The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Soundtrack

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Image

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.

Advertisements

Elysium Soundtrack

Elysium

Image

The curious thing about the soundtrack to Elysium is that it is a debut by Ryan Amon as a film composer. His works consist of trailers and adverts and it is interesting to see how this could affect his film scoring. The soundtrack comprises of 29 tracks over 72 minutes and is a mixed bag of music with tracks being fresh and innovative, others being generic electronics, some being action packed and others seemingly superfluous. It consists of modern and sometimes innovative musical techniques to suit the futuristic setting yet it also contains mind-numbing or overly aggressive sounds which seem to lack a theme to tie them together, which perhaps reflects Amon’s experience in composing excerpts rather than full soundtracks.

The soundtrack opens with Heaven and Earth which introduces the modernity with a strong resemblance to Hans Zimmer by using electronic sounds backed by percussion. This track, although not particularly revolutionary, does set up the final two tracks nicely. The sounds are very similar to the generic electronic music of films like Pacific Rim and Man of Steel and therefore lack originality and personality.

The score alternates between ambient melodies in tracks such as Darkness to aggressively electronic songs. This is necessary though as the action tracks can be quite overpowering and require the slower songs to restore the balance. The slower songs in comparison however can become quite monotonous and almost boring and seem to be included just to give the ears a rest. The Raven, a track towards the end of the score, is a simple, throbbing percussion which does not alternate in tempo or timbre and seems to add no value or meaning to the score. A Political Sickness simply overuses the electronic horn so characteristic to Pacific Rim and Transformers while adopting a fast drum beat to amplify tension. These tracks seem simple and appear to lack any real depth or thought.

Some of the more interesting pieces use techniques to add a bit of texture to the electronic synths however this does not necessarily make them pleasant pieces to listen to. You said you’d do Anything is a track which introduces an electronic throat singing paired with a repetitive three beat drumming. The singing and percussion gives the piece quite an eerie feel while the electronic spin casts the image of a modern civilisation. Breaking a Promise is a track which really stands out, using wordless vocals and slow strings to portray a sense of loss and impending sadness. The voice almost freezes time which builds tension effectively. Elysium follows this track and is a harmonious mix between orchestral and vocals which increase in intensity, concluding the composition with a beautiful yet melancholic atmosphere. For this reason, this track would have served better as the final song however Amon then added New heaven, New earth which re-invites some dramatic stabbing of synths which perhaps rises the action again instead of ending it like a final track should.

On the whole, the Elysium composition does now flow as a stand-alone score and does not make a pleasant listen without the visuals to accompany it. It comprises of such mixed quality that it makes it difficult to judge. The soundtrack contains overpowering, aggressive tracks which are supposed to heighten the action yet they do not develop, making them fade into the background as annoying throbs. Despite being an action film, the slower songs are the strongest. It is evident that Amon has attempted to introduce some techniques to vary the electronics however they are not strong enough to make up for the lack of quality and abundance of simplicity. One major flaw with this soundtrack is the inconsistency – the balance is on both ends of the scale and with no themes, the pieces appear disjointed which perhaps indicates Amon’s experience to crafting short trailers as opposed to lengthy soundtracks. Many of the tracks could be cut out as they add no meaning and make the composition seem all over the place, without thought or revision. The use of electronic synths lacks the personality and originality that perhaps a debut composer needs. The bits that are good are very good however there are not enough of these highlights to make Elysium a successful composition.