Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the last several months, you are aware that the highly anticipated film The Hunger Games was recently released in theaters. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. Ms. Collins probably didn’t realize that she was unleashing onto the world the next Harry Potter or Twilight, a book series that quickly acquires a large rabid fan base and leads to a Hollywood money-making franchise. I am not here to write about the books or the film adaptation which no doubt have received plenty of attention by reviewers, critics and bloggers already. This is about the music of The Hunger Games.
There are two major releases of music for the film. The first is The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. This commercially-driven “companion” soundtrack to the film features current popular artists like Taylor Swift, The Arcade Fire and Maroon 5 providing music that doesn’t appear in the film. The only real similarity is that the soundtrack favors folk, bluegrass and country, which are major influences on the composed score of the film.
The Hunger Games Original Motion Picture Score includes music that appears in the film composed by James Newton Howard. Howard is a well-respected composer who has over 100 films under his belt as well as eight Academy Award nominations. So though I am not a fan of The Hunger Games, I do approve the inclusion of Howard.
There are two major themes throughout the score of the film. The first theme is that of a folk and bluegrass sound. This is used to represent the outlying District 12, home of main characters Katniss and Peeta. District 12 looks as if it could be located in the Kentucky hills and is known for their coal mines. It seems obvious that Howard used folk and bluegrass influences when composing the score. The scenes in District 12 as well as Katniss in the forest during the Games all maintain this similar theme. Tracks like Katniss Afoot, Searching for Peeta and even the title track use these elements.
The other major theme of the score is the music that represents the Capitol. The sound is simultaneously exotic, triumphant and dystopian. This represents how foreign the Capitol is to Katniss (as well as the viewers who are meant to relate with Katniss) and the power the Capitol has over everyone. These tracks lean heavily on percussion and horns.
Quick thoughts on tracks worth commenting on:
The Hunger Games – Brief and lacking emotion, though I imagine this will be used and developed more throughout the series.
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Reaping Day – Dramatic strings set the bleak tone of the Reaping.
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Entering the Capitol – Contains an exotic, almost middle-eastern sound with varying instruments. The best elements of the song are too brief though.
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Preparing the Chariots – Great buildup with use of bells, horns and drums. Leads perfectly into Horn of Plenty.
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Horn of Plenty – Continues triumphant sound from Preparing the Chariots with the addition of vocals. The best moment audibly of the film.
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Penthouse/Training – Broken into three parts, the first giving the feeling of being in a strange place as Katniss is in the penthouse, the second a moment of warmth as Katniss finds the image of a forest on her video screen reminding her of home, and finally a more industrial sound as the training begins.
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The Countdown – A very gradual buildup that starts quietly, transitions into increasingly louder strings and vocals, then concludes with a helping of powerful drums.
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Healing Katniss – The bluegrass/folk theme returns and remains for the next few tracks as the Games progress.
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Rue’s Farewell – A well-written composition of strings that perfectly accompanies the most emotional scene of the film.
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The Cave – Begins soft and romantic then concludes with a darkness that foreshadows the upcoming final moments of the Games.
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Muttations – You could think this comes straight out of a horror film. A scary piece for one of the most intense scenes of the film.
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Tenuous Winners/Returning Home – A sense of accomplishment and relief exists through most of the song, then brilliantly shifts to a dark conclusion.
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There is music that exists in the film that was not written by Howard and doesn’t appear on the released score. My second favorite scene audibly (behind Horn of Plenty during the chariot scene) is the start of the Games at the cornucopia. A countdown is heard as Katniss and the other tributes rise into the arena. Katniss looks up into the sky and is blinded by the sun, then slowly looks around to see the other tributes waiting for the countdown to hit zero. The Games begin and chaos ensues around the cornucopia as tributes are fighting for weapons and supplies. The only sound during this scene is the score, and it is very powerful. The music used here is actually a combination of three songs: Sediment by Laurie Spiegel, Three Movements for Orchestra, Mvt. 1 by Steve Reich and A Wasp on Her Abdomen by Chas Smith. These are not on the officially released score, but I highly recommend tracking them down.
Though the entirety of the score accomplishes what it sets out to do, I find it slightly above average at best. There are high points like the combination of tracks Preparing the Chariots and Horn of Plenty. These two work really well in succession and are the backdrop for one of the more triumphant scenes of the film. Horn of Plenty represents the anthem of Panem (the country) and can be heard throughout the film. My biggest criticism would probably be the briefness of the score. I would have liked to see some of the tracks expanded on. It is however worth listening to. If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games (which I’m not) then you’ll be pleased with the outcome of the score.
– Christopher Laplante