Belated rant: Avatar and the state of movie soundtracks
The Missus and I went to see Avatar on New Years’ Eve. The verdict: as I expected, the movie was long on style and short on substance. I’ve been a fan of sword & planet and planetary romance tales for years, and even though Cameron’s wasn’t entirely original it was still exciting to see how beautifully it was visually realized. (It gives me great hope for future works, such as the upcoming John Carter of Mars…)
Easily my biggest complaint about Avatar had to be the dull, uninspiring soundtrack. James Horner had a grand opportunity not many composers get: to really stretch out and create a new music, one that reflects the sounds of an alien culture. (A shining example that comes to mind is Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes score.) So what does this top-tier, award-winning film composer do? He phones in the same junk he’s been writing for the last twenty-five years. Seriously, it sounded like he recycled some themes from Glory, Last of the Mohicans, and Titanic for the majority of the music and added in some token ultra-cliche pseudo-Qawwali singing during the slo-mo battle agony moments. As Chris Berman and his Monday Night Football crew would say: “COME ON, MAN!!!”
This leads me to a broader issue I have with Hollywood movie music…
Dear bigwig Hollywood film composers,
You guys are killing me. I’m tired of hearing the same stuff over and over. I know it’s hip these days to recycle, but not when it comes to trash like the stuff you’ve been churning out for the past couple decades. No more rip-offs of Stravinsky or Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” for battle scenes, please. No more pseudo-Qawwali singing for somber, drawn-out slow-motion sequences, I beg you. And most of all, please, please, PLEASE: if you’re writing a score for a “period” historical film – any historical era – please pay the same amount of lavish attention to detail as the visual folks do. All the painstaking historical research that goes into a late-Renaissance costume drama like Elizabeth: the Golden Age is destroyed if it is accompanied by a soundtrack based on late-19th-century harmony and stylistic practices. (An aside to directors: save big budget bucks by ditching these losers and using authentic period works!)
It’s a good thing I’m not in charge down in Hollywood, because you so-called A-list guys who insist on recycling the same neo-Romantic dreck would be reduced to doing commercial jingles. There are thousands of hungry young composers out there with fresh ideas. Maybe you should listen to them and learn some new tricks. If you’re unwilling to do so, maybe it’s time to start thinking about retirement.
Gnombient, a concerned listener
PS: I saw The Book of Eli yesterday, and I thought Atticus Ross’s soundtrack was awesome!