Film, Game Music

James Cameron’s Avatar: The Movie: The Game: The Soundtrack (The Review)

December 28, 2009 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook James Cameron’s Avatar: The Movie: The Game: The Soundtrack (The Review)on Twitter

Avatar, a film 15 years in the making, is finally out in theaters. From its US release on December 18th to the present day, it has broken a variety of box office records. Yes, despite a crazy blizzard in the Northeast part of the United States during opening weekend, the film was extremely successful. This comes as no surprise, what with all the advertising, and the almighty name James Cameron attached (Titanic, Terminator, et al).

The game based on the film, however, hasn’t fared as well. The PC version of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game, played on a high-end PC that can pull off stereoscopic 3D display, demonstrates the future of high-end graphics in gaming. However, the console versions (particularly for Wii) don’t hold up as well graphically, and the gameplay itself has been described as “linear and clunky.”

The score for the film was written by James Horner, who has collaborated with Cameron before (Aliens, Titanic). The film also has a theme song from Leona Lewis called “I See You.” Lewis will also be featured on the non-Japanese release of Final Fantasy XIII with her song “My Hands.” Horner’s score has already seen the full gamut of praise and criticism. Some argue that he continues to write the same music over and over, yet others argue that his collaboration with an ethnomusicologist helped bring the fictional culture of the Na’vi to life.

The game adaptation of the film does not rely on Horner’s score, however. Ubisoft had Chance Thomas, who is no stranger to writing music for “licensed games” (see: King Kong, Lord of the Rings), write a sizable chunk of live orchestral music plus many more hours of tracked/sequenced music, and 35 minutes of that orchestral score is found on this disc.

Our thoughts on Chance Thomas’s newest score, after the jump.

Chance sent us a promotional soundtrack with 14 tracks on it. The music features recordings from the Hollywood Symphony, and includes contributions from Ubisoft, Northwest Sinfonia, and Chance’s own HUGEsound company.

The opening tracks, “Aerial Combat Acrobatics” and “Jungle Incident,” have everything you’d expect. There are punchy attacks from the strings and brass, non-stop “tribal drum” percussion parts, and only the occasional respite from an onslaught of powerful sound. Powerful, HUGE sound, that is.

Fortunately, the album’s intensity and pace calm down for a few more tracks. There are some lovely bits of orchestral mood music, presumably for dialogue scenes and certain interactions with the Na’vi.

The soundtrack goes back and forth between these two extremes, with very little middle ground. It’s a little chaotic to take in as a “listen-only” experience. In the context of the game, or the movie, with its incredible visuals and adventurous sci-fi storyline, I think what we have here is a decent match.

I can’t get away with reviewing this soundtrack and not making a comparison to Horner’s score. In short, I’m not the world’s biggest Horner fan. This is, in large part, because Horner’s scores sound so similar from one film to the next. I can only take so much of one style. I think that most people, on an objective level, would find Horner’s score more impressive than the 30 minutes of music Chance Thomas put together in this promotional game soundtrack. But, on a personal level, I’m more drawn to this album because I think that, while it does match the visuals in a way that is on par with Horner’s score, it sounds different not just from Horner’s score, but from Thomas’ previous works as well. It may still be generic Hollywood cue music, but I can’t pick out this or that motif and say “Chance did this here before” or “here’s the part where Chance borrowed heavily from Horner.” That alone makes it worthwhile.

At this point, I don’t know of any retail release coming for the James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game soundtrack. But if it were to occur, fans of this new and exciting franchise would do well to own this soundtrack as a companion piece to Horner’s score, whether or not they played and enjoyed the videogame itself.

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