When I first read the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins, I was thinking to myself the whole time, “man, these books were written to be made into movies!” With that mindset, I was imagining a film score for the book while I was reading, and, though I’m not a composer, I was pretty satisfied with how it sounded in my head.
I haven’t listened to many film scores by James Newton Howard, but I was familiar enough with his work to be excited when he was announced as composer for The Hunger Games. I counted down the days until the score was released and bought it as soon as it was posted on iTunes. For the most part, I was pretty satisfied.
My favorite part about this score is how minimal it is most of the time. Panem is a post-apocalyptic country some time in the future, so why would you have a big, fully-stocked orchestra recording music for it? You wouldn’t, and Newton Howard does that perfectly. The main motif for District 12, as heard in the opening track, “The Hunger Games”, is uniquely soloistic and simple, making it profound when it is placed later in the score during the actual Hunger Games themselves in the track “We Could Go Home”.
However, there are a few moments when the full orchestra is appropriate, and Newton Howard scores these equally as beautifully, as heard in “Horn of Plenty” (the Panem national anthem, composed by the band Arcade Fire and orchestrated by Newton Howard) and “Searching for Peeta”, as well as in another track or two. Generally, the Capital is given these larger orchestrations, representing the prosperity found in the city. The contrast between the minimal themes for District 12 and the big moments for the Capital is striking, sort of embodying the class/quality of life shift between the two areas.
As much as I enjoy the majority of the score, I have one HUGE complaint: “Rue’s Farewell”. Is it pretty? Yeah, sure. Is it all that it could have been? NO! Where’s the five-note whistle that we heard in every single TV spot for the film? I had hoped that this track would be a memorial to the character based around that motif, but we don’t get that. Why, Newton Howard? WHY?!
Aside from that, and the fact that it’s WAY too short, James Newton Howard’s score for The Hunger Games is a score that works on multiple levels, despite the criticism I’ve heard from others who didn’t care for it. Give it a shot! It’s a great score for a great film.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
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” 1:28
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
Total Length: app. 44 min.
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!