The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
The second instalment to The Hobbit trilogy has received many compliments, not only referring to the film itself but the score which shapes it. The score was composed by Howard Shore, the world famous composer, in addition to his previous Lord of the Rings pieces which won him Academy Awards for “best original score.” He is also recognised for his contribution to the Silence of the Lambs and the third Twilight film.
The Desolation of Smaug score comprises of 28 tracks over 128 minutes and the flow wonderfully into each other, particularly when compared to the previous Hobbit instalment which can seem a bit disjointed. The soundtrack is divided across two CD’s, the second half being much more melancholic as Smaug enters the scene. The interesting thing to remember about this score is it acts as a bridge from the first film to the last and therefore has a very different tone to the first. The composition is much darker and creepier as new themes are introduced, old themes are built upon and new themes are foreshadowed.
Something Shore has become loved for is his use of themes in the construction of his score. The first Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, was complimented for its use of leitmotifs which were so strong that cues of music could be instantly assigned to a character or place (such as Shire theme, for example.) Desolation of Smaug incorporates this thematic composition and introduces new themes to accompany the darker storyline. It is not just the notes which form a leitmotif in score, but the instruments used to play them. In this film, the Shire theme crops up from time to time with its Irish inspired folk instruments including fiddles, whistles and harps. Although the presence of this theme is much less in the Desolation of Smaug than in the first instalment, its strength reinstates the comforting and jolly atmosphere associated with the Shire. On the other hand, brass instruments and strings are used for the more impending themes, however Shore has used a variety to create a contextually rich score.
A new theme introduced by Shore in this score, is Smaug, the dragon from the film in which they are trying to overcome. The theme for Smaug is six notes long but inflicts such a morbid and daunting sense upon the listener, seeing the film isn’t necessary to know this character is dangerous. It consists of swaying notes being repeated but gaining length with each stroke. Smaug’s theme follows a similar template to Sauron’s theme and can be heard across a few tracks in the second half of the film. Shore interweaves fragments of Sauron’s theme to imply his presence yet he is not revealed until A Spell of Concealment where his theme is played with trombones and violins shrieking over each other with trumpets dominating the melody. Sauron’s theme is also present alongside Smaug’s which cleverly suggests Sauron’s influence over the dragon.
Another theme which really stands out if that of Tauriel, a heroic she-elf. Her theme adopts flutes and oboes alongside a heavenly voice which is reminiscent of Arwen from the Lord of the Rings series. She also has a heroic battle theme when paired up with Legolas which can be heard in Flies and Spiders and the Forest River.
There has been some criticism over the removal of the Misty Mountains theme which dominated the first Hobbit soundtrack. Granted the physical location has changed however this theme was more about representing the dwarves than anything. Another aspect of the soundtrack which has received scepticism is the song developed for the ending credits. Following tradition of using a pop singer to accompany the credits, Desolation of Smaug employs Ed Sheeran with the song “I see fire.” Some are not so keen on the choice however Sheeran’s gentle voice and soft guitar playing end the film on a beautifully and surprisingly epic tone. He repeats Thorin’s words as the chorus which echo a sense of unity amongst the characters.
Overall, the score for Desolation of Smaug is much darker but also more complex and textually rich than An Unexpected Journey. Fans of the joyous Shire music and harmonic elven themes may be disappointed as they are replaced by those of impending doom however Shore has done a magnificent job of weaving these together to not only accompany the film but help shape it. Shore’s use of interlinking leitmotifs has given this score its magic and to be able to follow the tension of a film through the music alone is impressive.