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Section Header
The Hunger Games
Composed and Co-Produced by:
James Newton Howard

Conducted by:
Gavin Greenaway

Co-Composed and Co-Produced by:
T-Bone Burnett
Stuart Michael Thomas

Co-Composed by:
William Ross
Win Butler
Regine Chassagne

Co-Orchestrated by:
Jon Kull
Jeff Atmajian
Pete Anthony

Co-Produced by:
Jim Weidman

LionsGate/Universal Republic Records

Release Date:
March 26th, 2012

Also See:
I Am Legend
Green Lantern
The Last Airbender
Snow White & the Huntsman

Audio Clips:
2. Katniss Afoot (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

7. Horn of Plenty (0:27):
WMA (179K)  MP3 (224K)
Real Audio (158K)

14. We Could Go Home (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

18. Tenuous Winners/Returning Home (0:32):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

Regular U.S. release.


The Hunger Games
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Buy it... on the score-only album featuring James Newton Howard's contribution if you desire the film's popular fanfare music and a few melodramatic orchestral interludes in an otherwise murky atmospheric environment.

Avoid it... on both of the original two albums for the movie if you expect to hear a well-rounded, representative presentation of all the notable music from the soundtrack, some of which not available on either product.

The Hunger Games: (James Newton Howard/Various) There seems to be an infinite number of perspectives that a person could use to praise or denounce the concept and execution of 2012's hit movie, The Hunger Games. The Suzanne Collins bleak world was an immediate goldmine for Lionsgate, netting hundreds of millions of dollars of profits within weeks of the release of first of the author's three novels. As offensive as the story of The Hunger Games may be to parents, its inherent value as social commentary has to be considered. In a post-apocalyptic North America hundreds of years in the future, the wealthy aristocrats of the nation of Panem amuse themselves and punish the surrounding, impoverished districts of suffering people by forcing teenage representatives from each area to annually kill each other in televised, gladiatorial-styled games hosted by the capitol city. When two young acquaintances from District 12 decide to team up in their efforts to thwart the production mechanisms of the game, there are real consequences for the viewers of the spectacle and those who run it, setting the stage for rebellion and other social upheaval in subsequent movies in the franchise. There is no doubt a range of offensive subtexts in The Hunger Games, and these issues spilled over into controversies involving race and body image upon the film's release. Still, critics praised the concept's thoughtfulness and the target teenage audiences ensured the franchise's future by keeping this first entry's showings packed. The soundtrack for The Hunger Games is about as polarizing as the film itself, a source of some of the production's controversy and experiencing personnel and strategic mishaps. Director Gary Ross, who had only worked with Randy Newman in his prior major efforts, decided upon the pairing of composer Danny Elfman and songwriter and record producer T-Bone Burnett, raising high expectations for the kind of hybrid score that could result. Ultimately, this partnership dissolved, officially due to scheduling conflicts, but rumors stating Elfman's dissatisfaction with the production leaked as well. Whether by Burnett's guidance or Ross' misdirection, the soundtrack became a haphazard mess of a plethora of original and existing instrumental placements and songs. At the last minute, James Newton Howard was brought on board to write a score in three weeks that would itself be moved or partially dismissed in favor of silence.

Howard, having stepped in to save King Kong seven years earlier, was not adverse to working in problematic productions, though The Hunger Games had the unique distinction of causing major disgruntlement during its recording process. The recording of the score in London caused the musicians' union in Los Angeles to picket another Lionsgate production, particularly placing orchestrator and conductor Pete Anthony (who was president of the union) in a difficult position after he had allegedly participated in this score's execution. Meanwhile, Ross' decision to allow many of the scenes in The Hunger Games to exist without any music at all caused a significant portion of Howard's 80 minutes of music to go unused. Additionally, almost all of the most memorable music in the movie was licensed from or written by other artists. Burnett himself, for instance, composed a popular lullaby ("Deep in the Meadow") for an important character relationship. Meanwhile, Burnett collaborated with Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire for other notable sequences, including the "Abraham's Daughter" song for the end credits. The latter pair wrote arguably the most famous piece of music for the film, the "Horn of Plenty" serenade of Roman fanfares that was arranged and incorporated in part by Howard in the orchestral and choral score. On top of that, Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars provided supplementary songs, and the production licensed everything from the vintage "Hypnotic Brass Ensemble" to a track from The Chemical Brothers' Hanna soundtrack. In line with the latter inclusion are several similarly atmospheric and sometimes disturbing selections, including Chas Smith's "A Wasp on Her Abdomen" and Laurie Spiegel's "Sediment," neither of which could be classified as any more pleasant than the mind-numbing personality of Hanna. Other source placements abound, and to Burnett's credit, these sounds often yield a similar blend of disenfranchised minimalism and slight bluegrass style. The score by Howard particularly picked up on this direction, though don't be surprised if you find yourself questioning the boundaries between the source music and the original score. Orchestral music from other sources was licensed as well for The Hunger Games, further muddying the picture. A vaguely Middle-Eastern character to Howard's part is another allusion to Roman influence over a similarly depraved world, extending the feeling of vaguely displaced reality that permeates much of the movie's overall soundtrack.

With the song compilation album "inspired by" The Hunger Games (which doesn't even include any of the licensed outside sources and is connected to the movie only by its offering of the three end credits songs) topping sales charts, the score and its surprisingly short album have gone far less noticed. Wild fans of the concept will find key music from the film missing from both albums, something of a minor tragedy given that the solo female singing (the lullaby) and other source placements would have enjoyed a comfortable home alongside Howard's score on the 44-minute album that instead only provides his orchestral material. Some of the veteran composer's music as heard in the film is reportedly missing from the album (not including a significant portion, by some accounts up to half an hour in length, that was rejected from the movie), though two the cues that were struck from the final cut are provided. It's easy to get the impression when listening to the score-only album that you are hearing just a fraction of the musical personality of The Hunger Games as a whole, and that may be reason alone to dismiss the product as a failure. The quality of Howard's contributions will range depending on the listener's attachment to the concept and acceptance of the composer's less obvious, more atmospheric endeavors. Fans of The Hunger Games who really appreciated the softer sections of I Am Legend will likely be highly impressed by the textural intelligence and melodic development of his score. For others, the lack of emotionally overwhelming thematic grace, a clear identity for the lead character, sustained or original action material (a result of the film's equal lack of lengthy fighting sequences), or distinctive narrative flow will cause The Hunger Games to reside closer to Green Lantern on the scale of Howard's fantasy achievements. On a first or second casual listen, this score could be extremely boring and emotionally distant. In such experiences, the composer's alienating tone will be the defining characteristic of the work. Occasional exotic woodwinds, the alternating use of cold dulcimer and cimbalom to denote a sense of "home," a fiddle-styled violin for a bluegrass spirit of Burnett inspiration, and wildly clicking percussive effects together produce a dispiriting environment in which periodic vocal layers, somewhat tired electronic sounds, and more conventional orchestral meanderings attempt to steer the score's recurring constructs. Only in "Muttations" does Howard unleash a full-blooded action cue, almost closer to the horror realm, and it's an extremely brash and challenging diversion from the otherwise simmering remainder.

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The problems detailed above about Howard's struggles to find the right sound for The Hunger Games should not encourage one of his collectors to disregard the score completely, however. The composer does feature a variety of intelligent ideas, including some themes, that he utilizes to yield fleeting but highly effective emotional interludes. The aforementioned dulcimer and cimbalom identity for District 12 is introduced immediately in "The Hunger Games" but doesn't really have a substantial impact until its development in "We Could Go Home." A series of three note string phrases in "Katniss Afoot" may be the closest listeners will hear to a theme for the lead character, the idea recurring to denote the notion of movement in "Searching for Peeta." Two themes of evil show the procedural dread and pompous glitz of the lavish aristocracy and its capitol city in an effective dichotomy. The former is embodied by the rising four note bass string rhythm in "Reaping Day" and "The Countdown" while Arcade Fire's "Horn of Plenty" furthers the Roman suggestions in Howard's full adaptation of the melody and its preview in "Preparing the Chariots." Two themes of redemption counter these representations of darkness, however, one a clear highlight of the score (the "death theme") and the other a hidden one (the "tragedy theme"). The more obvious of the two is the death theme for the character of Rue and other combatants, a standard Howard expression of orchestral sorrow heard in "Rue's Farewell" and "Tenuous Winners/Returning Home" that will solicit the most attention of any of the dramatic cues on the album. A separate tragedy theme seems like one aimed more at social commentary, sometimes stated by solo cello in a rising series of notes heard first in "The Train" and returning in "We Could Go Home" and "Tenuous Winners." None of the original Howard themes will compete in listeners' memory with the fanfare in "Horn of Plenty" or the pretty lullaby by Burnett absent from the first two albums. It's difficult to recommend the rather short, score-only album for these and a variety of other reasons relating to continuity. Even if you consider Howard's score (including the unused cues, which are impressive additions) as a separate entity, you encounter issues with understatement and thematic muddiness. Like most decent Howard scores, there are individual moments of melodrama or intriguing percussion employment that will merit repeat attention. As a whole, however, don't be surprised if you find a large number of non-concept enthusiasts writing The Hunger Games off as a disappointment. Regardless of where you exist in this spectrum of opinion, it's difficult not to ponder what Elfman would have conjured for this franchise. *** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For James Newton Howard reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.35 (in 56 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.34 (in 62,060 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

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   Alternative review at
  Southall -- 4/11/12 (12:45 p.m.)
   Music Muse Reviews "The Hunger Games&q...
  KK -- 4/7/12 (9:41 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 43:55

• 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)

* Track not used in the film

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes a list of performers and a note from the director about working with Howard.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Hunger Games are Copyright © 2012, LionsGate/Universal Republic Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 4/7/12 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2012-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.