JNH Thursday

Soundtrack review: The hunger games – Catching fire (James Newton Howard – 2013)

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The sequel to “The Hunger games” meant the return of composer James Newton Howard for the score. This review is part of “JNh Thursdays” and I couldn’t wait to listen to this score after the way I loved how the first one ended. First thing I noticed was that this composition is almost half an hour longer than the first one.

“Catching fire” opens with the theme for Katniss, the main character, and it’s quietly heroic. Its almost haunting in fact and give the character anything but a warrior’s identity. “I had to do that” is a remorseful track based on a female voice wordlessly adding emotion to this piece. Again the Eastern sounding strings are in the background to link this score with the previous one. “We have visitors” confirms that JNH is still leaning towards the suspenseful.

Again, I haven’t read the books or seen the movies so my vision of what this score should be is based purely on my perception of what I heard about the story. When I listen to “Just friends” though in the context of these scores I realize that violence might only be a premise and in fact the movies are about human relations and trying to stick together and making your way out of that world.

“The tour” just warms my heart and sends sweet shivers up my spine. This is the James Newton Howard I know and love…the tender beginning…the intense and almost dark buildup which echoes deep inside me…the emotions rising and batting their wings in my stomach…the echo of a cello somewhere in the middle of it…the chorus woven into the fabric of this cue….I get lost in this six minute long wonder and forget all about the outside world. This is such a beautiful cue that it makes me wonder why I haven’t listened to it until now.

Still under the influence of this magic cue I feel the next few minutes of the score as a drop in quality. I have to wait until “Katniss is chosen” to feel something. That solo haunting female voice supported by piercing strings gets my attention. Still the suspense in tracks like “Introducing the tributes”, “Prim” or “A quarter quell” is too low key and I don’t feel it. The pure violin in “There’s always a flaw” is another highlight from “Catching fire”. It’s almost a lullaby and the piano strokes that mark its second half fall like rain drops.

I am starting to regret listening to this score without seeing the movie. This music must mean something in context and I can imagine it working very well in some scenes. If I had an emotional connection with the story I could appreciate it better. This way though some of the cues don’t mean a lot to me and suddenly this score feels a little long. Of course then there are pieces like “We’re a team” and I don’t need any scene or connection to appreciate it.

The emotional guessing game continues with “Peeta’s heart stops”. Without caring for the character, it’s hard to care for a cue like this one.The next section of the score is confusing . I guess a lot is going on in the movie right now and the music does its best to support it.

“I need you” makes a little more sense, but in the end I found it harder to enjoy “Catching fire” than the first score. An a standalone listen, “The hunger games” was more compelling . I will surely revisit this second score once I have seen the movie. From what ) understand at the end of it the whole premise of the game including the arena, collapses . I don’t feel anything earth shattering at the end of the score that makes me feel that.
Cue rating: 82 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 17 / 75

Album excellence: 22%

Highlights:

Just Friends

The Tour

Horn of Plenty

There’s Always a Flaw
Bow and Arrow
We’re a Team

I Need You

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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