Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Shore's Score: Analysis of 'The Black Gate Opens.'

Using my first blogpost to analyse one of the pieces that is used towards the finale of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King may seem like a stupid idea, however, it's the piece that I have the most to say about at the moment.

Yes, my first blogpost will be looking at 'The Black Gate Opens' composed by Howard Shore and featuring the flute virtuoso, Sir James Galway. Here is the music on YouTube >>>  in case you want your memory refreshed or don't have the soundtrack. I will be looking at the section from 1:00-1:40. However if you would prefer to listen to the music in the scene itself you will find that scene later in my blogpost via a YouTube link.

This music comes at the final hurdle of the story. After battles in Rohan and Gondor, meetings with Ents, and all manner of non-stop fighting, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, and Pippin can do no more except one thing - draw out Mordor's armies so that Frodo & Sam can pass through the land unseen, whilst simultaneously diverting Sauron's attention from the Ring; as Legolas calls it... 'a diversion.'

We must remember that Aragorn & co. have no idea how Frodo & Sam are doing. They know that the journey of the Ringbearer and his friend has been the most dangerous (particularly when they hear how both took the path of Cirith Ungol and are being led by Gollum), but they still hold out on a very small hope that their friends are are as well as can be and are close to finishing the quest. Throughout the trilogy, a lot of the action has involved Aragorn and everyone else - they have fought all of the battles. But at this point in front of the Black Gate, even though they have one more battle to fight, they know that there will be no victory in this battle. They are merely buying precious time for their two friends. The REAL battle is taking place between Frodo and the Ring - between two hobbits and Mount Doom. After the initial menacing sounds of Mordor and battle - 'The Black Gate Opens' - that we hear as Aragorn and co. stare at the endless outpourings of hideous orcs, the camera cuts to Frodo & Sam as they try desperately to climb up the mountain.

The music for this scene starts at 1minute on the soundtrack, but in the actual scene itself (see clip below) it starts at 1:51. I will from now on be referring to the times on the clip below.

As Frodo looks up with his tired eyes the camera cuts to a shot of Mount Doom, spurting fire and smoke and dominating all of the Ringbearer's sight with its enormous size... they still have a long way to go. Whilst we see this a familiar sounding flute begins to play. Melancholy, slow, going from low to high notes as we cut from small hobbit to huge mountain, the music mirrors Frodo's feelings of 'so near and yet so far'. That familiar sound of the flute then begins to play the theme of the Shire, or 'Concerning Hobbits' from The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. But this isn't the same merry, happy, joyful theme that we heard in the first film as Gandalf and Frodo rode to Bag-End. Far from it. As the trilogy progresses we actually hear snippets from the Shire theme every now and then, but what is interesting is that as Frodo & Sam get closer to Mordor, the theme gets slower and sadder - very clever and effective Howard Shore!

The camera cuts to Frodo's dirtied, haggard feet that have travelled non-stop for the past year - and not across soft, lush grassland, but the sharp rocks of the Emyn Muil, the bogland of the Dead Marshes, the black razor rocks of Minas Morgul, and the hot, ashy wasteland of Mordor. Now, his poor feet - and hands too - have to wearily claw their way up the impossible terrain of the mountainside.

If you listen to the music during this scene from 2:02-2:30 (actual scene), Shore has used the Shire theme at its saddest. Completely slowed down, and sounding strained/shaky, it is at its most desperate - just like Frodo and Sam. Compared to how it was before the quest for Middle-Earth, it is also has a harder and forced sound rather than the light and bouncy feel which it had previously.

Why has Shore/Jackson decided to have this music in this scene? The obvious answer is that the camera is on Frodo and he is a hobbit, therefore they have the theme of the Shire. But I think that there is much more to it than it simply being the theme of the hobbits and the Shire.

First of all I think the music reminds the audience that these are hobbits - two tiny people; one of them has an enormous burden around his neck, whilst the pair of them still have an enormous quest (in terms of mountain-size and doom of failure) ahead of them. The shots of Frodo's feet on the sharp, hard, dry rocks, his mouth panting and his lips cracked and dry - you see the hardship he has endured and just how difficult his quest has been. In the back ground we see Sam lying down for a rest, one of the few times where Sam isn't seen to be pushing Frodo along... even Sam is struggling at the last hurdle. They are very close to the finish line and yet this will still be the toughest part of their long journey.

Frodo has no physical energy left. The length of his travels plus the lack of food/water means that there is no where for him to get his strength from. So, what pushes Frodo to keep climbing that mountain? The fate of Middle Earth? The fate of his friends? Sam? No. I don't think it's any of these. I think what Frodo uses is his distant but very potent memory of the Shire. That's where he gets his strength from. The memory of that peaceful land far away which is untouched by the evils of the world, a land where he was happy and didn't want to leave, his home. And even though the memory is distant - to the point where Frodo later says that he cannot recall the touch of grass - it is still as strong as ever, so he strains to remember it and transform that memory into a formidable strength that pushes him towards the Crack of Doom - hence the straining of the music.

Every strained, shaky, but strong and potent note that comes from Sir James Galway's flute mirrors the unimaginable effort it takes for Frodo to heave himself just a couple of paces up those barren slopes. As we hear this wonderful sound of the Shire and we see little Frodo trying with all his might, we are reminded of the enormity of the task that he was appointed with. From 2:10-2:20 in that scene, the music gets stronger and stronger, and even though Frodo eventually collapses in need of rest, the music mirrors the fact that no matter how long it takes, no matter how little strength Frodo has in him, he is still endeavouring to complete his task.

Apologies for my lack of musical jargon. I've never analysed music before. But I hope that you enjoyed this analysis. It's one of my favourite pieces from the entire trilogy because of how transformed the sound of the Shire is and how brilliantly it mirrors the emotions of Frodo and the quest in general. It brings tears to my eyes. Shore did a magical job with this scene, in my opinion.

If you have any other thoughts on this piece or this scene, I would love to know. Please share in the comments section.

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