James Horner Avatar: Music from the Motion Picture Review

Soundtrack. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Horner’s score to Cameron’s latest stands up well as an independent listen.

Mike Diver 2009

Though it’s unlikely to have slipped by many radars, for those who’ve not ventured outside of their house for the past six months, turned on the television or tuned the radio: James Cameron’s new film, Avatar, is A Very Big Deal Indeed. Less so for its somewhat clichéd, rather hodgepodge plot; more for its amazing three-dimensional visuals, which really do push the cinematic experience to a whole new level of immersion.

Ostensibly an all-action sci-fi offering as the movie is, it’d be natural to expect James Horner’s soundtrack to be every bit as mercilessly assaulting of the ears as Avatar’s awe-inspiring visuals are the eyes. But the multi-award-winning composer – who worked with Cameron on Titanic and Aliens – takes an admirably counter-intuitive approach, with the earliest cues on this set notable for their restraint. Pure Spirits of the Forest threatens to break into a sweat, but its percussive punch is short-lived, much of its run time consumed by starry twinkles and strange whistles. It, like several pieces here, also exhibits string elements familiar to fans of Celtic music – something that’s become a Horner trademark, for better or worse.

The ethereal vocals of “You Don’t Dream in Cryo…” are teleportal in their suggestion of a faraway land populated by wonderful, surreal beings. The ‘aliens’ of Avatar, the Na‘vi – whose home world humans have targeted for its natural resources (the film’s ecological message not lost on today’s climate change-aware audience) – are represented aurally by motifs incorporating African rhythms, percussively playful but accessible enough so that world music-shy listeners can enjoy them – think more Paul Simon than Staff Benda Bilili. Climbing Up “Iknimaya – The Path to Heaven” is one such piece, vocally rooted in the rainforests and savannas but released to soar like the most stirring orchestral highs. Jake’s First Flight furthers this impression, its skittering beats and snatches of indigenous speech as suitable at WOMAD as they are complementing interplanetary adventuring.

While it’ll appeal mostly to fans of the movie – of whom there are sure to be several thousand already – Horner’s Avatar score stands up well as an independent listen, too. Such are its nuances that it necessitates a detailed listen, and that one will only lead to further explorations as every subtlety is sought out for enjoyment. The final, complete picture in the mind’s eye is a wonderful one; that it’s matched on screen is testament indeed to Cameron’s unfaltering creativity.

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