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'Rings' composer creates scores to last

Howard Shore
Howard Shore

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(CNN) -- Three movies in three years is not composer Howard Shore's typical pace for writing a film's score.

But for director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Shore was prepared to take his time. He had already composed scores for more than 60 films, including "The Silence of the Lambs," "Philadelphia" and "Mrs. Doubtfire."

"I had the energy to tackle it," Shore said. "I had the experience to do it and be able to write for a symphony orchestra for 11 hours."

Shore has already picked up an Oscar and a Grammy award for the score of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," and he is nominated for a Grammy for "The Two Towers."

TMR caught up with Shore a few months ago in Watford, England, to talk about the trilogy's final installment.

TMR: Three hours of music you've had to write here [for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"], haven't you? The average film is what? An hour and a half?

SHORE: Not even. Maybe 50, 60 minutes.

TMR: And you had a trilogy to tackle.

SHORE: Well, we did three films, but I think I wrote over 3 1/2 hours just for this film. It's the resolution of the whole story, so it's quite complex. And the music is telling a lot of the story -- the relationship between the characters and the cultures. The scores to the three films are in the area of 11 to 12 hours, I think.

TMR: Your peers must think you're a brave man taking on such a task.

SHORE: Well, I was asked to work on it. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh called me years ago it seems, years ago actually, and they told me about the movie they were making. I talked to them for about 45 minutes on the phone from a half a world away, but it was interesting, fascinating actually, to hear them talk about the story and discuss it. I didn't really know about the idea that they were actually making a movie of "Lord of the Rings," although I was a fan of it and read it in the 1960s when I was younger.

So I went to New Zealand and I saw the depth of the work that they were doing, the creativity, and they had spent years working on it before I had even started on it. Once we talked about working together, and you saw the task and you saw what they were doing, you couldn't really say "no" to taking on "Lord of the Rings." Once you had agreed to do it, it was an enormous, daunting task to do it. I think for all of us, we just did small bits every day and worked at it very seriously and creatively in little pieces. You just tried to accomplish something every day on it for the three years. Bit by bit you've created this work, this piece.

TMR: You did touch on this a little bit. When you took on this project, this trilogy, did you approach it as a monolith or did you really cut these films up and divide them up when you approached them?

SHORE: I think the three films are completely unique and distinct. I think "Two Towers" is a completely distinct film from "Fellowship of the Ring" or "Return of the King." I think that you can watch them as a group and watch how the story evolves, but I think each one was made in its own entirety and each one has its own palate of sound and music and color and characterization. They're all really quite unique and different, but they all work as a piece too. I think that's the brilliance of them. When you see the three films ... you'll see how they all relate and you'll also see the beauty of each one and how each one works on its own.

TMR: I've heard a couple of whispers that you usually take about 10 days with the orchestra to do a film, and this one has already taken more than 30 days.

SHORE: We go through a bit of a longer process. We're trying to achieve something that takes a little longer. We go at a certain pace. We've been doing it for years now. We have a certain pace that we go on. We do record a lot of music. I would say that the score to this film is equal to my work on about five or six films, to do one film. I spent one year on each ["Rings"] film. Just in the composition stage, that's quite a bit longer than you usually spend as a composer working on a movie score on which you might spend eight or 10 weeks.

You're dealing with a classic piece of literature, and the filmmaking is brilliant filmmaking. There only is one "Lord of the Rings." You want those scenes to be as perfect as they can possibly be, so we put all our energy into it, in making them. We really feel this responsibility to make a great movie. Every scene we do, we do with such precision and with a careful sense of detail. Is everything as great as we could possibly do with these scenes? That takes a little time and energy to do it, but it's all worthwhile. That's what really makes the films what they are, and we want them to live. We hope that generations will enjoy them.


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