Let me preface this review by letting you know my bias: I have been a hardcore film score fan since before my third birthday, and until about six hours ago I was utterly convinced that nobody in the would would ever compose a finer epic, operatic, Wagnerian score than the Maestro himself, Mr. John Williams. I doubt anyone will ever tear from my mind the idea that for the original "Star Wars" trilogy (the two new movies help, although they don't really count), Williams composed the perfect epic film score. But Howard Shore has made me concede that perhaps there can be two such perfect sets in the world.
It is nearly impossible to judge the score for "The Two Towers" without bringing in that which has come before. We of course all know by now that the "Lord of the Rings" is to be one epic story realized in three films by Peter Jackson, et al. And we know that "The Two Towers" is the second part of the trilogy, the middle child of Middle-Earth. We've been told again and again that it's a darker, more action-oriented part of the story.
Even without seeing the film, that much is made obvious by the music -- only perhaps for 8 or 10 measures on the whole CD does one hear such cheerful tunes as we learned to recognize as Shire music from the "Fellowship" score. The "Two Towers" soundtrack reflects the dark, fearful mode into which we and our heroes are thrust.
By hearing the characters thrust into their separate storylines and events, we can realize how truly brilliant Shore's use of leitmotif -- specific themes to represent specific characters or ideas -- has been, both in the "Fellowship" score and "The Two Towers.' Repeated themes come up for Merry and Pippin, for "Samwise the Brave," and, most notably, for Elves of various sorts (those from Rivendell and from Lorien). The changes in mood from the previous film, however, are astounding, and may well leave those who do not already know the entire story scratching their heads in wonder and confusion.
New Line Cinemas have been using Emiliana Torrini's performance of "Gollum's Song" to market this CD the same way they used Enya's "May it Be" to tease and market the "Fellowship" CD. The two songs, however, are entirely unalike. While Enya's happy-sappy-there-goes-poor-Mister-Frodo song accomplished what it needed to (i.e., letting us recover from the film during the credits), Torrini's performance is for something else altogether. When first listening to "Gollum's Song" streaming on live audio from the official soundtrack website (www.lordoftherings-soundtrack.com), I admit to being slightly disappointed -- but that quickly changed. My thought process at the time: "Okay, well, musically I suppose it's... yeah, I'm dissapointed, she sounds kind of OH MY GOD IT'S GOLLUM RAW SCARY TORTURED GOLLUM SOUL AAAAAAH!" By the three-minute mark, I was hooked.
The "Fellowship" CD has those musical moments that I would put on repeat to play over and over and over, ingraining them in my brain. The musical moment I could not live without is a 10-second horn solo, during which point itn the movie the camera goes from Manly-Solitary-Tear Aragorn to Hobbitly-Solitary-Tear Frodo. I haven't yet found the moment on the TTT soundtrack that will grab me such, and I'm not sure that I will.
That's the only downside to this score. The music -- old material in new situations as well as entirely new themes for Treebeard, the Rohirrim, and others -- is perfect as a film score. But sometimes a perfect film score is not perfect for independent listening. I have found a thousand things to love about this soundtrack, but something about it doesn't grab me quite as well as its predecessor did. Perhaps it's that the material, by its nature being more action-driven and less character-based, gives you less to think about thematically, making it somewhat less "listening" music than "background" music.
Nonetheless, I am certain that Howard Shore is 2/3 of the way to the operatic fantasy epic he wants, and I am certainly rooting for him for next year.