If there's one thing I love, it's getting soundtracks as Christmas presents. Sadly, this is the final piece we're to receive from Howard Shore when it comes to the world of Middle Earth (at least, so far as we know), and while so far much of The Hobbit music has been a bit lackluster, that doesn't mean I intended to shy away from all the extended goodies. I'm a greedy soundtrack junkie, as the name of this site clearly states, so I'm going to take all that I can get. This is the finale to The Hobbit trilogy and quite possibly to Howard Shore's work in Middle Earth, and while long ago I decided that I wouldn’t go into detail for CDs over 20 tracks, I can’t help but make an exception for this one. And not because it’s the last, but because it’s that enjoyable.
Disc 1 – approximately 49 minutes
1. "Fire and Water" - 5:57 I can’t not mention this one. It’s beautiful. In every respect. Smaug’s clanging theme continues on and grows more serious with every note, and then in a sudden switch, we have beautiful choral singing and all I can think of is Bard telling his son, “Look at me.” While this piece does take a bit to wind up, it grows more powerful in all the right places and is a brilliant start to this soundtrack.
2. "Shores of the Long Lake" - 4:01 Do you remember when Kili first met Tauriel? They’ve returned and it’s on the shores that their love theme tries to make a stronger connection. But it’s a busy time, and sad interruptions are to be expected.
3. "Beyond Sorrow and Grief" (extended version) - 4:11 Here we see the first hints of dragon-sickness in Thorin. While the dragon is no more and Thorin is king, his triumphant beginning slowly descends into Smaug’s theme, trickling over the stones with clinks and lurking around corners with dissonant strings.
4. "Guardians of the Three" (extended version) - 5:47 Anyone who walked through Lothlorien of Lord of the Rings will recall the elven chorus – or anyone who’s been to Rivendell. They emerge here before clashing with Sauron’s theme. Things get really serious in the last quarter, with higher-pitched choruses than we’re used to with a slow, wind-down and ominous ending.
5. "The Ruins of Dale" - 3:39 The theme of Lake Town is back, but it’s much sadder. You’ll hear a bit of Bard in there and then…somehow…a bit of hopeful Hobbit Shire flute before things descend back into drumming darkness, delving ever deeper.
6. "The Gathering of the Clouds" (extended version) - 5:52 Nothing much of note until an abrupt switch around the 1 minute mark with sparkles and a triumphant Lake Town theme return. But all is still not well. Things take a turn for the dramatic with banging drums and rising strings that just go and go…
7. "Mithril" - 3:08 An echo of past notes from LOTR when the mithril first appeared on the screen, coupled together with a tiny slice of Shire that can’t quite squeeze in. After all, too much dragon-sickness in the way… But we’re going to finish off with Lake Town and elves – so get ready for serious marching male choral action.
8. "Bred for War" - 3:19 Welcome to Gundabad. Your stay is going to be short and painful. A watchful elf chorus knows what’s beyond those walls – and they are of Sauron’s making. Huge brass and banging drums get really serious, really fast, so be ready.
9. "A Thief in the Night" - 4:14 Bilbo knows how to sneak about. How to meet with elves and parlay smartly. Once he’s into his own, he gets music just for him and his brave words while darker pieces and elvish chorus surround him. But as with many pieces so far, things don’t end on a happy note…
10. "The Clouds Burst" - 4:12 Thorin’s dragon-sickness is truly terrible, strings strain at their notes and rise higher and higher to the brink of madness. When it cuts out, we switch over to a somber Erebor theme with low, heavy drums – before suddenly switching to the marching arrival of Dain Ironfoot and his kin.
11. "Battle for the Mountain" - 4:38 The battle is indeed here, rolling, thrumming, and with squealing strings that bring forth Sauron as dark forces clash with the smoother, new theme of Ironfoot’s folk. Daring and with a hint of last-stand, you never know which way the battle might swing.
Disc 2 – approximately 59 minutes
1. "The Darkest Hour" - 5:31 Starting right up where the previous track left off, we’re in the thick of battle, so expect switches from darker themes to lighter ones. It slows near the middle as faith and hope begin to waver, and the chorus sings quietly and sadly. Indeed the darkest hour is upon everyone – men, dwarf, and elf alike.
2. "Sons of Durin" - 4:23 But Thorin and company burst forth in power and a powerful chorus reigns in the language of the dwarves and the battle takes on a brand new flavor of tenacious hope in the face of great odds. But to win, we must climb, and so we shall!
3. "The Fallen" - 4:56 Somber chorus begins here, the Erebor theme laid-low. It leads into elvish chorus before slowly marching back up…and turning into something dark and creeping….
4. "Ravenhill" - 5:47 The previous track rallies itself and switches over to this – which has become one of my favorites. Bold and powerful, this is fighting music that goes the distance and includes some of the sharpest clashes of dark themes and dwarvish chorus that we’ve heard thusfar – even some of the bad guy stuff is nastier than we’ve experienced in LOTR. Throw in some of Tauriel’s ever-evolving theme with some bittersweet sadness and it’s a fascinating piece.
5. "To the Death" (extended version) - 7:22 Now we’re in the final fight stages. And truly, that is all this track is, a final fight to death as named. Thorin and Azog. It swings back and forth from good to evil, it marches when necessary, parries and thrusts, and continues on until the finish. Add in some of the eagles’ theme from LOTR for a sudden dramatic shift…and just when you think things are over – they aren’t.
6. "Courage and Wisdom" - 5:09 The battles are over. While some strings sing in gladness, saying for those, “We are here,” for others they can only say, “We are lost.” Tauriel and Kili’s theme makes a brief appearance before breaking apart, just as the once proud theme for Erebor tries to stand, but weeps instead.
7. "The Return Journey" - 4:16 All things aside, it is time for Bilbo to go home. Erebor makes one final attempt, as do other themes, and this time they are repaired as best they can be. The Shire takes over as Bilbo says his farewells to all.
8. "There and Back Again" - 4:19 The Shire is still green and beautiful, and its theme never falters. Of course, Bilbo didn’t expect everyone to be taking his stuff. Hence that worrisome little bit in there...but the Shire comes back in no time.
9. "The Last Goodbye" (written and performed by Billy Boyd) - 4:05 When I heard this in the theaters, I was excited because I immediately knew who was singing it. Billy Boyd – Pippin – was lending his voice once again to a wonderful song. It wasn’t until later that I learned he wrote it as well. It also wasn’t until I had the soundtrack in my possession to listen to at my leisure that I absolutely broke down and cried while it was on.
This isn’t the first time Howard Shore’s music has made me cry. But, as fitting the lyrics, I suppose it may be the last. Or at least, the last coming from Middle Earth – and I’m sure that had something to do with it. But it’s just so lovely, proud and sad all at the same time, with lyrics that speak of endings and futures, and of course that final goodbye. So yes, I cried, and I have absolutely no doubts that I will possibly cry again until I have utterly worn that song out.
10. "Ironfoot" (extended version) - 6:11 This song is one of the joys of getting the fancy soundtrack and all its glory. This Scottish-flavored theme is fantastic from the get-go. It’s proud, boisterous, and really fun to listen to.
11. "Dragon-sickness" (bonus track) - 3:51 As if we didn’t have enough dragon-sickness earlier, here’s a bit more for you. It’s a little louder and more dramatic in places – also a bit less Smaug-like in terms of instrumentation.
12. "Thrain" (bonus track) - 3:24 This track I could do without. Taken from the extended scene in which Gandalf meets Thrain in Dol Guldur, it’s primarily dark Sauron music with a sprinkling of Smaug, and only a few pinpricks of lighter sounds.
From the very beginning of this CD things are different. Each song is distinctive due to the events taking place, which are so drastically different they essentially demand their own sound. Even the chunks featuring Smaug’s theme changed and grew to match with Thorin’s dragon-sickness, wavering in some parts, threatening in others. But the overall variety with everything coming together was truly enjoyable. This gives it plenty of replay value, much more so than the other Hobbit soundtracks, where I pick and choose the pieces I want to hear. This one, while I may jump around from time to time, I do intend to play in full for a while to come.
While the Lord of the Rings soundtracks all easily outshine The Hobbit soundtracks, Shore has done some superb work here. It’s almost as though he really got to let go in some places, such as the final fight between Thorin and Azog, or the unique shift in sound and instrumentation with “Ironfoot.” And while Shore has been composing for a very long time, I don’t think anything he’s done before gave him the ability to branch out in such scope. And he’s even done some of my favorites, such as The Game, or notable movies like Crash. But they’re quieter, more subdued, and rely upon their dramatic presentation rather than additional musical power the way movies such as Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit demand.
I sincerely hope that Shore continues his musical career and takes on more films such as this – if there are any. After all, these films are in a league of their own. Epic fantasy is few and far between; Hollywood tends to shy away from it (the fools). But until then, I suppose I have no choice but to say my last goodbye to the man that gave Middle Earth its musical voice.
I had a damn good time, sir. A damn good time, indeed.