1. The Hunger Games (1:10)
2. Katniss Afoot (1:49)
3. Reaping Day (1:34)
4. The Train (1:27)
5. Entering the Capitol (2:28)
6. Preparing the Chariots (1:05)
7. Horn of Plenty (1:59)
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 (5:00)
14. We Could Go Home (1:15)
15. Searching For Peeta (1:27)
16. The Cave (3:13)
17. Muttations (4:45)
18. Tenuous Winners/Returning Home (3:25)
Here to fill in the void left behind by the Harry Potter franchise, it really looks like The Hunger Games has a chance at becoming the cultural phenomenon that Twilight is trying to be but failing miserably. The void being filled is difficult to define, being somewhat like a fantasy teen coming-of-age drama that is also appealing to adults. That being said, the books and films themselves do seem to be primarily aimed at the teens and young adults at which the Harry Potter franchise was aimed. Its box office numbers suggest that it has connected with many more than was anticipated. This franchise is here to stay, in other words.
The books themselves have been applauded by some as being well-written with a good story. However, the concept is eerily similar to the concept visualized by a Japanese film called 'Battle Royale'. However, it does appear that the similarities are wholly coincidental, and the present film and books have garnered much more success and acclaim than that film did. Now, I cannot comment on the music of Battle Royale in comparison to the music for The Hunger Games as I have not heard the score for the former film. Director Gary Ross made a safe choice by going with James Newton Howard for scoring duties. Howard has over and over again proven himself as the go-to composer for films of this ilk. Despite certain restrictions undoubtedly placed upon him, Howard has composed a very capable suspense and drama score for the film.
Things begin quite tepidly and ominously, suspense being the key to the beginning of the score. Indeed, things don't really begin to pick up until Track 7 'Horns of Plenty', with a strong theme for the games themselves. Katniss receives some jaunty material in 'Katniss Afoot' which is pleasant enough, but themeless (so much as I can tell). There is a slight flute motif towards the end of the track that could easily have blossomed into a full fledged and appropriate theme for our heroine. Make no mistake, this is not a score into which one should venture looking for easily identifiable and hummable themes. This score is all about texture. In that vein, the music is a success.
Howard employs the use of electronics to great effect in enhancing various moods and textures of the film itself. Howard's music very rarely rises to levels that would be distinctly noticeable in the film (save for a few spectacular occasions). Rather, it seems that his duty was simply to support the film instead of adding to it, reflecting the suspense, action, and drama happening on screen without the bombast and loud dramaticism that characterizes many modern scores. Therefore it seems that Howard opted to use texture and atmosphere rather than traditional thematic material. As mentioned before, Howard deftly utilizes electronics, sometimes drum kits and the occasional droning. Tribal percussion also defines a large part of this score. Reflecting the locale and the brutality of the games themselves, percussion plays a large role in this score, punctuating the action in 'Mutations' to thrilling effect and adding to suspense in certain moments (like Katniss Afoot). Howard also utilizes what appear to be exotic instruments to great effect, occasionally giving an other-worldly feel. When all of these elements come together (Tribal percussion, electronics, exotic instruments) you truly do get the sense that Howard has crafted a unique musical world for the characters in the film. Given some obvious limitations set upon Howard, this is a considerable feat and he should be applauded.
However, the album as a whole is less than the sum of its parts. Much of it is quiet and suspenseful, but rarely rising to the fore. It is here that the lack of thematic material really impacts the listening experience. There aren't any hooks or anchors in the score itself to keep it rooted in any thematic soil and as such the score lacks cohesion and any narrative quality. Themes and their development would have greatly helped the listening experience, but with the score as it is I can understand if a listener has a difficult time making it through the entire album in one sitting.
The listening experience isn't a total failure, though. Howard still finds certain moments to shine. The aforementioned 'Horns of Plenty' is a rousing fanfare for the games themselves, combining tribal percussion, electronics and horn blasts to thrilling effect. However, the ultimate high point in the album comes with the tear-jerkingly beautiful 'Rue's Farewell'. Listening to this track almost brought tears to my eyes. While not quite reaching the heights of 'Flow Like Water' from The Last Airbender, Rue's Farewell is still strikingly beautiful. Perhaps one of the oddest tracks is 'Mutations' in which Howard steps the action up a notch for what is undoubtedly the climax of the film itself. In addition to Howard's usual electronics, an electric guitar is added to the mix. While not bad, it is quite odd as this is one of the only times it appears and it was not used to initially form the identity of the score in the previous cues. It is an out of the blue addition that took me out of the listening experience. Still, though, the cue plays out masterfully like a thrilling and breathtaking race to the finish.
Overall, this is an album that I would only recommend for fans of the film itself or James Newton Howard completists. With little to no thematic presence or development, the listening experience for most will be a short and disappointing one. Still, though, Howard did manage to create a convincing musical world for the film and the score does have a few standout tracks. My recommendation is to simply buy the three cues 'Horns of Plenty', 'Rue's Farewell', and 'Mutations' and you will have a pretty good idea of the best that Howard had to offer for this film.
It's no secret that James Newton Howard is an established composer who can easily write a score in a matter of weeks under a certain deadline. The best example is King Kong, which is one of Howard's career highlights as is. When Danny Elfman dropped out of the composer's seat and JNH stepped in, I was definitely excited. His talent for writing quality scores under pressure mixed with the source material (a dystopian future where kids are forced to fight to the death for entertainment) was sure to produce top notch results. Unfortunately, while the score delivers an interesting soundscape, it really isn't the music it could have been.
To be fair, alot of the minimalist approach in The Hunger Games came from director Gary Ross' decision to use silence to enhance the mood. At times JNH's own score written for the film (80 minutes, supposedly) was kicked out in favor of temp tracks or additional music by the famous T. Bone Burnett. That left the score only making a slight impact on the overall film. As for the score, how does it hold up on its own? Fairly well.
The album is 40 minutes in length, so I can't give a more detailed review of the overrall score, just what is currently available. There are two prominent themes here, with some smaller motifs scattered about. The main identity, heard in the opening track, is a 5-note melody played on acoustics which seems to represent the overall story. It has a folksy atmosphere, perfect for the locations in the film, but it is far from memorable. The secondary motif is heard in the last halves of 'Rue's Farewell' and 'Tenuos Winners.' This is definitely the highlight of the score in the same vein that JNH presented the more dramatic moments in I Am Legend, taking a simple melody and expanding it into an orchestral and choral theme that will probably give you chills.
Most of the underscore is decent enough to sustain anyone's interest for the duration of the score. A third motif, played through a guitar and a series of bluegrass style instruments, is meant to represent Katniss whenever she is running through a forest. It crops up most prominently in 'Searching For Peeta'. There is also an interesting use of music for the capitol, ranging from dark electronic textures that sound very much like Howard's earlier efforts for Unbreakable or even Dreamcatcher, to grand choral pieces ('Horn of Plenty') that maintain the same threatening aura for the totalitarian world these characters find themselves in. As far as the action pieces go, they mostly exist in the realm of the percussive, stylistically similar to Dinosaur. With 'Muttations', however, JNH lets loose with a full orchestra, violent percussion, and an even crazier mix of electric guitars that slash out of nowhere. The other cues for the underscore remain more nebulous and take on atmospheric tones.
Overall, The Hunger Games really is a good example of a score that can't find the right footing. In the film, the music is either completely dialed out in favor of silence or temp tracks, and when it does make an impact the moments are far and few between. Still, on album, it does feature some powerful moments that stand out despite the minimalist approach. If anything, the music as appears in the film deserves a low rating, but the album holds up much better than expected. Casual listeners will enjoy it (despite the awkwardly short running time) but don't expect one of Howard's better efforts here.