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Thursday, June 17, 2010


The Last Airbender
Music by James Newton Howard
Lakeshore Records (cat no unavailable at time of writing)
12 Tracks 66:54 mins

The Last Airbender is based on an apparently popular TV animation and will be released in cinemas on July 2nd. The film is the latest collaboration between composer James Newton Howard and writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. I have to confess that most of their previous work together has left me cold, though Howard's music has oft been critically acclaimed by my fellow journalists. I therefore approached this new work (to be released by Lakeshore Records, both on CD and digitally, on June 29th) with some trepidation. And whilst some of those writers may well prefer his more intimate works for Shyamalan, this one is writ much larger, reflecting the fantastical and spectacular action of the film, and I found myself liking it a good deal more.
The album gets under way with the 11-minute "Airbender Suite" which, after a quiet start, gradually builds to an inspirational crescendo, before proceeding purposefully, with almost spiritual string writing and heroic brass, then taking a more lyrical turn, only to be overwhelmed by more menacing elements, including a relentless dark march, for orchestra, choir and Asian-styled percussive elements, before concluding as lightly as it had begun.
Though not as lengthy as the opening cue, most of those that follow are still quite substantial, allowing the music to breathe and develop within each selection. "Earthbenders" is next up, which opens weightily, before developing into some powerful action writing, heavy on percussion, again including Asian-styled elements, then ending quietly with the same airy elements displayed in the opening cue. The huge opening of "The Avatar Has Returned" quickly gives way to more subdued, darker material, which in turn gives way to an all too brief, inspiring march for orchestra and choir, before ending quietly.
Highlights that follow include the propulsive opening of "Journey to the Northern Water Tribe;" the noble brass and strings writing of ""Hall of Avatars;" the exciting action of "The Blue Spirit," with its strident intro; the big percussive opening and close of "The Spirit World;" and the impressive call to arms opening "We Could Be Friends," and its subsequent action; more of which can be found in "We Are Now The Gods," which reaches quite inspirational heights, before subsiding.
The final track, "Flow Like Water," finds strings soaring to even more inspirational heights, before giving way to a final burst of orchestral, percussive and choral might.
OK, so maybe there's no one theme or track here that can be termed a classic, but there are certainly some entertaining moments to be found in this, the biggest and, for me, most satisfying Howard/Shyamalan collaboration to date.


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