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Why The Return of the King Should Be Nominated For An Academy Award

A kind-hearted message from Jon and Al Kaplan

To anyone who is going to be voting for the 2003 Academy Award nominees in the Original Score category, or to anyone who has a friend who is going to be voting:

We'd like to put in a good word or two for Howard Shore’s The Return of the King. We confess that we’ve never put much stock in the Academy Awards—especially the music categories. But somehow we still care about film music enough to want to see the best scores represented in this international forum. And we’re afraid that for a variety of reasons, ROTK may not be nominated. This would be a travesty considering that it is far and away the best score of the year, and also the concluding movement to one of the greatest musical achievements of all time -- a grand, near-12-hour opera written to film.

If nominated, it’s very unlikely ROTK would actually take the Oscar, considering Shore already won for Fellowship. John Williams’ Empire Strikes Back was far superior to Star Wars (and widely considered the best score of all time). The music branch recognized Williams’ achievement with a nomination, whereas the general body of Academy members saw the music as simply more of the same, giving the Oscar to Michael Gore for Fame. Similarly, there’s no easy way to convince all the non-musician Academy voters how remarkable ROTK really is -- where ideas, textures and thematic seeds from Fellowship and Two Towers return, further or now fully developed. So while ROTK may not win, that doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be nominated.

Here’s a question: Why should we expect anyone to ever take film music seriously if film composers themselves can’t come together to recognize such a staggering achievement in their own field? And here’s another question: Do the members of the music branch think of film music as an art? It hurts to have to even say all this stuff, but we’ve actually heard off-the-record comments bashing Shore’s work on this trilogy. That makes us question a lot about the industry, even when the comments are coming from jealous, terrible composers who are stuck scoring horrible action movies or kiddie flicks. The inherent problem with what we’re writing now is that we’re essentially appealing to these very people.

No matter how many times you watch ROTK or listen to the album (which presents a mere fraction of the music Shore wrote for the film), you will find something new -- sometimes a seamless combination of two themes, or perhaps a fragment of a passage from an earlier film reinvented for a related scene in ROTK. There’s no throw-away writing here. If you put in the time and immerse yourself in this music, you will be rewarded beyond words.

Also, do not be swayed or confused by last year’s “no sequel score” fiasco (which may have cost Shore a nomination for Two Towers). It’s okay to nominate a sequel score. And as composers know, it’s often more challenging to effectively expand existing materials than it is to start a score from scratch. Shore has done this to unparalleled extents with his Lord of the Rings scores.

To think that something like The Last Samurai (which amounts to about six minutes of music repeated across a two-and-a-half hour film) will be nominated and probably even win this year’s award is a sad thought, but not nearly as sad as the thought of Return of the King not getting nominated at all.

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