After so many years of waiting, James Cameron It’s finally back on the big screen. ‘Avatar, the sense of water’ is the late sequel to ‘Avatar’ (2009), that title that sought to revolutionize cinema thanks to its renewed three-dimensional format and which was nothing more than a new adventure to explore the usual worries of its writer and director (the advancement and use of technology, environmentalism, the military, belonging to another community, etc.).
To carry out this continuation (which, if it is successful, Cameron already has 3 new proposals that will be released throughout the decade), the director has recovered the original cast (along with new additions such as Kate Winslet) and his trusted technical teamas the cinematographer Russell Carpenter (‘Risky Lies’, ‘Titanic’) to the detriment of Mauro Fiore (photographer of the original and Oscar winner for his work on it).
However, in the soundtrack section there was a huge gap since the composer James Horner died in a tragic plane crash in 2015. Horner’s death left Pandora orphaned with a musical identity for the continuity of the saga.
For years there was speculation that different names could take over the project. Everything pointed to the fact that the composer known as Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) could get hold of such a company after working on both ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ and ‘Alita: Battle Angel’, titles in which Cameron was involved as a scriptwriter and producer. . But it was in December 2019 when we met the news that the person in charge of continuing the music of ‘Avatar’ was going to be simon franglen.
A piece of news that was received positively by fans of the soundtrack, as it confirmed that the spirit of Horner’s musical work was going to be present in the new films. The paradox is that despite having scored the most important film of 2022, this composer is still an absolute unknown.
Simon Franglen, the best relief for the music of Pandora
Franglen is an English composer who, after previous training with Trevor Horn (‘The Buggles’) in his native country, settled in Los Angeles at the beginning of the 90’s to work the electronics on Hollywood soundtracks. He began his career in this medium with established composers such as Alan Silvestri or John Barry, while continuing to work for commercial music with countless successful artists (Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, etc).
In the year 1997 works with James Horner for the first time on the score of ‘Titanic’, soundtrack that ends up becoming a sales phenomenon. Franglen was in charge of creating all the synthesized sounds that can be heard in music. In this interview he recalls his work for Cameron’s film:
“On Titanic I had to persuade the manufacturers to lend us the equipment so that I could record the synths for the soundtrack properly (there was hardly any money for the score, which is one of the reasons why there is an enormous amount of themes synthesized in Titanic”.
Despite the enormous success of this work (remember that it was awarded the Oscar for best dramatic score and best original song), Horner does not have Franglen again until ‘Avatar’, a project in which they were working hand in hand for 11 months, since there was enormous expectation to surpass the musical success of ‘Titanic’. Franglen’s electronic work had to place the viewer in an alien environment that felt strange and familiar at the same time.
Let’s remember that thanks to the triumph of ‘My heart will go on’, Horner developed a dynamic of closing his films with a song for the end credits. ‘Avatar’ was not going to be less and with the production of Franglen they brought out the song ‘I See You’, performed by Leona Lewis and which got a Golden Globe nomination. The good results obtained with ‘Avatar’ (the score was Horner’s last Oscar nomination) led the composer to have Franglen working as an arranger for his latest projects: ‘The Karate Kid’, ‘Black Gold’, ‘The Amazing Spider-man’, ‘The Last Wolf’…
The news of Horner’s death left film music lovers and directors who counted on him for their works orphaned. This was the case for Antoine Fuqua, who had just worked with Horner on ‘Redemption’ and wanted to repeat with him for the new version he was preparing on ‘The Magnificent Seven’. He did not expect Horner to h:
“While he was making the film, after he died, his manager and Simon [Franglen] They called me and said ‘James had a gift for you and we want to give it to you’ (…) They came to my trailer and told me ‘James had written the score for you’… It left me speechless. It was magnificent. James is an amazing person.”
There were 7 songs that represented the core of the soundtrack. Faced with this surprise, Fuqua decides to hire Franglen to develop the themes and do justice to the late composer’s latest work. The result was a success, since Franglen displayed an uncanny ability to maintain his friend’s spirit and sound.. The score earned an IFMCA Award nomination for Best Score for an Action/Adventure/Thriller Film.
In addition, in 2017 a themed area was released at Disneyland dedicated to ‘Avatar’ called ‘Pandora: The World of Avatar’ and Simon Franglen worked, together with James Cameron, with the themes of James Horner to make a soundtrack that accompanied the spectator of this attraction. With this background, it was logical that Cameron delegated Franglen to continue his adventure.
He has not been the only filmmaker who has done it, since this same year, the director Jean Jacques-Annaud (who had worked with Horner up to 4 times) also chose Simon Franglen to put music to his ‘Arde Notre-Dame’ .
The soundtrack of ‘Avatar, the path of water’: an evolution of the work of James Horner
Franglen’s music continues to expand (as does the footage) the Pandora universe, furthering the themes pioneered by Horner. In fact, Franglen pays tribute to the composer to the point of resorting to typical orchestral expressions such as the use of the famous “parabará” (four notes to represent danger that the composer used in a characteristic way in a multitude of works), certain dynamics in the development of the action or that way of opening the themes with the dishes so much to the taste of the author.
Curiously, the score works perfectly while calling on Horner and to the sound of the first ‘Avatar’ but it stays somewhat lame during the rest of the performance. The action cuts represent a strange hybrid between orchestral and electronic sound (probably intended by Cameron to resemble the usual blockbuster sound of recent times).
In fact, these passages are the weakest of a soundtrack that has the enormous mission of continuing the path already begun in 2009, satisfying a director as demanding as James Cameron (let’s remember that James Horner said that their experience together in ‘Aliens, comeback’ was the most miserable experience of his career) and sow new motives that will develop and will listen in successive deliveries.
It should also be noted that the film plays two original songs in which the composer has also participated: ‘The Songcord’ performed by the actress Zoe Saldana within fiction, and which refers to the origins of the Na’vi family, and ‘Nothing is Lost (You Give me Strength)’ by the musician The Weeknd and that can be heard in the final credits, with a marked commercial desire.
Simon Franglen’s feat deserves respect for dignifying the original work. Franglen’s respect, admiration and talent in honoring his friend James Horner is undeniable, but the composer needs to distance himself and start developing his own voice since he can’t get rid of Horner’s sound. Even in other people’s pieces like the aforementioned ‘Arde Notre-Dame’, the style of his friend is very present.
‘Avatar: the path of water’ was a complicated project and Franglen has managed to pass with flying colors but it is important that he start working on projects that allow him to develop his own songs in order to become a more recognizable composer in the field of original soundtrack . Meanwhile, he continues to emulate a sound that works for the universe of ‘Avatar’ but not for the other films.