By Patrick Prince
The geek in me could not wait to open this box set of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film. Upon opening it, I was instantly wowed by all the goodies inside (alternative theatrical poster, production cel replica, Middle-earth map, film patch, 16-page booklet, etc). And upon listening — composed and conducted by Leonard Rosenman — this ambitious film score handles the lively, brooding and downright sinister story lines (Side 1 itself goes through all these dramatic variants in the course of a few tracks).
Reportedly, Ralph Bakshi wanted Led Zeppelin to dominate the soundtrack ("Ramble On," perhaps?) but sober-minded producers kicked that idea to the curb. Bakshi voiced his dislike of Rosenman's final score — calling it cliché. Bakshi critique was a bit harsh. Rosenman can go down a traditional path a little too often but, ultimately, he corrects his creative course.
The significant parts of the album come with the intensity of the orcs (“Following the Orcs”/Attack of the Orcs” on side 3) and the violent clashes of armies (“Helm’s Deep” on side 4) with the occasional thundering drums, outlandish battle-cry horns and obligatory chants… the orchestra delivers everything you need to imagine the fantasy drama sprawling out in your head. Also noteworthy is “The Escape to Rivendell,” at the beginning of side 2, with its mood shifts between frantic and disturbingly meditative — a well-orchestrated composition. Only the children’s choir on side 3’s “Mithrandir” comes off as heavy-handed in a film score already rich in melodrama. Thankfully, it's a shorter track.
Originally a double LP in 1978, this 2015 Fantasy Records release of the soundtrack is from the CD remix in 2001. Interestingly enough, the 1978 release also came out as a die-cut gatefold cover, limited collector's edition, 2-LP picture discs featuring four scenes: The Hobbits leaving Hobbiton, The Ringwraiths at Bree, Gandalf and the Balrog, Journey with the Orcs. But this 2015 releaseis probably the most successful package of all. With exciting ephemera and pressed on 180 gram vinyl it will be a hard one to pass up. And the high quality vinyl fulfills the sound clarity essentially needed for this very competent score.