On first viewing of An Unexpected Journey, I had the experience of coming home again, not least because the film almost beat for beat follows the narrative of The Fellowship of the Ring. Listening to the soundtrack for the first film of this second trilogy is a similar experience. A chief pleasure derives from recognizing themes and motifs from Howard Shore’s earlier scores: ‘Old Friends’ revisits the pastoral piping of the Shire; the ‘bad guys’ music from the earliest shots of Barad Dûr and Minas Morgul are given early play and come through most clearly and stridently in ‘The Hill of Sorcery’ and ‘The Defiler’. The Rivendell theme is signalled with a brief motif from ‘Aníron’ and then reprised in full during ‘The Hidden Valley’. And the Ring’s theme suddenly and eerily sneaks through during ‘Riddles in the Dark’, connecting the new trilogy to the old.
This certainly suits Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit very well: the lightness of the book has been markedly darkened to make this a convincing prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy (no tra-la-lally in the valley in either film or score). But here perhaps lies the catch for this soundtrack: with so much of the music reprising (or prefiguring) Shore’s earlier work, and with new Dwarvish themes making up a relatively small part of the whole, I wonder why I would listen to this rather than simply return to the older soundtracks.
Verdict: This is a beautiful collection of music, but I do feel as if I’ve heard much of it before. 7/10