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A Howard Shore score you’ve probably never heard of

Friday | October 27, 2006   open printable version open printable version

Kristin here–

For more than three years, I’ve been immersed in the many aspects of the Lord of the Rings film franchise. One of my favorite parts of the film is its musical track, by the deservedly twice-Oscared Howard Shore. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to the three soundtrack CDs while I work on The Frodo Franchise. Then there came the complete music from The Fellowship of the Ring, on 3 CDs. This morning I pre-ordered my copy of the complete Two Towers music, due out November 7.

Before this project, Shore was not really on my radar screen. I’m not a big David Cronenberg fan (though I like The Fly, The Dead Zone, and A History of Violence), and Shore has scored more films for his fellow Canadian than for any other director. Once I became enamored of the Rings score, I investigated a bit and realized that this was the same composer who had done the lyrically mournful music for The Silence of the Lambs. I had written a book chapter on that film in Storytelling in the New Hollywood, and I had always enjoyed the soundtrack without noticing who had written the music.

I started listening to some of Shore’s other movie scores. The man excels at portentous music, no doubt, as in Panic Room. Still, he is remarkably versatile and has a gift for weird orchestration. After the Rings tracks, my favorite is Ed Wood (which Danny Elfman was apparently initially supposed to score, as he usually does for Tim Burton films). The Ed Wood music, with its inspired and surrealist combination of theramin and bongos, may be the funniest part of the film. Shore created a mean pastiche of Renaissance music in Looking for Richard, and his music for The Aviator demonstrates yet again how fortunate we are that the late 19th Century/Early 20th Century symphonic tradition lives on in movie music.

I suppose ordering the Two Towers score reminded me of the latest Shore original-soundtrack CD I have acquired and very much enjoyed: Soul of the Ultimate Nation. No, you haven’t somehow overlooked a major new film. SUN, as it has come to be known, is a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), being developed by Korean game company Webzen. Unless you haunt the various gaming websites, you probably don’t know about Shore’s contribution to it.

Fortunately, though, the score has already been released, but only on Sony’s Korean label. For a picture of the cover, you can go to amazon.com, but you will learn that “THIS TITLE IS CURRENTLY NOT AVAILABLE.” To be further tantalized, read Jeff Bond’s review on GameDaily (originally published in The Hollywood Reporter).

Equally fortunately, there are companies that specialize in bringing Asian pop culture to its fans here in the USA. I was able simply to ask David to order me a copy of the CD from one of his regular suppliers, YesAsia, and a few days later the UPS truck dropped it on our doorstep.

Shore’s SUN score is a big, lush orchestral piece, using a theremin as well as organ and chorus. It’s in the tradition of the Rings track, though very different. I think Shore’s fans would find it very appealing, so it’s ironic that so few people are even aware of the existence of such a major composition.

Why is that? As with most MMORPGs, which are hugely complicated and time-consuming to set up compared to PC and console games. (Partly for that reason, there was no MMORPG licensed for the film of Rings, though there is currently one, Shadows of Angmar, in development based on Tolkien’s novel.) The progress of actually getting SUN online has been glacial, and no official release date has been announced. SUN apparently started its beta-testing phase this past spring, but only players in South Korea are participating. As happens with these big on-line games, there has been information on the Internet for a long time, with fans already anticipating SUN’s eventual arrival. Presumably when the full-fledged game becomes available to players worldwide, Shore’s soundtrack will be sold more widely.

I bring up this topic in the context of a film-related blog because there is getting to be more and more of an overlap between the film and game industries. Ten years ago the music for a game might be generated on a Casio electronic keyboard. Now top composers from the world of movies are increasingly moving back and forth. Bond’s article talks about this, and I deal with it in my chapter on the Rings videogames in The Frodo Franchise. It’s part of a general convergence between the two media, as games become more like films and, in some cases at least, films become more like games.

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David Bordwell
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