Still More Hobbitry

This is madness, but Dave and I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a fourth time, in order to see it in the 48-frames-per-second version.

The good thing about this version is that, even though it’s in 3-D, everything is extraordinarily crisp and detailed. I was able to catch a lot of details that I had missed before. And at times there are a lot of details going by very quickly.

The bad thing is that somehow the quality of the lighting looks different, maybe a little overexposed somehow. It reminded me of a 1970s television show shot on video instead of film. Hopefully the technology will improve.

And I still felt that very little was gained by seeing the movie in 3-D. A really sharp 2-D print would be just fine with me.

Some more things I noticed this time around (warning — some mild spoilers ahead):

The dwarves’ facility with juggling things, which is set up in the opening sequence in Bilbo’s home, is much more of a constant theme running through the movie than I’d realized before. All through the movie they are tossing things to each other and deftly catching (or sometimes dodging) things that are thrown at them.

Likewise their acrobatic skill. The battle with the trolls, for example, shows the trolls trying to catch the dwarves over and over, and never quite able to do so. The dwarves are always dodging them, jumping out of their reach, rolling between their feet to pass under them, and so on, always a step ahead of the trolls. Bilbo, though, isn’t as nimble, and the group is put in danger as a result.

The escape from the goblin caves shows this over and over. The dwarves toss weapons to each other, jump from swaying bridges with split-second timing, join forces to make use of unlikely objects they find at hand, and all without ever having to discuss how they’re going to do this — they just know. It’s a densely choreographed sequence, and this time through it didn’t seem a moment too long — maybe because the greater clarity made it easier for me to see and understand everything going on.

Some more observations about the music:

I’m not sure, but I think the Arkenstone has a musical theme associated with it, four ascending notes. When Thror fumbles and drops it, and the Arkenstone falls down the stairs to be lost in Smaug’s hoard of gold, I think I heard the theme being played in reverse, so that the notes are descending. Nice touch, if I’m right about that.

There were two themes associated with Gollum in the score for The Lord of the Rings, one poignant and pathetic, the other cold and sinister. Both themes turn up in the Riddles in the Dark sequence in An Unexpected Journey. The sinister theme is the one you hear when Gollum first appears, and it’s the only one you hear from that point to when Gollum and Bilbo meet. The poignant theme is heard for the first time just as Gollum’s face lights up at the thought that Bilbo might like to play a game with him.

Wow. I teared up at that moment — the theme underscores that inside this sinister little monster is a tragic, miserable, sorry creature, and it comes with a lot of associations for me already from its use in LOTR. So for it to come in at precisely that moment was somehow just a real heartbreaker.

I now have a copy of the Unexpected Journey soundtrack, in the form in which it was released on the Internet in November, on my iPhone, and I’ve started listening to it during my commute. I’ve only gotten through the opening so far. I’m hearing a lot in it that I didn’t hear before, probably because until now my attention to the music has been divided, due to, you know, watching a movie at the same time. (It’s also possible that there were some changes made between November and the movie’s release, though they’re unlikely to be substantial.)

The music for the prologue is much more complex and beautiful than I’d realized while watching the movie. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are prominent themes for Thorin and Erebor (the Lonely Mountain); what I hadn’t noticed before is that the two themes are closely related, both being based on three rising notes, the third, fourth, and fifth notes of the minor scale. (To be precise: If we’re in the key of C minor, the Erebor theme, which we hear first of the two, begins C-E♭-C-F-C-G, the distinctive feature of the theme being those leaps from C up to E♭, then F, and then G, suggestive perhaps of a mountain rising higher and higher before us as we approach it. Thorin’s slow, yearning theme is introduced soon after, and begins with the notes E♭-F-G-G-D, with that E♭-F-G sequence emphasized.) The two themes are juxtaposed and developed in some very lovely and moving ways, and the connection between the two themes makes the point that what it is that Thorin yearns for is to return to Erebor.

There is a very clear musical theme for Smaug. So clear, in fact, that I’m amazed I didn’t detect it during four viewings of the movie. I can only figure that it’s an exciting sequence and I was caught up in the visuals at that point. (Again, if we’re in C minor, Smaug’s theme begins C-B-C-B-G♭-F, this time snaking downward from C instead of rising.)

A theme consisting of rising and falling minor arpeggios may, or then again may not, represent the wanderings of the dwarves after losing their homeland. I’m not sure. I need to listen some more.

Later: The motif of rising and falling minor arpeggios (in 6/4 time, I think, with the first quarter note of each measure dotted and the second halved, giving a small but distinctive skip in the rhythm) becomes something of an ostinato through much of the scene in which the dwarves show up to dinner at Bag End. Only in this scene, it’s played humorously, and the rhythmic skip seems jaunty rather than sorrowful. Hard to believe I missed it while watching the movie. So this theme does seem to be connected with the dwarves, though whether specifically with their wanderings, I’m not sure.

Azog, the Pale Orc, is frequently associated throughout the movie with a motif of falling thirds, strongly reminiscent of the Dies Irae, that is always associated in LOTR with the servants of Sauron. So I guess that’s going to be a revelation to Thorin and the other dwarves in one of the later movies. (Gandalf may already suspect — surely he’s clever enough to pay better attention to the clues in the music.)

More inexplicably, though, at one point when Thorin and Azog are facing off, we hear music that in LOTR is always associated specifically with the Nazgûl, who I don’t think even exist yet at this point in Tolkien’s chronology. As far as I know, they don’t appear in the history of Middle Earth until about ten years after the events in The Hobbit. It’s a interesting riddle, then, to speculate on what that curious musical connection is supposed to mean. And Mr. Shore’s score is too meticulously organized for it not to mean something. I do have a theory, actually, that fits with some of the other plot points we’ve been given, but I think I’m going to keep it to myself for now.

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One thought on “Still More Hobbitry

  1. I stumbled on your blog by accident, but it was a happy one. Lovely analysis of the score! The past year I decided the study Wagner’s Ring in closer detail, so when I found you were going in the direction of some accessible musical analysis, I was hooked. (I say accessible because I am not a musician myself, so there are limits to how deep I can go.) I haven’t seen the film yet, though I plan to, and your posts make me even more interested. I don’t know if there are a lot of people paying attention to the subtleties of film scores in any sustained way like this. Major kudos!

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