Score Reviews‎ > ‎

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by James Newton Howard (Review)

posted Dec 8, 2013, 8:43 PM by Koray Savas

There was a time when a sequel meant something in Hollywood. A trilogy was a big deal, not something that was expected. These days it sort of still is, where studios and filmmakers have gone past the three-film mark and are now churning out annual entries in franchises that never really deserved a sequel in the first place. At any rate, musical cohesiveness always played an integral part in them. A trilogy is a giant playground for a composer, it gives the time to really work the malleability of one's themes, motifs, and tones (studio willing). Several of the greats have had their shot at such a narrative structure, but The Hunger Games will be James Newton Howard's first.

Catching Fire is part two in the "trilogy" (Mockingjay is being broken up into two parts), and Howard steps up his game considerably from the first film. The Hunger Games suffered from some musical unevenness. Danny Elfman was dropped off the project, and Howard stepped in to work with T Bone Burnett to help create the soundscape for Panem. The result was a hodgepodge of folk/bluegrass and contemporary stylings clashing together. Catching Fire steps away from that and delivers a more streamlined musical voice. It still suffers from Howard's contemporary synthetic action material (hear "Monkey Mutts"), but on the whole, the music shines with a good dash of his classic lyricism and tenderness. The quiet moments are the ones worth revisiting here, and there are really some breathtaking cues to be found. "The Tour" is by far one of Howard's best pieces out of the past couple years, featuring his gorgeous string writing coupled with a subtle yet moving choir for the first two minutes, then moving into a haunting surrealistic lullaby before picking back up into a grand statement to send it all off. However, the score's biggest detractor is the continuing lack of a strong central theme or any recurring motifs. Win Butler and Régine Chassagne's "Horn Of Plenty" is the signifying musical stamp of the films, but it still remains a short piece of pleasant source music.

Catching Fire shows promise in what Howard can do spread over multiple films. The music has bouts of greatness, but the absence of musical structure and development leaves the score feeling empty and superfluous. The mundane action music is carried over from The Hunger Games, and the tone leaves little room for varying emotions and depth. Howard is moving in the right direction, though, so here's hoping for a great conclusion with Parts 1 and 2 of Mockingjay.