Avatar part 3: the music

This is # 15 in the ongoing Saturday Soundtrack series

Music from the Motion Picture, Fox/Atlantic Records 521681-2,  120 minutes

James Horner is a film composer whose work I enjoy and admire. When I see “music by James Horner” I’ll buy the soundtrack recording , as I did this one, which was available just a couple of weeks prior to the film’ U.S. release in December 2009.

I listened to this soundtrack as soon as I got my hands on it, and was lukewarm about what I heard. Sure, there are echoes of other Horner soundtracks, everyone comments that he reuses music, tunes, motifs from one project to the next. Since I like the music, that’s not a problem for me, but some reviewers love to sound off long and loud about it in a negative way. I can enjoy identifying some of those favorite hints from soundtrack to soundtrack, and for me it unifies Horner’s work in a subtle, pleasant way.

After a few times listening to this one, I began to realize that, unlike some of his other works, this time Horner has created music that is symbiotic with the film’s imagery, and since I hadn’t seen the film, I was missing some things. Sure enough, after seeing the film, the music made more sense and I realized, while watching, how the music supports what’s on screen.

I have often said I believe that a good soundtrack should be able to stand alone as a piece of music. I still believe that, but here we have a soundtrack that leans, pretty heavily at times, on the imagery it was written to accompany. That’s okay, I get to enjoy the music and recall the film at the same time, which is a good thing.

For a more in-depth review, without my personal opinions, take a look at this page at the Soundtrack Geek website. Jorn Tillnes has done a fine job reviewing the music, and there is a complete track listing with his ratings for the individual cues.

That wraps it up for my three-part Avatar coverage. Hope you liked it.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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11 Responses to Avatar part 3: the music

  1. I, for one, enjoyed your analysis of AVATAR and its music, Rick. We’ll look back decades from now and see that AVATAR was pivotal film in movie history.

  2. Richard says:

    Thank you, George. I feel like you are my one faithful reader when Saturday comes. Still, as long as the standing ovations continue…

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    But do you have his soundtrack from the classic HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, Rick?

  4. Jeff S. says:

    Thanks for review. I think I will be adding this soundtrack to my amazon wish list as I really enjoyed the music of Avatar.

  5. Carl V. says:

    “I have often said I believe that a good soundtrack should be able to stand alone as a piece of music.”

    I think you are right about that Richard. It is odd, because until I saw your post about this I hadn’t even thought about the music in Avatar. Usually the soundtrack is one of the first things that stands out to me in a film and I often find that the music featured in a movie can lift it from being a mediocre film to a more enjoyable emotional experience. I think I was so involved in the visuals with this one that I didn’t think twice about the movie. I was trying to ‘see everything’, which is never possible, especially on the big screen. I couldn’t honestly say what my opinion of the music was in Avatar at all and I personally find that a bit odd.

  6. Patti Abbott says:

    Having listened to it first, I heard more of it at the movie. But a disembodied soundtrack like this goes right over my head. I plain don’t hear it unless I put down my book and focus. Literally force myself, Should I have to do that? And if I went to a concert to hear it, my mind would soon be somewhere else. However, if there are lyrics attached, it’s a whole other thing. Different ear or brains, I guess.

  7. Richard says:

    a disembodied soundtrack like this goes right over my head. I plain don’t hear it unless I put down my book and focus

    That means you were reading with the music on as background, apparently. I’ll bet you do the same thing with classical music, it’s just background music, and you wouldn’t be alone in doing that. But background music is just that, something in the environment of the space you’re in, not something to pay attention to.

    For me, listening to a soundtrack CD, or classical music, or jazz, is a focused experience. My preferred way to listen to classical is in an otherwise still room, eyes closed. When I listen to film music, I treat it the same way I would a “light” piece of classical music, such as Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. (as opposed to a symphony or concerto, which has more structure): I listen closely but not to the exclusion of everything else.

    I can’t concentrate on reading material if there is vocal music, conversation, television or other noises. I’m not good at tuning out. The lyrics in rock, pop or whatever lyrics force themselves into my consciousness in a way that makes it difficult to concentrate on anything but routine tasks.

  8. Patti Abbott says:

    If I am not reading, I will begin to create a story in my head. I was taught to do this to fall asleep when I had insomnia as a seven year old. The only time the music will capture my full attention is if there are lyrics I am straining to hear–thus another story. Hoeless, I know.

    Which is a nicer place to spend some time-Yorba Linda or Simi Valley. If you are familiar with those place.

  9. Patti Abbott says:

    Hoeless and hopeless.

  10. Richard says:

    Yes, know them both, and the answer depends on WHERE in those places you’ll be. Email me with particulars, and I’ll give you my opinion on each.

    Yorba Linda is only 15 minutes away from here…

  11. Patti Abbott says:

    Well, it would be over the summer or next winter and it would be at either the Nixon or Reagan Library. Phil prefers Nixon, of course. Doing a book on bad presidents so he would qualify. We’d have to find an apt to rent.

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