The Hunger Games

James Newton Howard

" I'm still hungry after this "

Written by Thomas Glorieux - Review of the regular release

The Hunger Games was destined to become one of 2012's biggest successes. That was the general idea Lionsgate had after setting a release date for the film adaptation of the popular novels by writer Suzanne Collins. And after 1 mere weekend, it showed the world that the people at Lionsgate were right. Hitting full packed cinemas all over the world, the movie doubled its budget winnings easily in the opening weekend, with no real intention of quitting after that. Of course the movie treaded a known road, namely the Roman formula 'bread and games'. However here in this post apocalyptic world, it's more intended to punish the 12 districts of Panem after a former rebellion against the capitol, which resulted in the destruction of district 13. Because as of then, one boy and girl of every district between the age of 12 and 18 has to battle each other in an arena each year until only 1 survives. Or as they so eloquently put it: May the odds be ever in your favor.

A box office success from the first weekend, The Hunger Games was well received for various reasons, but also critically attacked for others as well. One returning negative element was the shaky camera movements which made it harder to see anything. Another was the cruel violence of the film which is basically ignorant since it's the basic premise of the story. Why criticize that if you know it will deliver just that from the beginning? For the music, director Gary Ross initially chose Danny Elfman and T-Bone Burnett as composers. However due to scheduling conflicts, James Newton Howard was called on board instead. And knowing that James can deliver something in a short amount of time (King Kong), hopes were set highly on the outcome of the score. Sadly, it was greeted with mixed feelings instead.

For starters, it's better than the efforts of last year. Meaning The Hunger Games surpasses the blockbuster effort Green Lantern, but to call it classic James Newton Howard material is something else. For instance, for such an epic movie, there isn't much epic music on board to begin with. While the movie was shot with the general idea to leave as much as possible unscored, somehow you wished it would have been larger. Because the few epic moments in the film lack an epic sound. The amazing highlight "Horn of Plenty" (the moment when they enter the arena in chariots) delivers a heroic presentation for those who are about to die. Supported with a catchy theme for the Hunger Games in general and pushed forward through choral singing, somehow during all this it's presented a bit lighter than what we're used to. It's like it's 'epic light' you're receiving, considering the choir is actually put to the background of the music instead. This memorable theme appears in the film only once after that, never to be heard again.

Sadly, The Hunger Games is at times also quite boring. Apart from the excellent track 7, the begin is quite uninteresting. Fitting perfectly with the somewhat cold unemotional mood of the film, JNH's music flies by without much to say. The one that perhaps sounds the most interesting of all wasn't even used ("The Countdown"). In fact it's startling that the actual strength comes from the more emotional material (given that half of the action scenes weren't even scored at all). The lovely rhythm and tone for solo guitar and cello in "Healing Katniss" and the beautiful goodbye for strings and soft choir in "Rue's Farewell" deliver you actually the more interesting (touching) material. "The Cave" goes further on the soft guitar solos of the previous tracks but does include for the first time solo piano and quirky ethnic percussion.

But to call the rest "Penthouse / Training", "Learning the Skills" or the moody "Booby Trap" interesting or even entertaining is something else. On the contrary, the music that was omitted from the motion picture delivers far more interesting material instead. The only action track "Mutations" is a mixture of suspenseful strings, relentless percussion and sadly also electric guitar madness that's by far the only leftover from the Green Lantern massacre. The final track returns with the Katniss theme (or how I would call it the hope theme), restating basically track 13 but shorter.

Hearing it in context first, and on CD later, I have to admit that The Hunger Games is a lot more flat than I remembered it. Even though 2 tracks remained in my head after leaving the cinema (the 2 highlights), I kinda thought it would deliver a richer experience on CD. Sadly that is not the case. Okay, like the shaky and blurry camera work in the film, this has a meaning. And I'm pretty sure that the music is functioning more as a supporting score than as a co existing emotional cornerstone. For that it lacks the epic scale, the emotional connection, the powerful edge. Explaining why I had such a hard time getting some emotional connection from the film whilst experiencing it. Because the experience repeats itself on CD. A score that will receive its share of mixed feelings no doubt.

Track Listing

1. The Hunger Games (1.10)
2. Katniss Afoot * (1.49)
3. Reaping Day (1.35)
4. The Train (1.27)
5. Entering the Capitol (2.28)
6. Preparing the Chariots (1.05)
7. Horn of Plenty (1.59) Excellent track
8. Penthouse / Training (3.36)
9. Learning the Skills (1.41)
10. The Countdown * (1.58)
11. Booby Trap (2.37)
12. Healing Katniss (3.04)
13. Rue's Farewell (5.01) Excellent track
14. We Could Go Home (1.15)
15. Searching for Peeta (1.27)
16. The Cave (3.13)
17. Mutations (4.45)
18. Tenuous Winners / Returning Home (3.25)

* Not included in the movie

Total Length: 43.35
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 29 votes - average 3.17/5)

Released by

Universal Republic B0016579-02 (regular release 2012)

Orchestrations by

Jeff Atmajian & John Kull