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Lo mejor
Most soundtracks truly start to be enjoyed after the fourth or fifth listen; you have to give this one twice that amount of time, but it will be worth it
Lo peor
The album, 80 minutes spread over two discs (Horner would have squeezed them into one), and three filler piano suites that are performed with the same passion as my fish looks out from its fishbowl

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (English)



The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the fifth film in the Hunger Games saga, based on the novels by Suzanne Collins. This time, it focuses on the rise to power of the antagonist from the previous four installments, Coriolanus Snow. Like the previous four films, its soundtrack is composed by James Newton Howard, marking the seventh collaboration between the composer and director Francis Lawrence. They have previously worked together on I Am Legend (2007), Water for Elephants (2011), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), and both parts of Mockingjay (2014 and 2015), as well as Red Sparrow (2018). This makes it the second-longest composer-director partnership in his career, surpassed only by the eight soundtracks he has composed for M. Night Shyamalan.

The score for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes has much in common with the previous four installments, yet it is also quite different. A distinction must be made: while the first score was intimate and restrained, only expressing itself fully at the end, the other three works were more dramatic, unrestrained, and conventional. They lacked the dark, rural, and thoughtful tone of the 2012 film, the only one not directed by Lawrence (it was directed by Gary Ross, and Howard stepped in at the last minute to replace Danny Elfman, who could not complete the work due to scheduling conflicts).

This time, Howard adopts the rural, intimate tone of the first installment, which is the element that remains from the previous titles in the saga, and adds a more orchestral and classical palette, where the piano and choirs take center stage. These new elements are intimate and thoughtful, much like the rural tone of the first title, fitting perfectly and giving great coherence to the overall composition. In addition to the old themes, a handful of new themes are introduced, notably a love theme for Lucy Gray and a melancholic theme for Snow’s friend, Sejanus, though they do not appear linearly throughout the score but rather as patches in a tapestry.

Howard’s approach to the score has been to compose emotionally, in broad strokes. Given that the core of the story is the protagonist’s descent into the depths of his mind and his degradation, Howard structures the score into two blocks: one for love, innocence, and compassion, and the other for fear, anger, envy, and ambition. These two musical blocks struggle from the beginning, foreshadowing what is to come, with the latter gradually overtaking the former.

The musical block that describes love, innocence, and compassion primarily features the aforementioned love theme for Lucy, a beautiful and delicate three-note motif (Meet the Mentor, Saving Snow, Lucy?), and another more elaborate theme that represents the idea of human compassion (Mercy, Snow Lands on Top). These two themes provide a counterpoint to a score that generally contains darker ideas, motifs that reflect tension and create unease or discomfort in the viewer, in line with the visuals. Notably, these two themes also reflect two sides of the composer’s dramatic writing: Lucy’s theme is more characteristic of Howard’s recent work, with shorter themes that repeat phrases with different cadences, while the second theme is reminiscent of Howard’s 90s work, with long, lyrical, and evocative melodies. So, a mix of Raya and Fantastic Beasts with The Man in the Moon and Wyatt Earp is quite impressive.

Additionally, the score is filled with secondary ideas, the most interesting of which are executed on the piano. Besides the theme for Sejanus Plinth in Sejanus, there is an intense but elegant theme for the conspiracy (Ideas Firing, Planting the Cloth) and various variations to create tension or uncertainty, such as at the beginning of Happy Hunger Games and Mercy, or more independently in Cut the Feed and Cabin in the Rain. Alongside the piano, two more instrumental elements give the work its distinctive sense: the solo voice and the fiddle. The solo voice is part of the rich orchestral palette of innocence and love, either acting alone or accompanying one of the themes, as in Mercy, one of the most beautiful moments of the entire score. The traditional violin, the fiddle, has a descriptive function, shaping that rural world before the arrival of civilization/order that was already present in the first Hunger Games film. It also has an emotional role, often generating uncertainty (as in the beginning of Open the Gate, for example, its use is reminiscent of some of Howard’s horror films) and even sadness.

A final element worth mentioning is the action music, which, while not Howard’s best (he is a great composer of action music, often considered a litmus test for a good film composer: The Fugitive, Outbreak, King Kong), features about half a dozen interesting action tracks. The percussive element and the use of brass stand out in tracks like Open the Gate, Afraid of Water, or Drone Attack. However, the most notable aspect of the action music, or the violent phases of the soundtrack, is its use in the film, where it stands out prominently thanks to a mix that prioritizes the score’s sound. At the beginning of the film (The Dark Days), it’s hard not to be impressed by the organic sound of the percussion and brass.

The film has an unusual ending, without an action climax, as the story builds its conclusion languidly while the protagonist’s integrity fades away. The trio of tracks Cabin in the Rain, Lucy?, and Change of Plan are particularly interesting in this regard. In the first, the voice, once beautiful and innocent, becomes distant and doubtful. In the second, the traditional violin disintegrates, and the love theme says goodbye before being engulfed by the music of fear and ambition. In the third, we finally hear the birth of a solo voice that has mutated, becoming gloomy, antagonistic, and malevolent.

In conclusion, James Newton Howard has crafted a dense, nuanced soundtrack with many melodic and thematic variations, but above all, it is intelligent, thoughtful, and almost intellectual music, full of parallel ideas that represent and communicate without being explicit. And he grants the grand spectacle of the franchises what they require when necessary, with grandiose motifs of action and drama. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the best of the five soundtracks in the saga, the most intelligent, emotional, and best applied to the visuals. It is not music that is as easy to listen to outside the film, and the album release does not help either. It’s hard to get used to how neglected Howard’s soundtracks have been in recent years: most are not released on CD, and when they are, they are raw, with numerous tracks, and unedited. A well-assembled album of this score, with 60 minutes divided into 15 tracks, would have delighted many fans, or better yet, would have created more fans.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

  1. The Dark Days (1:55)
  2. Anthem: Gem of Panem (0:43)
  3. Coryo in the Capitol (0:44)
  4. Assigning the Mentors (2:38)
  5. Meet the Mentor (2:01)
  6. Gamemaker (1:20)
  7. Sejanus (1:58)
  8. Hunger is a Weapon (2:43)
  9. Strategy (2:06)
  10. Department of War (3:39)
  11. The Arena (2:06)
  12. Saving Snow (1:23)
  13. Ideas Firing (4:23)
  14. Happy Hunger Games (3:29)
  15. Mercy (2:21)
  16. Seize the Opportunity (1:18)
  17. Cut the Feed (1:27)
  18. Open the Gate (3:46)
  19. Powerful (1:44)
  20. Afraid of Water (1:18)
  21. Drone Attack (3:20)
  22. Inside the Duct (1:03)
  23. Under the Flag (2:55)
  24. Under the Flag (2:55)
  25. Rainbow of Destruction (1:13)
  26. Get Her Out (3:44)
  27. The Sound of Snow (1:59)
  28. Your Life Has Just Begun (1:03)
  29. You Are Safe (1:46)
  30. Trust is Everything (1:20)
  31. I Can't Stay Here (1:42)
  32. Cabin in the Rain (1:31)
  33. Lucy? (2:26)
  34. The Woods (1:09)
  35. Change of Plan (2:03)
  36. Passed the Tests (3:36)
  37. Snow Lands on Top (3:29)
  38. I. Friendship* (2:05)
  39. II. Rue's Farewell* (2:03)
  40. III. Victor* (2:00)
Duración total: 87:06
Compositor: James Newton Howard
Sello: Sony Classical
Formato: CD
Fecha de lanzamiento 17 de Noviembre de 2023
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes