by Edmund Meinerts
by Edmund Meinerts
After getting off to a somewhat uneven start with AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, Peter Jackson’s tripartite adaptation/expansion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT seems to have found slightly more secure footing in THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Although some of the issues that plagued the first entry continue – there really never was enough material in the source novel to justify three lengthy films, and the subsequent Jackson-inserted subplots, extra characters and protracted action sequences are hit-and-miss – at least the jarring tonal shifts between the brooding foreboding material and the more cartoonish episodes in the first entry have been smoothed out.
Also present, of course, is the score by Middle-earth court composer HOWARD SHORE. His music for AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, despite still being among the very best of its year, was treated poorly in the film. Plenty of fantastic new material made it onto the albums, but much of it was replaced in film by tracked-in or re-orchestrated music from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, occasionally to the point of apparently glaring thematic incongruence – particularly aggravating in a series that has been otherwise meticulous in its leitmotivic attribution. It is a relief to report, therefore, that these issues don’t seem to be present in THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG; although some of what is heard on album has been dialed out in film – quite disconcertingly during the Forest River action scene – at least there is no tracked-in material, and certainly no thematic headscratchers. And neither is there any significant divergence between the standard and special editions this time (i.e. no “Roast Mutton” fiasco or the like, thankfully).
That aside, however, this is probably the weakest score in the series so far. Considering what a high bar that is, perhaps there need be no shame in that – and make no mistake about it, this is still a HOWARD SHORE Middle-earth score through and through, with all of the richness and depth of thematic attribution that entails, and it still stands head and shoulders above most of the competition of its year, just as its predecessors all do. Indeed, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG introduces us to over half a dozen new themes and motifs, as well as reprising and developing many other existing ones. But what this entry lacks is a core, a central theme that seems to hold the work together and make it unique, as well as fitting within the larger context of the series. The three LORD OF THE RINGS scores each had one: the Fellowship theme for FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, the Rohan theme for THE TWO TOWERS and the Gondor theme for RETURN OF THE KING.