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The Last Airbender by James Newton Howard

The Last Airbender

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The Last Airbender (Poster and Memorabilia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Airbender (Soundtrack) by James Newton Howard

The Last Airbender
Composed by James Newton Howard
Lakeshore Records (2010)

Rating: 9/10

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“This is JAMES NEWTON HOWARD in full form, with all pistons pumping and all the familiar favorite traits from past scores making an appearance. It is a tour de force of contemporary film scoring with one foot firmly in the grander styles of yesteryear.”

The Saviour Returns
Review by Marius Masalar

High hopes does not even approach the anticipation I felt for THE LAST AIRBENDER. It was a chance for M. Night Shylamalan to reclaim his mantle of storytelling excellence, it was the perfect opportunity to display fantastic visuals, and it was a great chance to introduce the world at large to the acclaimed anime property.

It turns out it was just a messy disaster.

I really wanted to like the movie, but bad casting, painfully bad writing, and waxy acting made for a film that no amount of beautiful art direction could save. Enter JAMES NEWTON HOWARD, swooping in to the rescue to deliver a score that is so majestic, appropriate, and authentic that it manages to salvage the experience. This is JAMES NEWTON HOWARD in full form, with all pistons pumping and all the familiar favorite traits from past scores making an appearance. It is a tour de force of contemporary film scoring with one foot firmly in the grander styles of yesteryear.

“Airbenders Suite” (1) is the longest track on the album at 11:17, and delivers a beautiful summary of the score’s most prominent characteristics: grandeur, thematic strength, orchestrational flair, and charisma. There are two related primary themes in the score; one is a plaintive calling usually featuring a solo ethnic woodwind instrument, and the second is the hugely rousing set of rising percussive stabs that were featured in the film’s first trailer too. “Earthbenders” (2) introduces this latter theme in full force along with a healthy dose of the album’s eclectic percussion stylings. There is a lot of percussion in the music, and it is always handled with impeccable taste, never quite succumbing to generic Hollywood action beats. “The Avatar Has Returned” (3) rounds off the trio of opening tracks with a more moody take on the thematic material.

“The Four Elements Test” (4) is a darker track, and it marks the transition into the score’s more ominous middle portion. Themes and textures weave in and out of the mix, and culminate in a powerful reveal of the icy city in “Journey To The Northern Water Tribe” (5). While the flat acting could have killed a dramatic moment in the film, “Hall of Avatars” (6) wrenches out an emotional response with its stunning sense of weighty drama. The un-intuitively placed “Prologue” (7) is a comparatively brief recapitulation of the themes in a fierce percussion-led mix. As listeners, we come to really appreciate the fact that the shortest cue on the album is still just shy of three minutes long — most are well above four minutes. The listening experience is consequently more symphonic, coherent, and ultimately satisfying as JAMES NEWTON HOWARD has room to truly develop and explore the material rather than having to jump around schizophrenically.

“The Blue Spirit” (8) brings back nervous strings and atmospheric washes before unleashing the first segment of action in the film’s battle climax. It delivers everything one could ask for from a battle suite, including militaristic snare-led brass fanfares, screaming woodwinds, and more of the wonderfully evocative percussion work. Despite “The Spirit World” (9) being a peaceful place in the film, the track of that name opens and closes with great force, which is appropriate for the placement on the album amidst all the climatic battle cues. “We Could Be Friends” (10) features some brass flourishes that wouldn’t sound out of place in a John Williams score, and progresses through more percussion to a soaring height of string-led ostinatos by the end.

The score closes with immense power; “We Are Now The Gods” (11) tying up the moody aspects of the story with a deeply satisfying conclusion of the softer themes in the score, and “Flow Like Water” (12) establishing itself among JAMES NEWTON HOWARD’s best ever cues with its monumental build from weaving string lines to a show-stopping re-statement of the main rising motif.

There have been some rumblings that some of the choral parts from the film mix were removed from the album to avoid paying extra licensing costs. It remains unclear to what extent this is true, since there certainly was a larger choral presence in the film, but that may be more reflective of the choice of cues for the album than any actual re-mixing of material. Either way, at over an hour, the album provides a magnificent listening experience with strong themes, long cues, and no real dull moments. THE LAST AIRBENDER may not be the strongest effort in JAMES NEWTON HOWARD’s career, never quite reaching the level of poignant thematic beauty found in The Village or Lady in the Water, but it is certainly his most consistently entertaining score, and the one in which it feels like he had the most freedom to truly explore the full might of his formidable orchestral prowess. Don’t miss this one under any circumstances.

Rating: 9/10

 

 


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Airbender Suite 11:16  *****
2 Earthbenders 5:53  *****
3 The Avatar Has Returned 4:42  *****
4 The Four Elements Test 5:30  ****
5 Journey to the Northern Water Tribe 4:01  *****
6 Hall of Avatars 3:40  *****
7 Prologue 2:43  ****
8 The Blue Spirit 7:17  ****
9 The Spirit World 5:18  ****
10 We Could Be Friends 4:08  ****
11 We Are Now the Gods 5:46  ****
12 Flow Like Water 6:32  *****
  Total Running Time (approx) 67 minutes  

 

 
   

 

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