So, does James Horner’s score live up to the images in James Cameron’s film? You bet! James Horner is a fantastic talent and I’m glad Avatar was able to bring him out of this slumber he’s been in for the past couple years.
Avatar is such a grandiose and melodramatic story that it of course was going to require an epic sound to carry it. It takes a while before it hits the ground running but once it does it carries you through romance, tragedy and inspiration. The score has an overall mood and quality that calls on the native american culture and sounds for obvious reasons. Horner uses vocals beautifully. A small chorus for the live renewing sections of the score that bring on a feel of tremendous beauty and lets the story sore. For the tragic parts of the film he utilizes a heart-wrenching solo vocal accompanied by his 4-note “danger motif” that is his signature in almost every score.
The question for Horner was how was he going to score such an overused story to make it feel fresh and new. I mean, we can all agree that the story in Avatar is nothing new here (Dances With Wolves, The New World, The Last Samurai, Ferngully, etc). Hell, even the love story in Titanic can be compared to it. The romance of the score lies within the heart of the film. Horner fans will instantly pick up sounds and arrangements that call back to his work on Braveheart and Titanic. Horner uses synths and electronics more so in this section of the score than anywhere else.
The last third of the score is where all the action music lies. Now, this is where I was taken by surprise. Maybe in a good way or a bad way. I haven’t really decided yet. All the action cues in the score to me feel uninspired mostly because they follow the Hans Zimmer style in such obvious places. Most of it sounds like a hybrid between Zimmer and Steve Jablonsky. So much of it reminded me of the score to Gladiator and in some instances Transformers. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Gathering all the Na'vi clans for battle” from Avatar and immediately listen to “The Might Of Rome” from the Gladiator score. While the score works to tremendous success I was hoping for a little more “Horner” in the arrangements. One last weakness to the score is the lack of a strong central theme. There is one and it’s best heard at 3:45 into the track “Gathering all the Na'vi clans for battle”, but it lacks a commanding presence.
Is this score a masterpiece? No. Is it highly effective, emotional and entertaining? Absolutely. I still think The Perfect Storm is my favorite Horner score if anyone wants to know what standard I’m holding his work to. Avatar is an exciting romantic epic melodrama that will not disappoint. The film however will mostly be remembered by audiences for its breathtaking visuals rather than its story. James Horner’s score carries this film without a doubt but in this case is only as good as the film can be, which is really good but it’s no masterpiece.