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The Last Airbender
Album Cover Art
Composed and Co-Produced by:

Co-Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Pete Anthony

Co-Orchestrated by:
Conrad Pope
Jon Kull
John Ashton Thomas
Marcus Trumpp
Jim Honeyman

Co-Produced by:
Jim Weidman
Stuart Michael Thomas
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Lakeshore Records
(June 29th, 2010)
Availability Icon
Regular U.S. release. It was available on iTunes a month prior to CD's street date.
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Decorative Nonsense
(inverts site colors)

   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you've appreciated the massively harmonic snippets from James Newton Howard's scores of the prior ten years but seek such ambitious symphonic performances over the length of an entire soundtrack.

Avoid it... if you need thematic transparency as mesmerizing as Howard's classic Lady in the Water, because The Last Airbender impresses you with harmonic expressiveness and instrumental technicalities rather than instantly obvious identities.
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WRITTEN 6/3/10
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The Last Airbender: (James Newton Howard) An acclaimed hit for the Nickelodeon television channel from 2005 to 2008, "Avatar: The Last Airbender" brought Asian mythology and martial arts combat to audiences of children. It told of an age of fantasy when the basic elements of the planet (Earth, Water, Fire, and Air) could be controlled by individuals, with one "Avatar" maintaining the ability to handle all four. This de facto leader is responsible for bringing the peoples of the world together, and in the absence of one for a long time, war has erupted between the "Benders" capable of manipulating just one of the elements. The Fire Nation has sought to dominate, and the fate of the planet rests on the one known Airbender to remain. This 112-year-old boy (ah, the joys of perpetual pre-pubescence!) is in fact the next Avatar, and in the first season of the show, he learns his craft and teams with friends from the Water Tribes to kick off a confrontation that eventually incorporates the Earth Kingdom in subsequent seasons. Nickelodeon and Paramount gave over $100 million to M. Night Shyamalan to write, produce, and direct an adaptation of the show into the first of three feature films, each to address the events of the concept's three season-defining "books." The translation of the cartoon into live action didn't come without some controversy, however, as the Asian screen identities of the characters on TV were adapted into a primarily white cast for the film, drawing significant criticism. Also to contend with was James Cameron's monolithic Avatar, which in early 2010 forced the production to reduce its name to the subtitle, The Last Airbender. A comprehensive advertising campaign for Shyamalan's film included trailers with original score recordings by James Newton Howard to utilize musical ideas already developed. The Last Airbender represents the seventh collaboration between the composer and director over the last decade or so, and the film music community was pleased to learn in 2008 of the composer's involvement in this promising franchise. Enthusiasts of the show, however, were not as forgiving of this obvious choice; the music for the television series was provided by Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn under the name The Track Team, and their work had established an exotic sound through the employment of various worldly instruments. Howard was not expected to adapt their themes from the show into the film, much to the disgruntlement of those fans, but the resulting score may change their minds.

The Howard scores for Shyamalan's films have yielded some forgettable music and a few gems. Both The Village and Lady in the Water are highly regarded, the latter considered by many to be the best score of 2006. These efforts prove that the memorable qualities of his music for these collaborations depend upon how much fantasy Howard can address when attempting to capture the emotional core of a film (as he has expressed as his primary duty in the past). Some assignments offer him more of a dynamic canvas on which to create the kind of flowing orchestral and choral fantasy heard initially in full during his stint as the primary Disney composer in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Pieces of this kind of grandiose material were evident in projects like The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep and I Am Legend, but only in Lady in the Water did he really have a chance to develop such lyrical "magic" in nearly every measure of a score. Finally, The Last Airbender has afforded him the chance to lather on the harmonic grandeur once again, albeit at volumes far greater than in the 2006 favorite. The scope of this score is monumental to say the least, utilizing the blunt force of an orchestra while layering its extremely balanced ranks with choral accents and specialty instruments. The choir and soloists effective convey the mystical fantasy realm, though the choir is not as omnipresent as it is in Lady in the Water; instead, it only occasionally lends depth to moments of awe (especially later on the album release) and is more inclined to chant violently for the sequences of confrontation. The regional flavor comes from Eastern woodwinds (an erhu seemed like a logical choice) and the hazy tones of glass percussion fog up the atmosphere much like the portions of Lady in the Water that managed not to find their way onto the commercial release of that score. One of the most intriguing aspects of the instrumental assignments to The Last Airbender involves the idea of using the four sections of the orchestra to individually represent the four natural elements. For instance, such a setup would primarily use woodwinds for the Air, strings for the Water, percussion for the Earth, and brass for Fire. While Howard does seem to lean in that direction in regards to applying the ethnic woodwinds for the primary character, the Airbender, and a rolling, descending string figure as the rhythmic backdrop for some of the water-related scenes, those choices don't offer overarching evidence to suggest the total coordination of orchestral and natural sections.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.15 Stars
***** 1,472 5 Stars
**** 443 4 Stars
*** 313 3 Stars
** 200 2 Stars
* 125 1 Stars
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This is...
Ed - November 18, 2012, at 4:56 p.m.
1 comment  (1683 views)
Why so Expensive?
Glass - November 4, 2010, at 1:34 p.m.
1 comment  (2176 views)
Howard Pulled A Horner!   Expand >>
Trevor - July 4, 2010, at 1:29 p.m.
2 comments  (3911 views)
Newest: November 4, 2010, at 1:32 p.m. by
Choir removed from album release   Expand >>
Mac.K - June 16, 2010, at 6:48 p.m.
4 comments  (3967 views)
Newest: October 12, 2010, at 3:56 a.m. by
-applauds-   Expand >>
pyrokittygomeow - June 6, 2010, at 6:19 a.m.
3 comments  (3485 views)
Newest: June 16, 2010, at 5:21 p.m. by

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
Total Time: 66:46
• 1. Airbender Suite (11:17)
• 2. Earthbenders (5:54)
• 3. The Avatar Has Returned (4:43)
• 4. The Four Elements Test (5:31)
• 5. Journey to the Northern Water Tribe (4:02)
• 6. Hall of Avatars (3:40)
• 7. Prologue (2:43)
• 8. The Blue Spirit (7:17)
• 9. The Spirit World (5:19)
• 10. We Could Be Friends (4:09)
• 11. We Are Now the Gods (5:47)
• 12. Flow Like Water (6:33)

Notes Icon
The insert includes a list of performers, but no extra information about the score or film.
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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 The Last Airbender are Copyright © 2010, Lakeshore Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 6/3/10 (and not updated significantly since).
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