James Horner: The Man Behind The AVATAR Music Soundtrack

Pandora approach 2 James Horner’s AVATAR music is an immensely powerful and dynamic score, but how did he approach the challenges it presented and still produce something innovative and unique?

Guest post by Jonathan Wylie

Born August 14, 1953, James Horner is the American composer behind some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. He has received countless awards in his career including Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Grammys, and an incredible ten Academy Award nominations–two of which won him Oscar statues. James Horner is well-known for his work on epic movies like Braveheart and Apollo 13, but he has penned many more scores for films like Glory, Troy, Aliens, A Beautiful Mind, and The Perfect Storm.

James Horner took piano lessons from the age of five, and went on to study music at the Royal College of Music in London. His career began in the 1970s when he produced movie scores for the American Film Institute, but it wasn’t until 1982 that he was given a big budget movie score when the producers of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock asked him to write the music for their film. From here, Horner went on to work with many distinguished producers and directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and Ron Howard.

Before working on the AVATAR music, Horner’s biggest musical success came from the movie Titanic. Directed by James Cameron, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, Horner received two Oscars for his music. The first was for the best original drama score, and the second was for the best original song, “My Heart Will Go On.” Titanic was a global phenomenon, and James Horner’s music was soon being played on radio stations around the world. Yet, it was the AVATAR music soundtrack that was to provide him with the biggest challenge of his career.

From the outset, the problems Horner faced in creating the AVATAR music were immense. He needed to create a musical environment that was otherworldly enough to portray the beauty and mystery of Pandora, yet also familiar enough for audiences to identify with. Horner told the L.A. Times, “The sound world that I created for AVATAR had to be very different, really, than anything I ever created before. There is also three hours of music. I had to find a sound world that covered so much territory; it had to cover both the human side of the story and the indigenous side of the story and the tremendous, epic battles that take place, as well as the love story that is at the core of the film.”

For this project, Horner cleared his work schedule and worked long days for eighteen months until finally, the AVATAR music was completed in time for the movie’s theatrical release. With musical influences garnered from the likes of Finland and Indonesia, the AVATAR music soundtrack was almost destined to have an innovative and magical quality. The rousing chorus sections, coupled with the modern synthesizers, and traditional tribal music, were married precisely by Horner to help ensure the audiences were being treated to a unique and emotional cinematic experience. Leona Lewis sang the popular AVATAR theme song, "I See You" which Horner co-produced with Simon Franglen.

AVATAR is now the highest-grossing movie of all time, and James Horner has become one of the most successful movie score composers ever. He has yet to commit to producing AVATAR music for the much talked about sequel, but the musical legacy he created for the first movie will endure for many years to come.

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Did you find the music in AVATAR inspiring? In which scenes was the music particularly moving?



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