Friday, 22 January 2010

March of the Na'avi

I have a vague memory of noticing and enjoying the music of Avatar - but when I try to remember it I have great difficulty. There's certainly no March of the Stormtroopers or any John Williams theme running round my brain and keeping me awake. I also noticed that Avatar has received huge media coverage but very little of this is about the score or other elements of the soundtrack - again, there's nothing wrong with the sound but no sense of a world-defining soundscape as featured in, say, Wall-E.

Let's forget about the red and green specs era for a second. 3D Cinema actually began when Dolby Digital Stereo or similar formats became projection standards - this was the point where a soundtrack alone could transport you or leave you dizzy in your seat. The set-up mimics real perception - forward vision and surround sound. And if the soundtrack can give you orientation, the score adds depth: those Imperial cruisers in the opening scene of A New Hope would only have been about a third as long without the music.

With Avatar, vision has caught up again - and I think that sound has been kept deliberately low-key. This BBC Music review of the score makes the point well. James Horner, a skillful and experienced cinema composer, (Titanic, Apollo 13, Wrath of Khan) has written a subtle and effective score for an epic sci-fi blockbuster - this is itself a daring and innovative move.

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