The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

James Newton Howard

" I actually prefer the first one "

Written by Thomas Glorieux - Review of the regular release

One teaser was all it took to confirm that the sequel to the Hunger Games, namely Catching Fire would become one of the top grossing films of the year. And mere months later, 2 weekends after the international release date confirm that Lionsgate doesn't have to worry about the future. Katniss and her friends might have to worry about that, but Lionsgate doesn't. The franchise is the next in line to follow the big SMART blockbusters of the recent years, offering the same ingredients of previous blockbusters but with enough intelligence and star power to capture a growing fanbase. While the first seemed to divide people, Catching Fire is doing it universally right for everyone. And I agree, as a film it's better and more engaging as the first, offering the expected emotional triggers. Sadly, like the first I felt that emotionally it could have been even better, if we just received a much more engaging score instead.

James Newton Howard returned as composer, after his so so effort on the first Hunger Games. It was effective yes, supportive for most of the time and just rarely, James got it right when he tackled the biggest emotional scene of the film, namely the sad goodbye of Rue. In that moment, filmmusic suddenly stepped out of the background and created a moving and beautiful emotional response, a feeling that didn't need to hide it but actually reinforce it. Showing that filmmusic still (for me) needs to throw it in your face to get those emotional goosebumps we filmscore fans are looking for. And sadly, most of the time, Catching Fire is hiding those goosebumps once again.

This is not new for James Newton Howard fans. Actually it has been plaguing him for the past couple of years. The time he threw bombastic music to our face has long disappeared, and efforts as After Earth, Parkland, Water for Elephants and The Bourne Legacy showed us James went for more supportive background efforts, instead of the normal no holding back orchestral power wowers such as Lady in the Water, The Postman and Signs. In fact, take just Signs as biggest example. If you listen to it, you'll agree it is actually too bombastic for such a small movie, and yet by going overboard you're infusing emotional triggers that elevates the experience ten fold. Film music needs to tell you it's there, it's present, it's delivering you these emotional feelings. Hiding them like most of the time in Catching Fire is actually hurting the experience more than helping it.

And so, Catching Fire (for most of the time) keeps it effective but pretty lackluster as well. The first 40 minutes deliver music that doesn't elevate the film, but averagely supports it. It's like sauce that's poured on your meal without making it special. There's a returning solo vocal (heard in the final 1 minute trailer of the film) in "I Had to do That", "Katniss is Chosen" and "Arena Crumbles" that creates some kind of emotion, there's a rare colorful occasion that delivers real heartfelt beauty in "Just Friends" that's repeated lovely on guitar in "I Need You" while "The Tour" almost completely states "Rue's Farewell" in full for the first 3 minutes, followed by more suspenseful music that delivers an almost identical version of the theme of Dante's Peak. The emotional "A Quarter Quell" and an interesting solo violin theme for "Beetee"s character", followed by true determination and emotional rage in "Let's Start" are all examples of fine music, but music that's lacking something extra as well.

Yet for most of the time, James (and most likely the crew) is happy by laying down the arms and keeping it moody and cold. Tracks like "We Have Visitors", "Fireworks", most of the clangs and sound design of "Peacekeepers" (a track that nonetheless shows a strong Newton Howard moment of worthy suspense build up around the first minute and a half) and "Introducing the Tributes" are cues that really don't deliver anything noteworthy. Sadly, perhaps even more disappointing is "The Games Begin". People who have seen the film know what it represents, and if Newton Howard starts bringing moody sound design for an actual swim for live and death, then it truly shows how he has transformed from a melodic composer to someone far more supportive. What follows is Snow White's harsher electronic accompaniment and once again moody and downright boring music after that. Sadly "Peeta's Heart Stops" follows in that trend.

There are moments in Catching Fire that sound cool, for instance the brief "Bow and Arrow" is a cue that can entertain me, followed by the typical effective and powerful action tracks "The Fog" and "Monkey Mutts", all containing enough racing orchestral crashes and brief emotional moments to effectively support the film. But whereas Newton Howard delivered it strong and melodic in the past, Catching Fire sadly follows the trend of Newton Howard's average writing. And while "Arena Crumbles" is nice and moving, "Broken Wire" and "Good Morning Sweetheart" is moody, harsh and boring, an unfitting way to end what is once again an average affair of Newton Howard. Not present on the album is the horn of plenty theme when they arrive in the arena. The theme is heard for 30 seconds (as part of a television broadcast) in track 10 but it's missing when they cruise through the arena. But during that moment you receive the same version as in the first film, meaning not even in the film does Newton Howard deliver a variation or some kind of difference when stating it. Like "Rue's Farewell" in track 6, it's stating it identically note per note, showing perhaps most of all the true lack of innovation in Catching Fire.

Again, this music works for the film. But what it doesn't do is elevate the film. Most people don't notice this and enjoy the film for what it is, a strong story that finally delivers us the beginning revolution. Yet what I see (and above all) feel is that the music doesn't capture the emotion nor the rage of the film. Signs was a moment where Newton Howard perhaps over compensated for the visuals on screen, but by doing so it made the film so much more engaging. Same for instance for Avatar, the movie perhaps states its emotional cliché's so apparently, it nonetheless excels in them through James Horner's equally over compensating score. And those kind of emotional goosebumps were completely inexistent while I was watching Catching Fire, and more when I was listening to this score. Too long, way too boring, not renewing and actually lacking the highlights of the first, Catching Fire is effective yes, but disappointing even more. Trim it to 40 minutes and you might have a 3 star score.

Favorite Moment - I Need You (1.25 - 2.58)
A rare moment for some kind of heartfelt emotion, cherish it while you can

Track Listing

1. Katniss (1.42)
2. I Had to do That (2.22)
3. We Have Visitors (3.01)
4. Just Friends (1.29)
5. Mockingjay Grafitti (1.44)
6. The Tour (5.56)
7. Daffodil Waltz (0.26)
8. Waltz in A Op. 39, No. 15 (0.43)
9. Fireworks (3.05)
10. Horn of Plenty (0.36)
11. Peacekeepers (5.55)
12. Prim (2.08)
13. A Quarter Quell (2.06)
14. Katniss is Chosen (3.18)
15. Introducing the Tributes (1.29)
16. There s Always a Flaw (1.47)
17. Bow and Arrow (1.07)
18. We're a Team (1.52)
19. Let's Start (2.02)
20. The Games Begin (4.43)
21. Peeta's Heart Stops (2.10)
22. Treetops (1.22)
23. The Fog (4.58)
24. Monkey Mutts (4.45)
25. Jabberjays (1.33)
26. I Need You (3.58)
27. Broken Wire (3.53)
28. Arena Crumbles (1.44)
29. Good Morning Sweetheart (3.04)

Total Length: 74.59
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 17 votes - average 2.71/5)

Released by

Republic Records B0019638-02 (regular release 2013)

Orchestrations by

Peter Bateman