ENG 225, Week 3 Blog – SOUND

Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: J.R.R. Tolkien

A very important aspect of mise en scene is the introduction of sound. There are many types of sound in a film. Two such examples are diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound. Diegetic sound is sound that is expressed as coming from within the constructed world as presented in the scene. This sound has an established source from within the context of the film. Conversely, non-diegetic sound is sound that has no proper source from within the constructed world as presented in the scene. This sound may include background music or other added sound effects which aid in the symbolism of the particular scene. Various details of a chosen sound such as volume, pitch, tempo, and timing work together to create greater impact and interest in the scene.

Dialogue in film is simply the display of one or more actors talking to each other on screen. The most effective dialogues in film serve to expand and elaborate upon what the audience sees and hears from all other sources of mise en scene. Dialogue should not simply be actors verbalizing what is already obvious within the story. Instead, Dialogue should further the development of the plot, enhance characterizations, and quickly establish important information the audience needs to know to understand the action such as names, locations, dates, motivations, backstory (Goodykoontz & Jacobs).

The function of sound effects in cinema is extremely important to the believability of the film. The subtlety of the sounds can make or break crucial moments in a scene. Sound effects simulate reality, create illusion, and solidify the mood of a scene. This is a long quote, but I was intrigued by how or where they got the primal sounds of the Orcs in this movie. Here’s an example:


“The first image I ever saw of an orc was one of the Moria orcs, and I knew in that instant that I wanted to base (at least that type of orc) out of some type of seal. I didn’t want the typical Sea Lion vocal that everyone recognizes. I knew seals made vocalizations that would be believable as human-rib-cage sized sounds. One day my wife and I happened to be at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin headlands, and it was the time of year they had lots of baby elephant seals there, and a few of them were very vocal. I’d never heard that sound before and knew that would be perfect for the Moria Orcs. The Moria Orcs were the smallest of the orcs, and Peter’s direction for them was “sort of cockroachy”. So we recorded ourselves scrambling around wearing cleats for the movement. But the major signature sound for them was the elephant seal pups. It had a nice projecting call too that we could verb for the distant ones. The scene in the mines of Moria at the “Drums in the deep” are all elephant seals distanced, and the party of heroes hears and identifies them quite clearly.  The Uruks were much larger and more savage, and needed to have a different voice than the Moria orcs. They were based largely on sea lions, especially for the pain reactions, with tigers and leopards for the more aggressive attacks. We also recorded ourselves a few times, most all of the sound team, and we peppered in those vocalizations to add variety and a more human reaction. Most of the wetter, slobbery type stuff is human (us). Most of the character comes from animal elements, but the human stuff helps stitch it together as humanoid. It really needed to be a combination of animal and human to pull it off. I should add that we typically didn’t layer human over animal for the same sound, they played sequentially to keep the variety up” (Farmer, 2010).

Howard Shore composed over 12 hours of original music for The Lord of the Rings movie series, “orchestrating over 80 specific musical themes and motifs to represent the numerous races and characters of Middle-earth. Shore’s work on The Lord of the Rings brought him two Academy Awards, an Oscar, and two Golden Globe Awards. The score has become the most successful of Shore’s career, and is considered by many to be one of the most popular film scores of all time” (Adams, 2007).

The purpose of music in movies is to appropriately guide the audience’s emotions and feelings through the story. The background music in The Lord of the Rings does this perfectly and is a very powerful network of orchestral themes. Overall, I’d say the general feel of the musical selection gives a sort of melancholy, fantastical, and mystical feel. This impression of sound complements the ambiance of the film absolutely, yet delicately and emphatically infers that this is a movie of Fantasy. The music follows right along with the journey and struggles within the film. When I was watching the film, I was usually hardly aware of the music that was playing in the background, as it fits and flows pretty flawlessly with the film. Other times, it was the music that was driving the excitement and anticipation of the entire scene.

The Fellowship theme:

“This two-part theme lends itself to so many different versions and variations. The Frodo-Sam scenes are accompanied by a sweet tender version of this theme, and is first heard when the two hobbits set out on their journey, essentially the ‘beginning’ of the Fellowship. When the Fellowship is formed, the same music swells up to become a full, proud, and vibrant and strong tune that embodies the very essence of what the Fellowship is about. This theme reaches its peak when the nine companions are seen walking in single file over the hills” (Ainulindale, 2014). If you listen to the change of theme at the 4:40 mark, you can actually hear the breaking of the Fellowship. This are of the score uses a beautiful flute in a very sad, melancholy, and thoughtful way to produce a feeling of solitude and closure.

Music for the Shire:

Ahh, the Shire! The solo violin and fiddle sections seem to provide the Shire with a rustic, peaceful, and innocent texture that Hobbits relish in. It is important to the film that the audience recognizes and truly feels the vast divide (in all aspects) between the Shire and all the other areas and peoples of Middle Earth. This understanding is bolstered by the stark contrast in the music played while showing each place on film.
Lord of the Rings is wrought with exaggeration and unexpected experiences. This theme holds true for the sound track and sound effects as well. These harmonious exaggerations of sound and picture are what brings this fantasy to life and have made this movie (and series) into the cult-like phenomenon that they are. Without the masterful background music in this film, the mise en scene for most of film would probably fall flat. Music in this film aided in the various symbolisms and themes throughout its entirety and would be irreplaceable.

Here’s a link I found to a pretty interesting video about sound effects of the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3S2cLDJFHak


Adams, D. (2007). The Music of The Lord of the Rings. New Line Productions. Retrieved from http://student.mica.edu/jjennette/Soundtrack/home.html

Ainulindale, B. (2014.) The Lord of the Rings Soundtrack Reviews. Council of Elrond. Retrieved from http://www.councilofelrond.com/craft/the-lord-of-the-rings-soundtrack-reviews/

Farmer, D. (2010). David Farmer Special: The Lord of the Rings. Retrieved from http://designingsound.org/2010/09/david-farmer-special-the-lord-of-the-rings-exclusive-interview/

Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2011). Film: From watching to seeing. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Primal sound effects. (2011). Marketing Research, 23(1), 3.


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