THE LAST AIRBENDER
Music composed by James Newton Howard, conducted by Pete Anthony
Label: Lakeshore
Catalog:
06949 3304-2

Release Date: June 29, 2010
Tracks:

1. Airbender Suite
2. Earthbenders
3. The Avatar Has Returned
4. The Four Elements Test
5. Journey to the Northern Water Tribe
6. Hall of Avatars
7. Prologue
8. The Blue Spirit
9. The Spirit World
10. We Could Be Friends
11. We Are Now the Gods
12. Flow Like Water


Total Time: 66:46
Rating:


Reviewed by
Jorge Saldanha

 
The case of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is unique. One of the most gifted directors arising from mainstream cinema of the 1990s, after an exceptional early career his films have become more and more critical and financial failures. And yet Shyamalan did not give up of making the movies the way he wanted, with absolute control over every aspect of the production. As well as director, he always was the author of stories and screenplays, and has always had the luck to be granted by studios and producers the creative freedom that he demanded. But the successive fails seem to have changed this scenario, and in this sense his new film, The Last Airbender, is an uncharted territory.

I say this because, despite being written and directed by Shyamalan, this will be his first movie based on a third party material - most notably in the acclaimed animated series Avatar - The Last Airbender, which I never watched by the way. Moreover, fleeing from the suspense and mystery of his past works (but still retaining the imprint of a fantastic storytelling) the movie belongs to an atypical genre for the director: it is an action-fantasy epic. Proving that things are harder for Shyamalan, even before its premiere the production ran into trouble: to not to be confused with James Cameronís film, the production was forced to remove the word "Avatar" from the titles, and recently Shyamalan was accused for racism since he didnít hire eastern actors to play the leading roles.

At the time of writing this review there's a full month until the film's premiere, and I only have as reference the promising trailers already released. But there is an creative value which I already had access and I can share my thoughts about it with you: the original score composed by Shyamalan's usual collaborator, James Newton Howard, which will be released on CD and digital download by Lakeshore Records on June 29. Howard, even in the most slashed filmmakerís films, has always held a work of the highest competence, and I'm glad to say that in The Last Airbender he not only repeated the feat, but also wrote one of the best scores resulting from this partnership.

Like the film itself, the soundtrack moves away from suspense and mistery and explores other territories. The album starts with the excellent "Airbender Suite," which sets the tone for this remarkable Howardís work. As the name suggests, the track is an 11 minutes long suite, built upon several motifs that carries segments that could have been composed by, one say, Basil Poledouris in the 1980s. It's a real breath of fresh air as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, that we can enjoy a genuine orchestral, traditional and epic score like this one. It is difficult to evaluate a score without having seen the film which it accompanies, but at the end of this initial track is hard to stop thinking that, once again, the composer has provided a wonderful musical support for the images.

The CDís initial track is also one of its highlights, and this fact could affect the evaluation of the material that follows. However Howard has done a mostly homogenous work, that is never far from the high standard that he establishes at the beginning of the album. He does not deliver a proper main theme but instead we get a recurring motif heard at some points of the score, even at its end. The music is performed predominantly by a full orchestra with no fewer than 120 instruments, dominated by the strings section. But woodwinds and brass are also a strong presence, and despite the inevitable electronic support at certain passages, it does not remove the eminently orchestral essence of the score.

If I have some criticism to say, is that at some action sequences Howard employs the percussion in a way that has become routine since Tan Dunís score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, probably to give the music an ethnic, eastern flavor. Hopefully Howard does not take too much time to place other sections of the orchestra along these accompaniments. Besides the aforementioned "Airbender Suite", the highlights of the score are "Earthbenders", "Journey to the Northern Water Tribe," "The Blue Spirit," "The Spirit World," "We Could Be Friends," "We Are Now the Gods" and in special the last track, "Flow Like Water. " To close the score Howard has wrote a piece that is at once lyrical, poignant and exciting. If the movie can match the high level of this music, certainly Shyamalan has relocated his career on the right path, a feat worthy of the young hero known as The Last Airbender.

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