How Avatar: The Way Of Water's Score Paid Tribute To Avatar Composer James Horner [Exclusive]

James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water" is over three hours long. That's more than 190 minutes of screen time in which every frame of every second demands a high fidelity of CGI. It also requires music because movies are eerie without an underscore to inform the emotional current. For Cameron's first excursion into Pandora, James Horner composed. With prior credits such as "Braveheart" and Cameron's own "Titanic," Horner's involvement was practically guaranteed. Unfortunately, Horner lost his life in a tragic plane crash back in 2015, making any further work on the "Avatar" series impossible.

In his stead, Simon Franglen became the composer of "The Way of Water." Franglen, too, shares a long history of musical employment with Cameron (and with Horner, as well), including "Titanic" and the first "Avatar." Taking over a project from another artist is difficult at the best of times, but few things are trickier to balance than continuing the work of a late, well-known creator. Franglen at least had the benefit of being familiar with his predecessor's talent, and he used that familiarity to pay homage to his bygone brother. 

A canon of motifs

In an exclusive interview with our own Jack Giroux, Simon Franglen spoke of the way he incorporated the late James Horner's music from "Avatar" into "Avatar: The Way of Water," saying:

James Horner was a good friend of mine ... and we wanted to bring some of the themes from 'Avatar' into 'Avatar 2" ... it also made sense for the canon of films ... for instance, where it was appropriate, I tended to do it more towards the beginning of the film because that's the one where we're doing that connective tissue from A1 to A2, that sort of, 'Meanwhile, this is what happened.' 

Franglen went on to use a flying sequence between Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) in the sequel as an example of music that was pulled directly from Horner's work, claiming that it gave "The Way of Water" a "sort of resonance." He also recalled James Cameron looking for specific musical "flavors" and "textures" from Horner's music to be intertwined into the newer melodies so that the films would accrue a "canon of motifs." 

"Motif" is just a fun word that defines the connection between a sound and an idea, and movies that utilize motifs correctly are often remembered well beyond their years. Consider "Hedwig's Theme" in the "Harry Potter" series, which is used to symbolize the thrill of entering a magical world. For "Avatar," to better link to its future entries, keeping those musical themes in mind while creating new pieces is vital. Speaking of creating new pieces ...

A long road ahead

Even though Simon Franglen and James Cameron devoted portions of the "Avatar: The Way of Water" soundtrack to reliving James Horner's music, there was more than ample space for new melodies. From that same exclusive interview, Franglen said:

[There's maybe] close to 40 minutes more music than there was in the first one. There's a style for an 'Avatar' movie, and because I had been responsible for the electronica, for the sense of the glowing forest for the rhythms and stuff in A1, we brought some of those elements and some of the themes. But as we moved into the new areas in particular, Jim wanted me to show that this was new. I hope that James Horner can look down and say, 'Yeah, kid, you did okay.'

Like we said earlier, "The Way of Water" is over 3 hours long. If Franglen and Cameron only used Horner's music, it would either have to be vamped ad nauseum to fill out the space or lengthy sections would have simply been very, very quiet. Instead, Horner's work became one of many load bearing pillars in Franglen's composition. For what it's worth, and from multiple sources, it seems as though Franglen struck the perfect balance of old and new, a feat he can proudly carry into upcoming work on "Avatar 3" and beyond.