NYCC 2014: Composer Howard Shore talks LOTR

Composer Howard Shore has spun more than seven dozen rich and complex movie scores including Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” (2011) and David Fincher’s “Se7en” (1995).

But unlike working with Scorsese and Fincher, Shore’s work approach on composing the music to Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies is a little different.

Whereas Shore works around the text in other films, the text is vital when composing the layered compositional themes to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

“When I’m writing, one of the things I really like to do is read,” Shore told Douglas Adams and attendees of the 2014 New York Comic Con Thursday afternoon. “So this just gave me the opportunity to spread my interests.”

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Tolkien laid out a roadmap in his works, says Shore.

“The other thing that Tolkien does is he shows you a compass,” he said. “So I tried to show the orchestration, the colors of it.”

Shore does this by studying Tolkien’s language.

“The idea being when I read the book, so many times, all the beautiful verses and songs were like poetry and I felt like they needed to be in the story,” Shore said. “As you watch the story, you’re hearing Tolkien’s words.”

These words are reflected in the lighthearted, happier tunes of “The Hobbit” or the darker, more Eastern European themes of lands within “The Lord of the Rings.”

“I was trying to show the origins of music with things like the flute or voice because it begins to describe the roots of a culture,” says Shore.

His composition was an evolving process, he says. The first “Lord of the Rings” theme he composed was the themes for the Shire and Fellowship after he visited New Zealand. The compositional theme to the destruction of Mordor took him three years and nine months to write.

“Music is written from a more personal heartfelt,” he says. “If you don’t feel anything, you can’t write.”

Shore’s complete “Lord of the Rings” trilogy will be performed by 250 musicians live from April 8 to 12, 2015, at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Shore won Academy Awards for his work on “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

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‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ foreshadows ‘The Lord of the Rings’

When we last left our heroes, they were riding the backs of eagles, longingly eying the Lonely Mountain within their grasp. Twelve months later since the release of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (and since dwarf king heir, Thorin Oakenshield, first met with wizard Gandalf in a pub on the border side of the Shire), the company’s hiking through caverns and forests with Gandalf (Ian McKellan) at the helm — chaperoning children-sized men on a field trip across Tolkein’s Middle Earth.

“You’ll be safe here tonight,” says the wizard, telling tale tales of big black bears that turn into men. But these stories — setting the stage for Jackson’s already profitable “Lord of the Rings” franchise — are as ominous as the spider-filled Mirkwood forests the party has to venture through.

“Lord of the Rings” fans will enjoy the obvious foreshadowing. Dark shadows fester as an unnamed Necromancer upturns graves. Orc parties grow, gearing for war. But these elements make the film much darker than J. R. R. Tolkein’s children’s book, “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again” — which the film was loosely based on.

Luckily though, the party has a couple guides — including elven heartthrob Legolas (Orlando Bloom) of Mirkwood and Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) of Lake Town — ferrying 13 dwarves and a hobbit (Martin Freeman) through rocks, trees and rivers.

“The Iliad” to “The Lord of the Rings'” “Odyssey,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’s” an epic fantastical 3D adventure. But whereas you won’t find orcs, elves and dragons beyond the myths and legends, elements of reality are found within “The Hobbit.”

At it’s core, the story’s about a nomadic people looking to reclaim their homeland. It’s a noble cause — certainly one that Zionist Jews could sympathize with. But if the dwarves were the Jews, then the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) would be Palestinian Arabs, retaliating with suicide bombers and dragon fire. The result: “All shall fall in sadness and the lake will shine and burn.”

Of course, we don’t see the prophesy come to light yet. The fast-paced 161-minute film ends with a cliffhanger.

As with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though, the story’s never-ending. Even after Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy concludes next December, the subsequent “Lord of the Rings” sagas seamlessly begin, bringing you on an endless journey there and back again.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is directed by Peter Jackson and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro. The movie is based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.” 

Falling in love with ‘Ender’s Game’

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” — Andrew “Ender” Wiggins from Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Perhaps that’s what Gavin Hood was hoping for from voracious Ender’s Game consumers when he wrote and directed his film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s beloved fast-paced military sci-fi children’s novel.

He must have hoped Ender’s Game fans would have the same empathy, understanding and forgiveness as their boy hero, Andrew “Ender” Wiggins. Hood hoped they would understand his extensive creative liberties in the film — how he had to cram a 324-page book into an 114-minute Hollywood blockbuster, translating it for mass audiences (We can’t all be Peter Jackson, right?).

It’s a formidable task — complicated by the controversial and psychological themes of Card’s novel. And, as one can expect, the film doesn’t measure up.

Hood’s adaption opens with a familiar voice over (like the ones we’ve recently seen in Pacific Rim or After Earth or in half a dozen other sub-par post-apocalyptic sci-fi thrillers). This time, bug-like aliens called Formics attacked Earth half a century ago, killing 50 million people. In response, humans created the International Fleet, recruiting and training the world’s next child-Napoleans and Alexander the Greats.

These precocious and gifted children were destined to be the next commanders, tacticians and strategists: the future leaders in the impending alien space war. And I.F. Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) thinks 12-year-old Ender Wiggins’ (Asa Butterfield) humanity’s last hope.

Because the alien threat’s growing, Ender’s space training (which consists of games of laser freeze tag against opposing teams in no-gravity fly zones) is accelerated.

“The Colonel is changing the rules,” says one boy when Ender’s team is forced to face two opposing teams at the same time.

“We’re running out of time,” says Colonel Graff, as he studies maps and simulations.

But as fast as Ender’s training is going, Hood has even less time to make Card’s points, causing the film to feel rushed, chaotic and ultimately unsatisfying.

While Colonel Graff and Major Anderson’s (Viola Davis) training regimen for Ender includes keeping him isolated from the other children, Ender makes quick friends with Bean (Aramis Knight), another small and intelligent boy; Alai (Suraj Partha), a Muslim boy who vomited during their first flight to space; and Petra (Hailee Steinfeld), an older girl who teaches Ender the ropes. Meanwhile Graff’s paternal one-on-one sessions with Ender (probably to give Harrison Ford more screen time) belies the scenes when he cruelly elevates the boy, separating him from the other children.

These contradictory messages make the film confusing. And while those who understand Ender still love him, it’s hard to connect with a hero who’s seen bullied one minute and violently kicking another boy in the next.

It’s not Asa Butterfield’s fault that we cannot connect with him. He was charming as Hugo in Martin Scorsese’s film.

But Ender’s Game omits scenes crucial to understanding the boy’s character development. The end result is a botched though-provoking masterpiece.

The book portrays Ender as a pragmatic teacher, who understood it’s safer to be feared than loved. He treats his protegee Bean as Colonel Graff treated him.

But Ender also understood that his soldiers each had value; that he could delegate leadership and trust Bean, Alai and Petra to come through.

Card drew criticism because his hero was so young and perceptive that adults found it hard to believe. But it’s a lesson Hood should learn and remember because the movie-going public is intelligent.

Instead, Hood’s encumbered by making the film comprehensive for those not familiar with the text, stringing the movie together with catchy soundbites like, “Let the courage of Mazer Rackham [the renowned commander who defeated the Formics the first time] be your inspiration.” (Sound familiar, folks? “May the odds be ever in your favor,” is the catchphrase from Hunger Games, another popular book-turned-movie franchise.)

He also creates digestible expository ones like this: “The purpose of this war is to prevent all future wars.”

The phrase may ring true, but the film doesn’t delve deeper than the soundbite. And George Orwell said it better and more succinctly when he penned, “War is peace.”

It’s not Asa Butterfield, Viola Davis or Harrison Ford’s fault that they’re acting out caricatures of Card’s creation. Like Ender, they are chess pieces in Hood’s game. But unlike Card’s Ender Wiggins, Hood doesn’t know how to utilize his talent.

Hood’s from the Hollywood mindset: the one that doesn’t understand that people are smart and have attention spans longer than 114 minutes.

But as much as I want to hate Hood’s creation, I can’t. I can’t because I understand where Hood might be coming from — the pressures of mass marketing, time constraints and the complicated nature of his subject matter. And when I truly understand where Hood’s product is coming from, I love and appreciate Ender’s Game that much more.

“Ender’s Game” was written by Orson Scott Card in 1985, winning both the Nebula and Hugo Award for best novel. Card also wrote “Ender’s Shadow,” “Speaker for the Dead,” “Xenocide,” “Children of the Mind,” and many more following the events in “Ender’s Game.”

The film adaptation of “Ender’s Game” was directed by Gavin Hood and written by Hood and Orson Scott Card.

‘The Hobbit’: A Road Still Travelled

Old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is telling young Frodo (Elijah Wood) a story, carefully crafting his words, while we are either intruding on a private moment and hobbit hole in the Shire — or perhaps we are Frodo, listening to Uncle Bilbo’s book, “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.” After all, it is an extraordinary story — complete with marvelous kingdoms and fantastic beasts (from dragons and orcs, to dwarves and elves, to goblins and trolls). But just as Bilbo Baggins is teasing you with how fire-breathing dragons destroyed a dwarf kingdom in the first minute of the movie, director Peter Jackson takes you away from the scene and places you into the idyllic greenery of the Shire — home of Mr. Bilbo Baggins himself.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” based off of J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again,” is the first of Peter Jackson’s new trilogy and the prequel to his three “Lord of the Rings” films. The first of three chapters introduces Bilbo (Martin Freeman), a fretful hobbit concerned about handkerchiefs and his ancient china. When the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) shows up on his doorstep with about a dozen dwarves including Thorin (Richard Armitage) — son Thrain, the son of Thror, the king of the besieged dwarf kingdom under the Lonely Mountain — Gandalf recruits Bilbo on a journey to reclaim the land the dwarves lost.

Unlike “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is much lighter, without any Grim Reapers or Ringwraiths casting long shadows like Dementors over the traveling party. At times, the dwarves’ folk songs make you wonder if you’ve fallen into a musical. After all, the dwarves gleefully goad Bilbo when singing, “Blunt the Knives.” Other times, you wonder if you’ve entered the ideal Dungeons and Dragons campaign, where a band of friends work together to accomplish a common goal. Along the way, there may be heroes — but it’s the performance of everyone in the production that carries that campaign and film.

Freeman is terrific as Bilbo, fussing over his material goods while the lively dwarves rearrange his furniture and pillage his pantry. It’s amusing to watch how frustrated Bilbo appears as he helplessly watches dwarves invade his home. From an anxious individual to a courageous companion, one of the highlights of the film is watching Bilbo grow as a character, reluctantly accepting the journey, and leaving the comfort of his books and maps. In one pivotal moment in the film, Bilbo is facing Gollum (Andy Serkis) with a life-or-death game of riddles. Quick in both feet and thought, Bilbo is seen confronting his fears, rather than deny the challenge.

The screenplay, written in collaboration by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro, also develops Thorin’s character well beyond Tolkien’s words. Bearing a wooden branch as a shield, Thorin is frequently seen as David facing a pale and monstrous Goliath — a pale white orc almost three times his side. Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin is as a strong, prideful and courageous leader, whose honorable goals have won the respect of both dwarves and audience members alike. Even though Armitage is seen criticizing the tag-a-long hobbit in his company, Armitage’s nuanced portrayal of the dwarf prince allows us to understand him. Thorin and his band of merry dwarves will protect Bilbo with their lives despite how many times Thorin may quip about how burdensome the hobbit is.

The screenplay also makes Gandalf’s role as the deus ex machina very apparent in the film. Every time the company of miniature men is about to be killed or roasted alive, Gandalf’s mysterious and god-like appearance saves the day with his magic. Once again, McKellan adopts the role as adviser and protector — but at times, you find yourself shaking your head and smiling as the underdogs escape death again and again. Compared to an audience that may be used to more modern epic narratives like the “Game of Thrones” books or HBO series — known for author R. R. Martin’s fondness for killing favorite characters — the constant saving seems cheap.

However, Jackson’s story is very true to Tolkien’s book, albeit some embellishments. While Frodo never appears in “The Hobbit,” fans of the LOTR franchise will be thrilled to see Wood’s cameo in the first part of the film, which bridges “An Unexpected Journey” with “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first of “The Lord of the Rings” saga. With Frodo nailing up party signs, we are witnessing the eve of Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party and seeing the story of his adventure.

The 3D brings the adventure to life so you feel as if you’re immersed in the journey. Gold and rocks fall on you and the traveling company. The beauty of New Zealand is dazzling in its crispness. Despite the expansion of these moments with technology, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is just shy of three hours — and the tale is far from over. The first film of “The Hobbit” trilogy only tackled the first 100 pages of Tolkien’s 300-page book. While Jackson could have told the tale in the first minute recap of the film where he introduced the fire-breathing dragon who housed himself in a dwarf kingdom, Jackson expands the film to span three movies — each probably amassing about three hours in length.

While neither the 3D nor the length are strictly necessary to tell the story of “The Hobbit,” Jackson sums up his argument in Gandalf’s words: “All good stories need embellishment.”

And “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is certainly a good story.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is directed by Peter Jackson and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro. The movie is based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.”