, here and there. When it does pop up, it's very good to listen to! Barrels out of Bond and The Forest River both have some wonderful music which really gets your heart pumping. Tauriel's main theme appears heavily in The Forest River, and it's wonderful! It never seems to stop, and in a score which has so many points at which it slows down and ceases to amaze, that's something. Most of the fast paced pieces occur within the beginning of the score, which makes sense, I guess. The film does slow down quite dramatically within the final hour, thanks to the Smaug conversations. Within the film, Smaug is certainly something to behold, but here, he's quite dull. His music is slow and repetitive, compared to so much of this score. Sure, it's grown on me every listen; but that's after 6 repeat listens. That's a little too many to find some good in the piece! 

The Desolation of Smaug certainly gets better after repeat listens, for sure. My first listen was incredibly dull, and I just couldn't find much good. The second and third listens were a lot of the same. It was my fourth listen, in which I paid a lot more attention, that I found some really good music lying within. Of course, I was still subjected to some painfully slow and uninteresting music which I just couldn't find any reason to like. But, luckily, this time, I had some good to pay attention to as well. It was a welcome contrast; all this really well composed, good music, and all this slow, boring brass blasting. It's better than all brass blasting, to be honest.

We do have pieces which I have mixed feelings about. The Nature of Evil is one of those. There are points in which the piece really picks up, and sounds quite evil. But, for the most part, the piece is just loud, constant brass which failed to impress me. Again, this occurs in The Hunters, a 9 minute piece. There are points at which Shore has excelled in making an exciting, dark action piece that enthralls me. There are points at which I got incredibly bored whilst listening. This is so common within this score, and it's quite irritating! 

Brass is certainly not a bad thing, if you use it in moderation, and well. Thrice Welcome, my favourite piece, has one of the best sets of music I've heard all year. When the brass section pick up and start going hard at the theme for Lake-Town, I'm in pure bliss! The whole piece is such a wonderful showcase on how to work a brass section, yet so much of the score has me pissed off at the trumpets and horns. What the hell happened?! Shore was concentrating half the time, and the rest, he was throwing sloppy music on the sheets? It's strange, certainly. 

Within this score, we also get some Ed Sheeran! I'm not a fan of the guy, but his voice certainly matches the overall dark and brooding feel of the rest of the score, so I think Peter Jackson, the director of the film and executive producer of the score, made a great decision bringing him in to work on the end credits song. His song, I See Fire, is on a lot of my playlists at this point in time, and I just can't stop listening to it. It really matches the Dwarves tone, which is quite the contrast from the Hobbits. It's a much more simple kind of sound. Ed Sheeran perfectly emulates this, and it works for the kind of song he envisioned and delivered. 

This score, in extended edition, has 29 tracks and lasts for a little over 2 hours. I understand, for that running time, that Shore would've certainly had a lot of problems. I can't write music that lasts over a minute or two, for crying out loud! Howard Shore, though, is a professional composer who has written music for a very long time, and coming from him, I don't think this stands up to what he did a year ago with An Unexpected Journey. It's disappointing, after all the anticipation I've gone through!

Conclusion:
Howard Shore has created a dark and brooding score, that both pleases and angers me. There is some really awesome music lying within the covers of this score, that begs for repeat listens. My favourite cue from the score, Thrice Welcome, happens to have one of the sets of the year, for me. Yet, at the same time, constant brass hammering infuriated me to the point of which I actually hated listening to various parts of this score. A Liar And A Thief is a chief example of this. All in all, The Desolation of Smaug isn't necessarily a huge failure, and most fans of Howard Shore's scores for Middle Earth will adore this. Buy the extended edition and listen to this on surround sound like I did; I promise you, it improves the score vastly!

Highlights:
2. Wilderland
4. The House of Beorn
6. Flies and Spiders
7. The Woodland Realm
8. Feast of Starlight*
9. Barrels out of Bond*
10. The Forest River
11. Bard, A Man of Lake-Town
12. The High Fells
14. Protector of the Common Folk*
15. Thrice Welcome*
16. Girion, Lord of Dale
17. Durin's Folk
18. In The Shadow of The Mountain
23. Kingsfoil
27. My Armour Is Iron
29. Beyond The Forest*

Junkie Score (Extended Edition): 76
Buy or Stream? Buy

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Note 1: Before I go, I'd just like to point out how my scoring works as of now. I've recently changed the scoring system multiple times, and without any explanation. Junkie Score is more of a personal preference as of now, and not necessarily very mathematically correct. I didn't calculate any average, it's just how I saw the score overall. Highlights has returned, and it's for pieces with a score higher than 95. An asterisk implies that the piece is especially liked, and that it has a perfect 100. I hope this cleared up any queries.