Unlike many movie soundtracks, James Newton Howard’s, The Last Airbender soundtrack stands alone.
Just because the guy has scored a few films (well, a few more than 100, and all of M. Night Shyamalan’s films), has a few Oscar nominations (okay, he has eight of them), is classically trained as well as pop & rock n’ roll credentialed…well just because of all of that, doesn’t mean that I would like this soundtrack! Yeah, who does this guy think he is, anyway? Time for a close encounter with a potential audience member:
My almost eight-year-old grandson, who is a serious fan of the animated series , donned his warrior pretend stuff and whirled around two rooms while I played the soundtrack. Doing his best “bending” moves, he was completely caught up in the music. Every now and again he would identify what he considered an element in the music and speak it, then act it out. I asked him if he would listen to these tracks if they were on his mp3 player, and he said, “YES!” Test Passed.
To me, the soundtrack has both the individual properties of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water), as well as a unifying uber-thematic quality that transcends each of those elements. Okay, that’s about as geekorific as I am going to get.
The sound is BIG. That’s the technical term for it. Here are a few of the 12 tracks that were most notable to me.
Newton’s Airbender Suite with tribal drums and choral overlays was reminiscent of Howard Shore’s, The Lord of the Rings, without being derivative. (Rumor has it that more choral overlays from the Airbender film are missing from this soundtrack.)
Landing in the Earthbenders track, I could feel the music pounding from the feet of said Earthbenders, then smoothly moved into a quiet finish.
The Avatar Has Returned: I’m assuming this corresponds to the Boy in the Iceberg animated episode, but who knows? It gets a little creepy and Zelda-ish in tone in the beginning, but musically the effect works to make you apprehensive. Then we moved into some pastoral orchestral and flute measures.
The Four Elements Test: This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road in my book. Nuanced, suspenseful, and evocative, this was one of my favorites!
Journey to the Northern Water Tribe: Big sound again. This music makes me cold just listening to it! It’s a tune for a swift, cold journey that morphs into a majestic march and fade (where is my sweater?).
The Blue Spirit: A track that combines the sense of impending threat with the mystical to produce a powerful backdrop for visuals, either cinematic or imaginary. (If you follow the animated series, you may have an idea of what’s coming in the film here).
We Could be Friends: This track dances perilously close to Star Wars and Darth Vader, but pulls out of it and moves on to weave back into itself and the clash of cymbals (and symbols, no doubt) hurls us into another quiet, somber space.
Flow Like Water is a grand finish to this soundtrack of the first film book of the trilogy. It is to this soundtrack what the finale for John Barry’s Dances with Wolves was…layered and rich in sound (yes, big), but personal and tugging at heart-strings.
Avatar, the Last Airbender soundtrack is definitely worth hearing. I don’t generally go to films when they first arrive in theaters. Yet the Last Airbender soundtrack inspired me to buy tickets to the very first showing here, at 10:30 AM on Thursday, July 1st. Mr. Howard, my virtual hat is tipped to you for that first. I’ll let you know if the first movie lives up to the soundtrack!
Please note that all copyrighted media content in this post was provided by Cinemedia specifically for the purpose of this review.
Some Movie Links:
(also, supposition about where the soundtrack fits into the movie.)