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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Reviewed by Shane Ivey, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Howard Shore and Enya
Released:   November 2001
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

Here's the essence: Fans who have been following every hint and scrap of rumor about The Lord of the Rings are slighting themselves shamefully if they haven't bought the soundtrack. Not for the multimedia bonus, though that's nice, a secret section of the official website which is only accessible through the CD. The "bonus" is not too noteworthy; the soundtrack might not have sold as well without it, but it doesn't add much beyond a few images that can be easier seen on other websites or in the companion books. The real value here is the score itself. Composer Howard Shore (The Score, The Cell, Dogma, eXistenZ, The Silence of the Lambs, The Game, etc.) has incorporated compositions by Enya and by the filmmakers themselves - with lyrics written in several of Tolkien's invented languages - into themes describing the sweep, grandeur, terror, and beauty of Tolkien's epic with breathtaking accuracy.

Prophecy and Flight

The score opens dramatically with "The Prophecy", a chorus in Elvish against somber, crashing horns and percussion. This slowly gives way to the beginnings of a lower-key tune, what will become the central theme of the Fellowship soundtrack, bracing, uplifting, and beautiful.

"The Prophecy" fades into "Concerning Hobbits," a whistle-and-fiddle tune punctuated by cute fillips and unexpectedly grand swells, perfectly capturing Tolkien's own sense of the Hobbits, for all their cuteness possessing a core of startling strength and depth.

"The Shadow of the Past" begins as a background piece, moving gently until it crashes almost shockingly into what can only be Sauron's Theme, grand and terrible and breathtaking. It seems to last only a moment: the Dark Lord's time on screen must be brief but powerful.

The next track, "The Treason of Isengard", opens with low, haunting choral echoes and a theme that begins grand and sad before turning darkly powerful, with blasting horns and crashing cymbals, capped with an immense chorus. The lyrics were not included with the CD, which is a shame - they sounded Elvish, and I was left curious about what they had to say.

"The Black Rider" opens with a return to the lighter moments of "Concerning Hobbits," which fades to a low, throbbing, ominous pulse of percussion and bass - the Theme of the Nazgul - highlighted with a grim, swelling chorus that nearly screams with menace. I understand that this chorus sang in the Black Speech of Mordor.

"At the Sign of the Prancing Pony" begins with echoes of "Concerning Hobbits," but darker, less carefree, and it promptly returns to the throbbing chorals of "The Black Rider". "A Knife in the Dark" continues this theme, as does "Flight to the Ford"; the four tracks from "The Black Rider" to "Flight to the Ford" play as one long piece chronicling the hobbits' desperate pursuit by the Black Riders. The theme of the Nazgul is broken only in brief moments of respite and concludes with an unexpected flourish of golden horns - the river called by Elrond to the Hobbits' aid - and a soft choral finish.

The Fellowship

"Many Meetings" is almost stereotypically what you would expect of the first view of the Elvish haven of Rivendell, and angelic chorus giving way to a soft, comforting tune reminiscent of "Concerning Hobbits", similarly earthy but more serious, a little grander, and slightly sadder.

"The Council of Elrond" introduces the first Enya track of the disc, the slow, haunting "Aniron (Theme for Arwen and Aragorn)". A brief interlude, "Aniron" is sung with aching, almost unapproachable beauty in the Elvish language of Quenya. The tune is short, and I've never been an Enya fan, so I was surprised to find that "Aniron" was my favorite moment of the soundtrack, second to none. We all stand to be amazed if actress Liv Tyler captures the essence of Arwen, the saddest and most beautiful of the Elves, willing to trade immortality for love, as thoroughly as Enya's vocals here. The track concludes with a grand, brassy return to the main theme, which builds magnificently in the next track, "The Ring Goes South."

"A Journey in the Dark" introduces the themes of the Fellowship's passage through the Mines of Moria, slow, sweeping moments of discovery punctuated by low menacing chorals and a sudden rush of action, shivering strings and pounding horns. It leads into "The Bridge of Khazad Dum", when a return to the central heroic theme of Fellowship gives way inexorably to the growing menace of a guttural male chorus (perhaps also sung in the Black Speech or maybe Dwarvish, but I'm not certain). As the track closes the shuddering chorus fades into a somber soloist, opening the way for the ethereal choral majesty of "Lothlorien". Its "Lament for Gandalf", silvery and nearly unreal, is sung in the Elvish languages of Quenya and Sindarin by Elizabeth Fraser (of the Cocteau Twins).

"The Great River" combines the haunting chorus of "Lothlorien" with the central Fellowship theme and sobering hints of the menace of "Shadow of the Past". "Amon Hen" captures the terrible climax of the film, as the Fellowship is caught by their pursuers and... well, most of you know what happens then. "Amon Hen" opens with pulsing action and ends in grief. "The Breaking of the Fellowship" reprises the central Fellowship theme, more somber, grimmer but still forward-looking, sad and introspective but steeled by hope. The final vocal tracks are "In Dreams," which is a closing-credits theme if I ever heard one, included in "The Breaking of the Fellowship" and sung by Edward Ross; and "May It Be," the disc's only prepackaged Enya single.

Themes, Motifs, and Unending Comparisons

The liner notes include fairly standard introductions by director Peter Jackson and composer Howard Shore, mutually congratulatory; more interesting are the lyrics to a few of the songs, with the Elvish as sung and English translations. Several songs were left out, which is a shame; we can hope the lyrics to the the themes of the Black Riders or Saruman or Moria will eventually be reprinted on the website. Also left out was any mention of the many songs written by Tolkien himself in The Fellowship of the Ring. I was curious why none of the originals were excerpted, but they weren't even mentioned.

Shore's compositions are not the operatic stylings of today's uber-composer, John Williams, to whom it will certainly be compared. (Many expect The Lord of the Rings to surpass the new Star Wars films in popularity; comparisons of every sort are inevitable.) The score returns now and then to certain key motifs, such as the homey comforts of the Shire, the menace of the Nazgul, and the brief flourish of the central theme, but no distinct themes stand out with the unforgettable clarity of, say, the Jaws theme or "The Imperial March" of The Empire Strikes Back. Shore's achievement is in the whole, capturing the emotional heart of the overall story, with moments of beauty and heartbreak and terror, its recurring themes of heroism and sacrifice, its joy and adventure, its unflinching sadness. Fans of The Lord of the Rings could not hope for a better or truer soundtrack.

Shane Ivey is managing editor of RevolutionSF.

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