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Avatar
(2009)
Composed, Co-Orchestrated, Co-Conducted, and Co-Produced by:
James Horner

Co-Orchestrated by:
Nicholas Dodd
J.A.C. Redford
Gary Thomas
Jon Kull

Co-Conducted by:
Jasper Randall

Co-Produced by:
Simon Rhodes

Featured Instrumental Solos by:
Tony Hinnigan
Drea Pressley
Mark Edward Smith

Label:
Atlantic Records/Fox Music

Release Date:
December 15th, 2009

Also See:
Titanic
Glory
The Four Feathers
The Spitfire Grill
Willow
Legends of the Fall
Mighty Joe Young
Where the River Runs Black

Audio Clips:
2009 Album:

4. The Bioluminescence of the Night (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

5. Becoming One of "The People"/Becoming One With Neytiri (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

10. The Destruction of Hometree (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

13. War (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)


2009 Avatar Website Bonus Track:

1. Into the Na'vi World (0:34):
WMA (224K)  MP3 (284K)
Real Audio (199K)

Availability:
Regular U.S. release. The additional 90-second cue "Into the Na'vi World" was released as a teaser on the score's offical website several weeks before the album's street date.

Awards:
  The song and score were both nominated for Golden Globe and Grammy awards. The score was nominated for a BAFTA award and an Academy Award.










Avatar

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Buy it... if you have any affinity for James Horner's various career techniques and instrumentation, for Avatar is a masterful merging of all of those familiar ingredients into a powerhouse of an achievement.

Avoid it... if you seek to judge the sum of Horner's contribution to Avatar on the extremely limiting 78 minutes available on the initial commercial product, a presentation lacking the majority of the score and likely showcasing the most blatant portions of Horner's tiresome self-referencing.



Horner
Avatar: (James Horner) Every filmmaker strives to someday create the next "cinematic event," but James Cameron has a proven ability to focus years of his attention into achieving just such success. Conceived of in the mid-1990's by Cameron was the premise of Avatar, yet technological advancements in film only allowed him to begin tackling the topic in the following decade. True to his self-professed "king of the world" stature, Cameron wrote, directed, shot, and, in some cases, edited the resulting blockbuster himself, emboldened by a budget well over $300 million and the powerful marketing efforts of 20th Century Fox. Not only did Cameron plan on pushing CGI animation to levels only explored on the surface by Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he would attempt to master a 3D technology that had always previously caused difficulty with screen darkness. His story is clearly modeled after recent American history, telling of the corporate exploitation of a far away world in the interests of mining its minerals to help save a hopelessly polluted Earth. Humans' interactions with the people of Pandora, the Na'vi, begin peacefully but eventually resort to forceful military relocation. Parallels between the Na'vi and Native Americans are unmistakable, not to mention a few connections to America's war in Iraq in the 2000's and ongoing environmental issues. Beyond all the innovation in the rendering of Pandora's setting and creatures, as well as the purely gung-ho American displays of Marines in action (on that note, does America's military represent all of Earth in 2154?), Avatar is a Titanic-like love story resulting between the two leads despite an obvious culture clash. When one of the Marines' Na'vi-like avatars (meant to infiltrate the indigenous population) is helmed by necessity by a paraplegic ex-Marine named Jake, he is saved by a surprisingly sensual and tough Na'vi woman, with whom he learns about the people's culture and (not so surprisingly) switches allegiances. By telling the conclusive battle between Na'vi and humans through the perspective of these leads, Cameron achieves the same balance between heart and destruction that kept audiences coming to Titanic a dozen years earlier.

Despite early skeptical buzz, responses to Avatar by major critics were overwhelmingly positive, many claiming it to be the best film of 2009. Not only is the 2 hour, 40 minute running time merited, but the 3D rendering is effective. It successfully attained all of the "game-changing" descriptors that Cameron was seeking, sneaking his political agenda into relevance within a romantic science fiction narrative. Also the recipient of much attention once again was composer James Horner, for whom Titanic remains an endless stream of income and his only source of Academy Award statues to date. With that project having patched up whatever lingering confrontational issues Horner and Cameron had experienced early in their careers (Aliens wasn't a pleasant assignment for Horner by any means), the composer voluntarily devoted a full eighteen months to Avatar, beginning work on the score just after finishing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in early 2008 and toiling from early to late every day on perfecting each cue for Cameron's epic. "I'll have to recover from that and get my head out of Avatar," Horner joked late in the process. He recognized immediately that the scale of this score would need to eclipse everything else in his career, likening the difference between Avatar and previous assignments to hi-definition and a mono cassette. He insisted upon basing the score's foundation upon a traditional orchestral environment. "I had long discussions with Jim [Cameron] and we decided that mainstream audiences were not ready for an avant garde experience," Horner recalls. "They don't listen to avant garde music and Avatar is not an art film. The score needed to be grounded. That's where the world's ear is." On the other hand, Horner was at liberty to bring all of the various ethnic elements he had utilized throughout his career into one massive collaborative mix for Avatar, and it was not unusual for one ten-minute cue to contain performances by ten different ensembles. Editing and mixing Avatar was therefore as challenging as all of the inevitable rewrites that Horner was required to provide for Cameron's own changing edits of the picture. "Sometimes we don't see eye to eye on a cue but I always do it again," he said. "I have no problems rewriting." When considering all of specialty instruments collected for Avatar, though, some of which invented specifically for this recording, you can understand why Horner set aside so much time for only this task.

While there are some relatively unique sounds employed by Horner for Avatar, the score remains a "best of" collection of all of the composer's most eccentric organic and synthetic techniques through the years. As you might expect, the root of Horner's jungle-inspired material (led by native flutes, pan pipes, and watery keyboarding) derives all the way from Where the River Runs Black and Vibes in the 1980's to Apocalypto more recently, and the primal children's choral variations on that same sound were arguably best summarized by Mighty Joe Young. Much of the more serene aspect of Avatar reaches back to The Spitfire Grill, especially with the extensive employment of a whistle to represent the magic of the forest. Lovely fiddle solos are pulled from Legends of the Fall. The electronic side of Avatar comes in two forms, the soothing melodic grace of processed choral effects a la Titanic and the groaning, deep menace ranging from Vibes to Courage Under Fire. The piano also spans the same emotional range, performing Horner's stereotypical descending figures to inspire curiosity in parts while crashing in the lower ranges during moments of fright (without the usually reliable timpani for the effect). Brass play a more predictable role, the trumpets called upon once again for Horner's famous four-note motif of danger. Cymbal tapping and sparkling piano from A Beautiful Mind continue. Outside of a recurring, plucked string effect, the mixing of a variety of unprocessed solo voices in Avatar is perhaps its most strikingly original element. Unlike the dreamy environment created by Sissel's new age style of performances for Titanic, Horner uses tones from a choir boy to operatic female adult to ensure a more organic feel to their contribution. Perhaps some of this employment was inspired by Howard Shore in his The Lord of the Ring scores, and the product here is no less beautiful in parts. The varying vocal accents invented by Horner aren't entirely original (they remind of the composer's early imitation of Jerry Goldsmith in really old works like Deadly Blessing, as well as Thunderheart and James Newton Howard's more creative music); the high children's vocals for the Na'vi are reminiscent of Mighty Joe Young, though they more precisely emulate the popular "Adiemus" recordings usually associated with vocalist Mariam Stockley in the late 1990's. The sakauhachi flute, the prototypical Horner favorite and a lovely instrument, puffs in rhythm and wails away at times in a supporting role.

So while Horner may claim that a significant amount of effort went into the creative employment of unusual instrumentation with which to accent the familiar orchestral foundation for a mainstream blockbuster, Avatar has very few moments in which the texture of the music will surprise you. Instead, Horner manages to impress with the fact that he has collected so many of the instrumental "colours" (as he calls it) that have represented his career and massaged them into one score. Thankfully, he doesn't try to insert many Irish or Scottish tones into Avatar; only a snippet of bagpipe is to be heard in "Shutting Down Grace's Lab." Absent are the acoustic guitars from the Zorro scores and, despite some hints, the extensive tapping of snare and electronic circuit imitations of Apollo 13. Otherwise, every major, memorable instrumental usage by Horner is heard repeatedly in Avatar. Thus, in terms of texture, it will be a comforting experience for most Horner enthusiasts. The same situation applies when examining the thematic constructs that he faithfully develops for Avatar. There exist five recurring themes of note in the score, though only three will likely leave a lasting impression on the listener of the soundtrack album. Each of these themes is derived in part (or almost in sum) from a previous Horner score, and if you're bothered by the composer's habit of cannibalizing his own themes (a technique predictably cited as a detriment in James Berardinelli's review of Avatar), then you could be in for a bumpy ride here. Some of the re-use in Avatar is subtle enough that only the texture of the performances will reveal the inspiration, though at other times the progressions are so obviously lifted that even a dedicated Horner apologist will roll his eyes. You'll hear full blown themes and fragmentary progressions in Avatar that you will immediately recognize from The Four Feathers, Glory, Willow, Titanic, and Legends of the Fall. Why Horner seems so inept at conjuring unique chord progressions for his themes is truly baffling, but fortunately his ideas are generally able to be manipulated so well that they suit the emotional needs of multiple contexts. As such, few non-soundtrack collectors in the mainstream will be sitting around scratching their heads over this issue (Berardinelli actually mistakenly compared this score to Star Trek II and Aliens, neither of which having anything much in common musically with Avatar), and Horner at least saves his most unique idea in this score for the film's primary theme.

When confronted by a film of the stature and length of Avatar, it's almost impossible to give a truly rounded assessment of its score based on its first album release. Horner selected 78 minutes of music generally representative of the film's narrative for the Fox product, but well more than twice that amount of material exists (if you include all of the recordings eventually thrown out late in the editing process). The album gives you a pretty good feel of what Horner was trying to accomplish for Avatar, but it is a known fact that superior material was left off of the product. With this restriction in mind, remember that this review of the score's major themes concentrates on only the major cues chosen for the album. One of the intriguing aspects of Horner's work here is that despite his obvious re-use issues, he does take his themes and manipulate them extensively throughout the score (almost to unrecognizable forms that utilize only the same base chord progressions at staggered tempos), so any dissatisfaction or confusion caused by the treatment of a theme on album is likely to be answered by a more complete release of the music in the form of a possible subsequent album. More about this situation will be discussed in the assignment of an overall rating to Avatar at the end of the review, but it's important to illuminate this issue prior to starting a blow-by-blow analysis of Horner's themes for the score. The album only allows three of those themes to develop naturally over the course of its length, with the two others never really congealing or restrained to just a portion of the release (whereas a fuller album could reveal additional applications). There is also, of course, the pop song to contend with in Avatar. Horner had to convince Cameron to use the Celine Dion song at the end of Titanic (recording it in secret and then thrusting it upon the director) and he would pitch the same kind of song to the director once again. "There is over three hours of music in the movie and I needed something that would keep people in their seats for the end credits," Horner explains. "Another orchestral piece would not do that. I wanted to end the film on something personal." By basing the song on the love theme from the score, he thus emphasized that idea as the primary representative of the entire work. Horner reminds, "I approach things very emotionally. I'm always pushing that side of a story." Perhaps it is no surprise that the romantic side of the score will far overshadow the appeal of the action side for many listeners.

Not only does the title theme of Avatar represent the growing bond between Jake's avatar and Neytiri, his Na'vi savior and advocate, but it also conveys the enthusiasm that the paraplegic experiences with his newfound sense of freedom. It's a discovery theme of the most harmonically appealing kind, built upon an elementary, but satisfying series of four chord progressions that are a simplified variation (in the third of the four shifts) on the secondary phrase of Horner's Titanic love theme. This progression is omnipresent in the score, heard in some form or another in each of the thirteen score tracks on the initial album, and it this idea that provides Avatar with its most spectacular melodic highlights. Interestingly, these four shifts are only part of a much larger, more elegant theme that is rather short-changed on the album. To get a good sense of this theme in its entirety, you have to pay close attention to the Leona Lewis song's progressions; the singer takes artistic liberties with Horner's theme in "I See You" and thus, along with the post-processed sound that messes with the reverb of the performance, almost ruins the otherwise beautiful theme. But you'll note that while the chorus section of the song is indeed the well-established four-chord progression, the remainder of the theme is as compelling if not more so. The only instance when you get to hear this theme in full in the score on album is in "Becoming One of 'The People'," which opens with a gorgeous solo boy's voice conveying the entirety of the theme twice over light percussive rhythms, soothing harp and strings, and eventually children's choir. If you're looking to nail down the full identity of the score's heart and soul, start with the opening of this cue. The idea's development comes much earlier than Jake's discovery of the Na'vi, however, for Horner foreshadows the theme significantly. In the muscular turmoil of the string ostinatos in the middle of "'You Don't Dream in Cryo...'," Horner introduces the theme at 3:20 and carries its baseline thereafter. A related, strictly rising variant on the four progressions, with plucked strings and choir, is another hint at 1:45 in "Jake Enters His Avatar World," an effective transitional cue that is followed by a minute of native percussive rhythms and another minute of exciting but relatively humble performances of the theme. It slowly meanders in the background on violins from 0:38 to 4:45 in "Pure Spirits of the Forest," before a pretty, heightened woodwind and synth version is interrupted by darker material.

The score really begins to take flight in "The Bioluminescence of the Night," the textures and harmony of the three Na'vi themes extensively conveyed with unhindered harmony over the subsequent 20 minutes. The discovery/love theme extends from soft woodwinds at 0:37 to watery percussion and choir at 1:53 (this is where Howard's Waterworld comparisons come in) and a surprisingly warm violin solo at 2:41. As mentioned before, this primary theme is highlighted by "Becoming One of 'The People'/Becoming One With Neytiri," the first three minutes of the cue the best instrumental representation of the melodic structures in the song. Rambling piano accompaniment from A Beautiful Mind and the lofty whistle from The Spitfire Grill atop the ensemble accompany the theme on more substantive strings at 2:33 and return in the fifth minute of the cue. Tender solo woodwind performances of the theme at 5:54 lead to another swell of choral and string beauty at the end of the track. In both "Climbing Up 'Iknimaya - The Path to Heaven'" and "Jake's First Flight," Horner uses the discovery/love theme as interlude to a secondary ascension theme; in the first cue, it exists with vibrant choral accents over percussion and bass strings at 1:33 and in the latter cue it receives 40 seconds of lush keyboarding, vocal accents, and percussion at 0:59. While the chanted Na'vi-language accents (usually two-syllable) are refreshing, the bass string rising and falling to key in the first of the two cues is an all-to-familiar technique dating back to scores like Gorky Park and Red Heat. As the music turns decidedly darker, this theme is the one most frequently manipulated into expressions of worry or panic against dissonant brass. It's tortured at 0:44, 0:58, and 2:06 into "Scorched Earth" in ways that will remind of the Titanic sinking scenes; the final minute of that cue actually twists the secondary phrases of that theme as well. The theme brings a brief moment of relief in its accelerated synth and percussion performance at 1:33 into "Quaritch." It's intentionally mangled at 0:30 into "The Destruction of Hometree" and thrust into terror at 2:03 into that cue. Only slight lamentation in the base four chords can be heard at 0:25 into "Shutting Down Grace's Lab." As reality sets in further, the theme is barely referenced in the first 20 seconds of "Gathering All the Na'vi Clans for Battle" and is relegated to a lonely solo vocal at 8:56 into "War" that extends into the secondary phrases of the theme with great sorrow. The theme's degeneration as Avatar loses its romantic fantasy atmosphere and reaches its necessary confrontation is heartbreaking.

The other two major Na'vi themes are a bit more troublesome in the Horner re-use category. The first is the Na'vi culture theme, which resembles the primary The Four Feathers identity and, to a lesser extent, the Legends of the Fall love theme. This idea becomes increasing prevalent as the score matures, eventually closing it out on a somber note. Before it is expressed first in full in the middle of "Becoming One of 'The People'," Horner previews it in fragmentary roles. Plaintive solo voice at 1:15 into "'You Don't Dream in Cryo...'" and faint woodwinds 30 seconds into "Jake Enters His Avatar World" lead to a secondary phrase (of very typical Horner fashion) on native flute at 1:32 in "The Bioluminescence of the Night." Nestled in between memorable performances of the main discovery/romance theme in "Becoming One of 'The People'," the Na'vi culture theme flourishes from 3:08 to 3:54, the full ensemble joined by whistle in the highest ranges and dramatic cymbal crescendos. The theme goes on hiatus until the conclusive battle cues, first in subdued, troubled fragments at 5:26 in "The Destruction of Hometree" (under the usual danger motif) and then in further fragments on native woodwind at 1:06 into "Shutting Down Grace's Lab." It generates momentum throughout the first half of "Gathering All the Na'vi Clans for Battle" before reaching its full climax with ensemble and choir at 3:31 into that cue. The manipulation of the theme in "War" is very adept, following a Na'vi battle theme at 0:51 and eventually merging with it. After a dramatic and massive statement at 6:08 into "War," the Na'vi culture theme continues to inform the remainder of the cue, eventually reaching both contemplative strings and defiant brass counterpoint in the last two minutes. The aforementioned Na'vi battle theme is the third significant piece of the thematic puzzle for the species, best described as a Willow-like trumpet call to action. An intriguing foreshadowing of the theme at 2:57 into "The Bioluminescence of the Night" is perhaps the most unusual presentation of the theme within the context of Avatar, though its free-floating sensibilities of Titanic likeness here are blatant re-use by the composer. A noble brass preview at 1:35 into "Scorched Earth" yields the full theme at 2:17, complete with dual choral hits. Whenever you hear parts of Avatar that remind you of Willow (or Horner's muscular action writing stance of a harmonic nature that had previously extended all the way through The Legend of Zorro), you're likely hearing part of the Na'vi battle theme.

That heroic battle call for the Na'vi is most extensively explored in "The Destruction of Hometree," aided by deep choral fright and plaintive sakauhachi flute blasts. Launched with militaristic snare and brass progressions at 1:32 (and again at 2:45) into that cue, a deliberate and dramatic version of the battle theme at 3:37 leads to low choral melodramatics. The singing ensemble performs the theme in similarly slower tempo at 4:33 as well. The (indeed) haunting vocalizations of "Shutting Down Grace's Lab" imitate the theme's progressions in a layering much like Thunderheart (without stating the actual theme). It is applied as fragmentary counterpoint to the culture theme at 2:45 into "Gathering All the Na'vi Clans for Battle." In the conclusive "War," the Na'vi battle theme answers the humans' military theme at 0:51 and merges with the culture theme thereafter. The massive choral rhythm at 3:37 into "War," similar to the Fort Wagner sequence in Glory and complete with banging chimes, is this theme's final statement, albeit in such bloated form that it's difficult to recognize. It is in this cue that the humans' military theme is most dominant, opening the cue with bravado and dominating the native accents. Additional brass statements of the theme persist on brass at 1:54 into the cue. The theme's progressions are previewed over a snare rhythm briefly at 4:15 into "'You Don't Dream in Cryo...'." Interestingly, Horner uses the format of three rising notes in the minor key on deep brass to represent everything frightening in the score, and this choice extends to the enormous pounding at 5:27 into "Pure Spirits of the Forest" (over mechanized groaning). Perhaps it should come as no surprise that all beasts, living or mechanical, represent the same inherent danger. The final theme in Avatar is one for ascension that exists only in the middle portion of the soundtrack's album. Horner has stolen pieces of his evocative main theme for Glory several times through the years, but never as completely as he does here. After thirty seconds in "Climbing Up 'Iknimaya - The Path to Heaven'," the theme is repeated several times on children's choir and percussion in the cue (using the discovery/love theme as an interlude). The same formula is repeated after half a minute in "Jake's First Flight," though the latter cue allows it one mostly orchestral performance at the 2:24 mark. After these cues relating to Jake's official assimilation into Na'vi culture, the theme, at least on album, disappears, making it Glory's one truly distracting contribution to these specific tracks.

A few other motifs run through Avatar, many of them equally familiar to any Horner collector. The presence of the four-note motif of danger, a stalwart since Horner's earliest action material, is disappointing, but at least there's no ambiguity about its purpose at this point. It becomes a frequent contributor from the latter half of "Scorched Earth" onward. As in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, he tones it back to the performance of a single trumpet to solemnly denote danger past, a neat touch. Another typical Horner technique on display in Avatar is the three-note "rise and fall" motif, famous from the opening and closing choral performances in Willow; it's Horner method of enhancing minor-key fantasy with an awing swell of major (as at 4:40 into "Becoming One of 'The People'/Becoming One With Neytiri"), though minor-key variant of this tested idea pops up in the action material as well. Additionally, a Na'vi defiance call (a pair of hits by vocalists and percussion) is utilized often. This motif resembles the many times Horner has used a pair of banging metallic objects (such as an anvil) in previous works. Here, it's a convenient way to get the Na'vi language into the score without much structural effort. At 3:51 into "Scorched Earth" and extending into "Quaritch," these hits (now with the clanging metal) extend past simple Mighty Joe Young territory and breathe forceful life into their defiance. First minute of "The Bioluminescence of the Night" relies heavily upon the other two major motifs, both aiding in the brilliance of the softer Na'vi music. An alternating high flute/whistle figure returns from The Spitfire Grill (returning at 1:00 into "Becoming One of 'The People'" and continuing in many of the main theme's performances), sometimes stretched into lower registers and quietly tailing off as in Braveheart. It's slowed down and lowered on brass in "Becoming One of 'The People'" at 1:50. Also, a descending piano counterpoint figure containing pairs of notes is almost omnipresent in "The Bioluminescence of the Night," sometimes four to six notes in their joined fall and sometimes continuing as long as necessary. This idea percolates during most of the score's most sensitive moments. Horner eventually twists it into a figure of resolution for brass, descending to key in ways reminiscent of Enemy at the Gates. Avid Horner collectors can probably find several more familiar pieces from older scores here and there in Avatar, on top of the many instrumental applications that, despite Horner's testimony to suggest otherwise, are comfortable to his tastes, including the tones of the six vocal soloists.

A couple of unique motific moments do debut in Avatar, times at which Horner's references to his older scores are so thin that they seem to suggest a novel approach to a scene. Among these is an incredible Celtic-like interlude for female vocalist (Lisbeth Scott, perhaps?) at the end of "Jake's First Flight," cleverly using fragments of both the discovery and culture themes while blending their pieces into something fresh. Another relatively unique moment comes about four minutes into "Gathering All the Na'vi Clans for Battle," during which you'll swear that Cameron used Hans Zimmer's Pirates of the Caribbean as a temp track. The use of East Indian vocals in "Shutting Down Grace's Lab" is a clear reminder of Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's performances in The Four Feathers, albeit much softer. These singular offerings are in no way enough to compensate for the fact that almost the whole of Horner's work for Avatar is derived in some form or another from his previous efforts. For the composer's longtime collectors, the re-use phenomenon has been an issue going back to the mid-1980's, so few can claim that Avatar is any different in these regards. Some mainstream listeners may hear similarities in tone and progression to Titanic during the discovery/romance theme (and song), and that was probably Horner's intent. If you believe in the strength of the ingredients, though, as well as the composer's talent for applying them expertly for the necessary emotional impact of a scene, then Avatar will undoubtedly impress you. Horner certainly has a touch for capturing the spirit of any given scene despite the fact that he uses the same techniques and instruments to do it nearly every time. The clear difference with Avatar, though, is that he reaches back to so many of those ingredients for one score. Unlike his successful scores for the Zorro franchise, which are a triumph of originality in Horner's career because of a few contributions of ethnic flair, Avatar goes out on countless branches simultaneously. In comparing his choices to Cameron's, he said, "We both like to, as he puts it, walk on a branch and hear it creak. We both like that feeling of being way out on a limb. We both like to take chances." That said, the Avatar score's greatest gamble is its posture as a "greatest hits" collection of Horner's career sounds, an attribute likely to raise the ire of any detractor of the composer's methodology. Some might say that hearing all of the Hornerisms in one place at one time qualifies the result as transcendent or radically new.

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In sum, it's been difficult determining what overall rating to give this score. The minimum it deserves is four stars; there is no justification for going lower than that, because despite any concerns over the re-use, the assembly of the parts for this truly epic cinematic event makes for a formidable product. Sure, Horner's forcing of themes from The Four Feathers and Glory into obvious roles in Avatar is awkward (and a continued disappointment), but for those without those CDs on their shelves, does it really make that much of a difference in a context such as this? If you compare Avatar to the other scores of 2009, there's really nothing that can touch it in terms of ambition. This is a powerhouse of a score that ranks among the most diverse and thoughtful in Horner's career, poised to make the kind of waves last caused by Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings music. Horner's development and especially manipulation of his themes for Avatar is extremely intelligent, addressing each circumstance with the kind of precision in alteration heard last in Shore's famous trilogy. Perhaps no better example of this technique exists than the cue "Into the Na'vi World," a 90-second teaser that was available as a preview on the score's official website. All three of the score's major themes exist in slightly masked form in this cue. It opens with the main discovery/romance theme under the plucked string accents and over a strong bed of percussion, but the progression, in its enthusiasm, has been given a few extra notes over its four base shifts. It is followed at the halfway mark by fragments of the culture theme on large-scale brass and strings, concluding with the battle theme on brass and pairs of the Na'vi defiance call in unison. It's a spectacular recording that is not available on the album release (and considered by some fans to be a "bonus cue"), and if this is the kind of material that didn't make the album, then what else awaits the ears of film score enthusiasts? Horner claims to have put the same level of passion and detail into all three hours of music for Avatar, so even if you find the commercial album lacking, the score likely has much more to offer. The twenty minutes of Na'vi material in the middle of that limited album, as well as the rowdy action rhythms and solemn conclusion to "War," counter a mundane song and re-use issues to return Horner to five-star status. That rating represents the entire recording, though, one that will hopefully be commercially released someday, because you have to give Horner the benefit of the doubt when he says, "This film has been all of that and more." *****   Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For James Horner reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.13 (in 98 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.18 (in 187,244 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.





 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  


Regular Average: 3.77 Stars
Smart Average: 3.58 Stars*
***** 3371 
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              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Re: Avatar is demonic, desensitizing us to ...
  Marvin Arnold -- 10/25/13 (9:23 a.m.)
   Re: This Soundtrack Causes Spiritual And Mo...
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   Re: Avatar Promotes Public Nudity and Butt ...
  Marvin Arnold -- 10/25/13 (8:44 a.m.)
   Re: Avatar Promotes Public Nudity and Butt ...
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   Thanks for that. If you don't mind, I'd lik...
  Richard Kleiner -- 5/23/12 (3:37 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 78:51


• 1. "You Don't Dream in Cryo..." (6:09)
• 2. Jake Enters His Avatar World (5:24)
• 3. Pure Spirits of the Forest (8:49)
• 4. The Bioluminescence of the Night (3:37)
• 5. Becoming One of "The People"/Becoming One With Neytiri (7:43)
• 6. Climbing Up "Iknimaya - The Path to Heaven" (3:18)
• 7. Jake's First Flight (4:50)
• 8. Scorched Earth (3:32)
• 9. Quaritch (5:01)
• 10. The Destruction of Hometree (6:47)
• 11. Shutting Down Grace's Lab (2:47)
• 12. Gathering All the Na'vi Clans for Battle (5:14)
• 13. War (11:21)
• 14. I See You (Theme from Avatar) - performed by Leona Lewis (4:20)




 Notes and Quotes:  


The insert includes two production photos of Horner conducting the score and working with Cameron in the studio, as well as a list of performers and a note from the composer that mainly thanks his collaborators. Some of the text on the packaging is unnecessarily small and of poor contrast with the background color, making the notes and credits difficult to read.





   
  All artwork and sound clips from Avatar are Copyright © 2009, Atlantic Records/Fox Music. The reviews and other textual content contained on the filmtracks.com 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 12/19/09 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2009-2013, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved. Science fiction extravaganzas are never complete without complicated interspecies sex.