SOUNDTRACK REVIEW by Andrew Klay: King Kong (2005)

Soundtrack Review #2: King Kong (2005)
Director: Peter Jackson
Composer: James Newton Howard

The score for King Kong is an interesting story, since it is not the first. Peter Jackson previously had maintained a professional partnership with composer Howard Shore, with whom he had produced the three Lord of the Rings films. Shore was initially hired for King Kong, and most of the score was actually recorded. At some point Jackson realized that Shore’s vision for the film did not match his own, and after much deliberation, decided to sever their creative partnership and seek out a new composer.

It was then that James Newton Howard was brought in, with only 5 weeks until the film’s release date. Howard would have less than a quarter of the time granted most composers to score the film. And with three-hour epics like Jackson’s, this made the task all the more daunting.

But James Newton Howard succeeded. He worked tirelessly to bring King Kong to life, often upwards of 20 hours a day in his Los Angeles studio, while the Jackson team finished up post production in Wellington, New Zealand. Howard and Jackson communicated via video conference, and the two never even met until the premiere.

From what little information we have, gleamed from web diary documentaries produced by Jackson leading up to the premiere, we know that Howard Shore’s original score contained a wider variety of unique indigenous instruments to give the film an exotic flavor. It was even recorded in a state-of-the-art facility, an oddly-shaped symphony hall in New Zealand. No one knows if those recordings will ever be made available for purchase—they would certainly make great collector’s items.

In the final soundtrack we identify a number of elements and motifs. The main theme, played by cellos and low brass at the very beginning of the film, takes several other forms as the film progresses. It is brought back at any mention or implication of the journey to Skull Island. Next we have music involving the female lead, Anne Darrow, played by Naomi Watts. Her theme music is gentle and tender, utilizing piano and strings. When we see the beast, we are bombarded by full brass, an homage to the original 1933 version.

What Jackson brought to the story was an intimate connection between Anne and the beast, not a love story per se, but an attachment, showing us that King Kong is neither as vicious nor as blood thirsty as he is believed to be. This is reflected in the track entitled “Beautiful,” a theme for piano, harp, and flute which is just that. It reveals a protective, affectionate side of the so-called monster, as well as Anne’s desire to prevent his capture and imprisonment. The two form a bond of friendship, a bit like a dog and its master, and through the music we as the audience are drawn into that sentiment. We feel for the beast and do not fear him as his captors do.

This is evidenced in the end of the film, when Anne waves the airplanes away from the Empire State building, begging them not to harm Kong. The music turns from intense brass and percussion to mournful choir and fervent strings, placing us emotionally into the heart of the scene. Our perceptions of fear have been transformed by a score that gave King Kong a fresh, unconventional angle.

Links to explore:
(1) The Venture Departs (reprise of main theme) :
The Venture Departs

(2) Central Park (love theme) :
Central Park

(3) Beauty Killed the Beast (Kong’s death) :
Beauty Killed the Beast

(4) Web documentary on scoring King Kong:
View Doc

SOUNDTRACK REVIEW by Andrew Klay: Lord of the Rings—Return of the King (2003)

Director: Peter Jackson
Composer: Howard Shore

It is incredible to consider that Howard Shore, a relative unknown until these films, was such a perfect fit for the Lord of the Rings saga and pulled it off so brilliantly. Director Peter Jackson, whom we know to be an amazing visionary, must have seen serious potential in Shore, even without any familiar high-profile movies attached to his name.

But no one could have scored this trilogy like Howard Shore. He brought a unique perspective to the table that made its music instantly contagious and universally recognizable. The principle theme, played on a special flute, and it’s secondary theme for brass, are sung and hummed worldwide, crossing cultural barriers to touch the hearts of millions. With the first film alone, Fellowship of the Ring, Shore had certainly made his mark on film music history.

And now it was time to draw the saga to a close. The third and final installment, Return of the King, had high expectations for Shore. He was faced with the challenge of drawing from the music of the first two films while still reinventing himself and going out with a bang. In so doing he was able to create some new themes and provide a powerful emotional experience for the viewer.

Shore has a habit of creating themes for major locations in addition to characters. The Shire was identified by the flute and other Celtic instruments. Théoden’s city of Rohan from the second film is marked by a solo played on a double fiddle. The new setting for Return of the King is Minas Tirith, city of Kings, where the Battle of the Pelennor Fields takes place. This elegant white city is identified by a noble horn solo, a simple melody that manifests itself in many forms throughout the film, including the crowning of Aragorn at the end. For the most grandiose version of this theme, refer to the last two minutes of the track entitled “Minas Tirith.”

Another theme worth mentioning is the track entitled “The Lighting of the Beacons,” the scene in which Pippin climbs to the top of the tower overlooking Minas Tirith and lights the grand flame, beckoning aide from Rohan. The cue begins as the torch takes fire, (about four minutes into the track) and the music swells as we follow the lighting of each torch, flying past mountains and valleys. This piece envelops the viewer as we feel the grandeur of the moment and the vast scale of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth.

Since the film is over three hours long, not all of the music can fit onto one CD for commercial release. Thankfully, a version called “The Complete Recordings” was made available, a four-disc soundtrack set for each of the three films. Upon perusing the “complete recordings” for Return of the King, I realized that the best music from Return of the King, and perhaps even the entire trilogy, was cut out of the original soundtrack! Two or three absolutely stunning pieces are only available on the “complete recordings,” and I will discuss them here.

The first noteworthy selection from the “complete recordings” is “The Crack of Doom,” the climax sequence in which The One Ring finally reaches the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor, ending the quest and accomplishing its ultimate mission. The great eye of Sauron convulses, taken aback, and the monumental tower comes crashing down as the volcano explodes. This is perhaps the most epic music of the trilogy, marked by victorious brass and triumphant choir. After the moment settles, it dawns upon each member of the fellowship individually what has taken place. Incredulous tears flow as we hear gorgeous, swelling strings. The moment is impressively cinematic and emotive.

Second from the “complete recordings” is a piece not included in the film, the last track on the final CD, entitled “Bilbo’s Song.” A touching children’s choir tenderly expresses closure to our tale, leaving us with a lasting impression of peace and tranquility. We feel that Frodo has accomplished his mission and restored peace to Middle-earth.

As a whole, this score effectively defines the Lord of the Rings trilogy by bringing together all the earlier themes and weaving them into a new, brilliant score. The two together masterfully combine to conclude this timeless saga, thanks to the genius of Howard Shore.

Music links

Minas Tirith
The Lighting of the Beacons
Crack of Doom
Bilbo’s Song