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March 12, 2004
A Shore Bet
Rings Trilogy Composer Howard Shore wins 2 for 2 at the Oscars
by Jon Burlingame
As everyone knows by now, Howard Shore won both Original Score and Original Song Oscars Sunday night for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Shore was a co-favorite (along with Thomas Newman for his Finding Nemo music) going into the 76th annual Academy Awards ceremony, but his win two years ago for The Fellowship of the Ring score – together with the music branch's mystifying snub of Shore's equally deserving music for The Two Towers last year – left some observers doubting whether he could repeat.

In the end, the enormous and unprecedented accomplishment of the composer, whose dozens of intertwining and constantly developing themes and motifs formed the heart and soul of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, won over the Academy voters.

Shore has been working on the Rings music virtually nonstop for the past three years, writing approximately ten hours of original music for the theatrical releases and additional material for the expanded DVD versions of each film. By the time he is finished recording the extended King this spring, he will have written more than twelve hours.

The Oscar for Return of the King is widely viewed as a broad acknowledgement of his work on the entire trilogy. Each score involved more than 100 London musicians, choral forces approaching that number, and individual soloists ranging from Enya on Fellowship to Elizabeth Fraser in Towers and Renee Fleming and Sir James Galway on King.

Shore cited "all of the amazing musicians and great vocal soloists" in his acceptance speech Sunday night, as well as many of his collaborators and team, most by only their first names. With Oscars for Fellowship and King and a recently acquired Grammy for Two Towers, Shore can finally feel confident that his efforts have been not only noticed but rewarded – especially since so many of his fine earlier scores, from Dead Ringers (1988) to The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Ed Wood (1994), were ignored by the mainstream awards.

As for the Original Song Oscar, The Lord of the Rings’ "Into the West" was one of three favorites. Sting's "You Will Be My Ain True Love" from Cold Mountain always loomed as a strong contender, but in recent days a surprising number of Academy insiders were talking about "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" from the folk-singing mockumentary A Mighty Wind, making it a possible dark-horse choice.

It may be that the sheer emotional wallop that the Shore-Fran Walsh-Annie Lennox song packed near the finale of Return of the King could not be denied. Lennox's impassioned performance at the Oscars confirmed the validity of the choice; the voters may not have known that the lyrics were drawn, in part, from Tolkien's own prose (like many of the choral texts throughout the three scores).

The clever touch of musical director Marc Shaiman was evident during the three-hour, 45-minute ABC telecast. He and his fellow Tony winner (for Hairspray) Scott Wittman were credited not only for their musical contributions, but as writers on the show itself.

Host Billy Crystal's always-amusing "It's a Wonderful Night for Oscar" helped to open the show, recounting the five Best Picture nominees in song form ("Old Man River" for Mystic River, "Maria" for Lost in Translation, "My Favorite Things" for Return of the King, "Goldfinger" for Seabiscuit and "Come Fly With Me" for Master and Commander). The music and lyrics of Shaiman and Wittman were nicely aided by the swinging orchestrations of longtime Shaiman associate Harvey Cohen.

Shaiman conducted for Crystal, but veteran conductor Harold Wheeler handled baton duties for the rest of the show. Both were introduced during the evening, which was nice. Another memorable Oscar music moment had deadpan Jack Black and Will Ferrell offering a cutting lyric ("You’re boring . . .") to the traditional Oscar "play off" music, poking fun at Oscar winners who drone on too long with acceptance speeches.

Other notable Oscar-music moments Sunday night: Michael Kamen's passing was acknowledged in the "In Memoriam" segment; the orchestra played Elmer Bernstein's classic To Kill a Mockingbird theme in the introduction to a Gregory Peck tribute; and Henry Mancini was mentioned in director Blake Edwards' classy remarks during his acceptance of an honorary Academy Award ("Do you think Audrey can sing it, Henry?", referring to questions about Hepburn's vocal abilities in tackling "Moon River" for Breakfast at Tiffany's).

© 2004 Jon Burlingame

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