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Composed, Co-Orchestrated, Co-Conducted, and Co-Produced by:

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
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Atlantic Records/Fox Music
(December 15th, 2009)
Availability Icon
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.
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.
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
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.
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WRITTEN 12/19/09
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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.

Ratings Icon
Average: 3.81 Stars
***** 3,516 5 Stars
**** 2,356 4 Stars
*** 1,285 3 Stars
** 900 2 Stars
* 683 1 Stars
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(Comment Deleted by Poster)   Expand >>
Mitchell Kyler Martin - May 11, 2016, at 8:49 p.m.
2 comments  (1943 views)
Newest: February 5, 2017, at 6:54 p.m. by
Entertainment Junkie Reviews "Avatar"
Callum Hofler - September 8, 2014, at 5:28 a.m.
1 comment  (1928 views)
Avatar Promotes Public Nudity and Butt Picking   Expand >>
J.Palmer - September 23, 2011, at 8:06 p.m.
9 comments  (9949 views)
Newest: May 29, 2015, at 12:22 p.m. by
Timothy Heim
Don't support an already mediocre film anymore
Richard Kleiner - February 19, 2011, at 10:56 p.m.
1 comment  (2491 views)
A Fair Film Score
Rebecca - February 7, 2011, at 1:32 a.m.
1 comment  (2288 views)
Avatar 2   Expand >>
Trevor - July 4, 2010, at 1:46 p.m.
2 comments  (3593 views)
Newest: October 8, 2016, at 8:47 a.m. by
Mitchell Kyler Martin

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
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 Icon
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.
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The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Avatar are Copyright © 2009, Atlantic Records/Fox Music and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 12/19/09 (and not updated significantly since).
Science fiction extravaganzas are never complete without complicated interspecies sex.
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