Take a Bow Mr. Wagner

Any good geek will tell you that for some movies it pays to stay in the theater through the end of the credits. Filmmakers sometimes like to give a little something extra for those who stay.

The Return of the King, the last of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films is no exception, though there is a twist. It’s not Jackson who’s giving the audience a little something: it’s Howard Shore, the composer of the film’s score.

As the film closes, we start with Annie Lennox singing her song “Into the West”.

Once that finishes, we move into a fairly standard instrumental medley, reprising the major themes from the trilogy.

Then we hear a nice closing sequence with the horns, woodwinds and strings coming together seeming to wind down the themes for the closing. The strings in particular play a theme that very much conveys a sense of a curtain slowly closing.

But then we start to hear something a bit unexpected. The woodwinds hold what you expect to be the closing chord when you hear the strings meander a bit once more and the low strings start a strong, loud upward crescendo sweeping the woodwinds up with them. Both grow stronger until you realize that somewhere in there the horns have come in and that all of them together a playing a very decidedly Wagnerian closing chord.

In less than a minute, Shore manages to take us out of his score for the Lord of the Rings and back to Wagner’s own Ring Cycle.

The clip here is from the original soundtrack, so it cuts short the thematic reprise after Annie Lennox’s song ends and comes before the Wagner homage. But you can hear the homage begin around 4:35 into it.

If you want to get the full effect, I strongly recommend you get the The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (The Complete Recordings). If you like Shore’s music, the entire set, while pricey, is a rare treasure: it’s ALL the music from the three films. And includes great, detailed musical commentary that explains the themes in depth. And this is one where I would get the physical box sets rather than the digital download.

For all the ink spilled about who’s Ring is better and whether Wagner influenced Tolkein or not, it’s nice to at least have Shore tip his hat to Wagner. Even if Wagner didn’t influence Tolkein, his influence on the aesthetics of film, particularly in terms of scores, is undeniable. And so of course he is an influence for the work that Shore and Jackson have done.

So, take a bow Mr. Wagner, you deserve it.