Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves.
Avatar Theme Song - James Horner (2008)
The film Avatar was, until earlier this year, the top grossing film of all time, being praised for its visual effects. The song “I See You”, often regarded as the theme song, is well-known and award-winning. But the real theme song, the orchestral one, is much less known and is an intricate dive into the world of Pandora and the land of Avatar. Both songs were written by composer James Horner, who unfortunately passed away in 2015 in a solo aircraft accident.
So how does the orchestral theme song to the (second) most successful film ever made constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?
In my very humble opinion, it captures the whole essence of Avatar and Pandora perfectly. This alien world of mystery and wonder lies home to a civilisation of creatures known as the Na’vi. There are many great things to discover and explore, and there is an immense amount of culture to immerse in.
The music opens with as if with a call or summons on the horn. As we enter this world we are cautious, but inquisitive. Then, we stumble upon the Na’vi. With their beating drums and singing they welcome us in their native language. It’s a well-crafted section that moves forward intrepidly, but pauses to admire the unfamiliarity posed by the choir. The strings provide warmth as the music begins to explore the curiosities of the Na’vi and their world. There are no special embellishments in the music at this point, only simple string chords and lethargic changes. But it gives the feeling of welcomeness and safety, very much a reflection of the film’s storyline.
When the choir returns it is as if the Na’vi are leading to you to a place of great wonder. It sings in harmonics with the orchestra as it heads toward its first climax. As you marvel upon the world around you the trumpets come cascading in triumph. This is probably my favourite part, and no matter how many times I listen to it I can never figure out how it was crafted. It has so much style and contrast, there must be at least three, maybe four trumpets and each note would have had to have been carefully imagined and selected to avoid standout intervals or dissonance. Quite simply, it’s just fantastic use of the trumpet.
Then, after a brief transition, we move into the second half of the music. Much like the second half of the movie it is more hectic and confrontational. The pace is more defined and each note is succinct. The brass, again, adding tension in the background. Despite a break to more melodic music, respite does not come. As the music nears its end it swells into an orchestra and choir mix, driven forward by the percussion. There is never-ending conflict and contrast between instruments, especially as triplets begin to present themselves against the normal rhythm. It’s as if the Na’vi are fleeing.
Suddenly it all ends. No flourish, no release of tension. Just a sudden bang and done. But it is fitting for the tone and the theme. It fits the movie and it’s story. Yes, it has a “happy ending”, but not necessarily a wholesome. Besides, we can’t let the music spoil everything.
Overall, I find the music be a very crafty blend of instruments, including effective use of the choir in an invented language and imagined world. It has captured the essence of the film in its entirely and I find it a very thrilling piece of music. I highly commend Horner for the score he wrote and wish he could only still be with us for more.
This piece has absolutely influenced my music. I have forever tried to decipher the way the brass score has been crafted. Asides from that I find the fullness and simpleness of the melodic strings very refreshing and of course there’s no ignoring the choir.
Happy listening and enjoy!