Whether Avatar 2: The Waterway divides viewers, James Cameron’s epic fresco can also be questioned about the quality of its soundtrack.
Among the most loyal collaborators of james cameronimpossible not to dwell on James Hornerthe composer of the filmmaker’s most famous soundtracks. Of course, everyone remembered the martial percussions ofAliensthe flutes of titanic and the enchanting voices of the first Avatar. But much to our dismay, James Horner tragically passed away following a plane crash in 2015.
If the artist left his mark on the world of film music (Braveheart, Star Trek II, The Mask of Zorro…), we had to find someone capable of replacing the maestro on the sequels ofAvatar. We must admit that on this one, James Cameron did not take a big risk, since he turned to Simon Franglen.
The name may seem unfamiliar, yet the composer has worked on a number of hit films, as well as with pop artists (from Michael Jackson to Madonna to Barbra Streisand) as an arranger and producer. The man’s pedigree is more than impressive, even if he has above all remained a man in the shadows as discreet as he is essential. His privileged collaborations with Alan Silvestri, Howard Shore and of course James Horner have made him an obvious candidate to take over the musical adventure on Pandora. But that may be the problem…
The first who touches James Horner, he takes one
Reincarnation or copying?
Already credited on the soundtrack of the first AvatarSimon Franglen was able to take the reins on the composition long before the release of The Way of the Water. Indeed, the death of James Horner deprived us of seeing him finish his work on Pandora – The World of Avatar, the area dedicated to the imaginary planet within Disney World. Franglen therefore concluded the work of the master, but remained in rather comfortable slippers, contenting himself with taking over the sounds and motifs of Horner without upsetting the formula too much.
Gold, The Way of the Water mainly suffers from this same approach. It obviously makes sense for a franchise to reuse themes established in the past, but the music ofAvatar 2 mostly happy with recycle the highlights of the first album. Admittedly, the idea is sometimes effective given the parallels that Cameron weaves between certain sequences of his sequel with those of the original film, but the feeling of repetition is very present, and this from the first minutes of the feature film (Happiness Is Simple).
On this point, there are moreover two revealing examples. Even taking the full soundtrack (consisting of 32 tracks), two important scenes fromAvatar 2 are not entitled to their isolated piece, simply because it isan undisguised reuse of Horner’s compositions. The first is when Lo’ak gets attacked by the Nalutsa (sort of giant shark from Pandora) to the same music as the chase with the Thanator in the first film. And the second, it is during the death of the mother Tulkun (following the track The Hunt), which takes up with the same sense of tragedy one of the most famous themes ofAvatar : the end of The Destruction of Hometree.
However, these more or less assumed “tempo musics” tend to prove that the problem comes less from Franglen than from Cameron himself, whose approach to film music often seeks the lowest common denominator, to ensure that the score helps the dynamism and immersion of its sequences, even if it means depriving it of an overly marked identity. Horner has amply transcended such limitations in the past (especially with Aliens and titanic), but it’s clear that his collaborator doesn’t have such leeway here.
It is even worth remembering that originally, the gargantuan worldbuilding ofAvatar – which required the intervention of linguists, biologists and anthropologists – led Horner to carry out numerous experiments, in order to create the most alien music possible. The composer went to dig into a large number of cultures, and even tried a new approach to music theory by imagining how four-fingered aliens would consider their music. As a result, Cameron took fright at the strangeness of the proposal, and asked Horner to stay on more traditional bases, so as not to disturb the public too much.
If we can consider this regression as a missed opportunity, James Horner’s score on the first Avatar is nevertheless very identifiable, no doubt because the composer has magnified most of his mannerisms, from his famous motif of danger taken from Rachmaninoff to his aggressive flutes. For his part, Simon Franglen takes up this grammar, and embellishes it with more or less interesting additions.
The voice of water
After the first disappointment of a more subdued music, it is however necessary to underline the successes of the soundtrack ofAvatar 2to start with his new theme: The Songcord. Both representative of the fusion of the Sully family and of their entirely mythological place in the universe of the saga, this melancholic motif is cleverly designed to confer various emotions depending on its use.
The poignant song which is at its origin in the diegesis (magnificently sung by Zoe Saldana) turns out to be a song of devastating mourning, carrying with it the regrets of a couple who embarks their children in a war that they do not did not ask. Franglen does not hesitate to decline this melodic base in a more epic way (leaving home, Bad Parents), before exploiting it as the foundation for The Weeknd’s final song, Nothing Is Lost (Give Me Strength) (which the author of these lines listens to in a loop, do not judge him).
From there, we must recognize that Franglen is particularly good at take on Horner’s style, and more particularly the energy of his action pieces and tension, stuffed with stressful upswings, raging strings and backfiring brass. Of Na’vi Attack at knife fight Passing by Train Attack and A New Starthe composer knows how to be effective, while adding a few new touches, such as choirs with a more lyrical dimension, or astonishing electro sounds.
But the soundtrack ofAvatar 2 agrees above all with the primary ambition of the film: the need to create an enveloping atmosphere in contact with the Metkyina people and marine life. One could reproach Franglen for developing this ethereal aspect with a little too much evidence (chimes, voices, xylophones, piano and flat tints of strings), but the piece The Way of Water conceals an obvious beauty, just like the most heartbreaking track on the album, From Darkness To Light (the great emotional finale of the feature film).
It’s the same for Payakan, the theme dedicated to the encounter between Lo’ak and the outcast Tulkun. Franglen’s orchestration, in search of a pure sense of the marvelous, is contrasted by waves (obtained by a theremin?) reproducing the song of whales. The effect is subtle (especially within the overall film mix), but The Way of the Water is sometimes saved musically by these little discoveries. Nevertheless, James Cameron’s fresco would undoubtedly have deserved more (and above all more original), but we hope that the potential of Simon Franglen will be more satisfied in the sequels to come.
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Avatar 2: is the soundtrack of the film really that bad?
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