Welcome to Right on Cue, the podcast where we interview film, TV, and video game composers about the origins and nuances of their latest works and select commentaries from some of the score’s most important tracks.
It’s safe to say that Eywa has smiled on James Cameron’s long-awaited sequel to his 2009 epic Avatar; a mere two months into its run, Avatar: The Way of Water has grossed more than $2 billion, becoming the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time as of publication (and the third-highest international box office success).
For Cameron, it was a work more than a decade in the making — and composer Simon Franglen was along for the ride for most of that journey. The London-born Franglen began his musical career as a producer and arranger, contributing to film scores as far back as Dances with Wolves. He was an important collaborator with composer and close friend James Horner for both Titanic and Avatar. When Horner tragically passed in 2015, the baton passed to him to continue Horner’s work building the vibrant, eclectic sounds of the alien planet of Pandora.
Building on the first film’s musical palette, which blended standard orchestral flourish with a bevy of world-music sounds, Franglen expands on that work with a much more thematic score, one rooted in the sequel’s focus on the Sully family and the new areas of Pandora they would explore in their fight against the colonial forces of Earth. This included everything from Māori instruments and vocal stylings to signpost the new water tribe we meet, the Metkayina, and research into whale sounds for the majestic Tulkun creatures we meet along the way.
It’s a score as brassy and eclectic as it is voluminous — Franglen composed nearly three hours of music for the film, ranging from traditional orchestra to unique instruments to vocal work with both choirs and star Zoe Saldaña, who provides vocals for the in-universe “Songcord,” a vital part of the Na’vi’s cultural tapestry.
Together, we talk about Franglen’s work on The Way of Water, the challenges inherent in building Pandora’s musical palette, and what it was like touring with Barbra Streisand on her comeback tour in the ’90s.
You can find Simon Franglen at his official website here.
Avatar: The Way of Water is currently playing in theaters. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of 20th Century Studios.