‘Avatar’ score will be “epic,” “hugely cinematic”
EXCLUSIVE. James Horner’s score for James Cameron’s upcoming 3-D sci-fi saga Avatar is, without much competition, the film music event of the year. MovieScore Magazine is excited to bring you the first inside look at the creation of the score. Breaking the hush-hush that has been surrounding James Horner’s work on the film for more than a year, Mike Knobloch, the executive vice president of Fox Music, describes James Horner’s music for the film as epic. “It’s a brilliantly unique blend of traditional and contemporary, electronic elements and spans the entire spectrum of attitude and energy – from bombastic action to the delicate, romantic discovery of a new world.” In a nutshell, the film, which is premieres on December 18, tells the story about a war veteran (Sam Worthington) who is sent to Pandora, a planet inhabited by the Na’vi, a humanoid race which is fighting for survival.
One of the reasons behind the heat surrounding the Avatar score is, of course, that the film itself is one of the most anticipated Hollywood movies to hit the big screen in recent years. Another reason is that putting the names Cameron and Horner in one sentence means gold: Aliens from 1986 is regarded to be among the finest action film scores ever written (despite the extremely tight working conditions for the composer) and Titanic… well, do we really need to explain?
Interestingly, the time Horner is being allowed to work on Avatar seems to be the complete opposite of Aliens, where Horner had 3 1/2 weeks to finish about 80 minutes of music.Horner has been working on Avatar for more than a year and was doing pre-records and working on ideas with Cameron already back in June 2008. “The recording of the score has been an ongoing process for months and it’s still in process. Electronic elements of the score are being recorded at a studio assembled specifically for this project. The orchestral component of the score is being recorded in groups of dates that started in June,” Mike Knobloch explained, adding that the orchestral sessions are being held at the Newman Stage at 20th Century Fox.
Talking about the stats and numbers of the score, Knobloch said that they “are still changing and evolving as James Horner is keeping up with James Cameron and the cutting room, who are still busy fine-tuning the film. The film will run the better part of three hours and there will likely be nearly as much score.” The main orchestra used for the score features over 100 musicians, including eight horns, four trumpets and five trombones. The string section is huge, comprising of 70 players. The music also features vocalists singing in the film’s Na’vi language, as well as a few other acoustic and electronic instrumentalists.
Mike Knobloch explained that there “is a great deal of acoustic and electronic rhythmic elements driving the score and vocalists singing and chanting in the fictional Na’vi dialect. Horner is doing a brilliant job of creating music that transports us to another world, but supports the film using the traditional orchestral conventions to make a sound that’s hugely cinematic.”
Working with James Horner on the score are his usual team: recording mixer Simon Rhodes, music editors Jim Henrikson and Dick Bernstein and synth player/programmer Ian Underwood. Other team members include electronic music arranger Simon Franglen and synth programmer Aaron Martin.
The score will, of course, be released on CD and the label that will do the honours is Atlantic Records. “The release dates for both physical and digital products are still being finalized,” Mike Knobloch added.
56-year old James Horner is one of the most experienced film composers working in Hollywood. He wrote his first feature film scores in the late 1970s and early 1980s, getting his big break in the business with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982. The classically trained composer built his reputation in the business on his solid orchestral scores and dramatic instinct as witnessed in early scores such as The Name of the Rose, 48 hrs., Cocoon, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Krull. To date, he’s written more than hundred feature film scores and worked extensively with many acclaimed directors, including Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Michael Apted, Edward Zwick and Walter Hill. His latest scores include The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Life Before Her Eyes and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Avatar is Horner’s first science fiction film score since Bicentennial Man which came out ten years ago.