Avatar: The Way of Water – Simon Franglen

In all my years of visiting the movie theater, one of the movies that impressed me most was James Cameron’s Avatar from 2009. I was amazed by its world-building, and it was also the first movie I saw in 3D. The music for Avatar was composed by James Horner, with whom Cameron had also collaborated on the highly successful movies Aliens and Titanic. Unfortunately, Horner passed away in 2015 in a plane accident, and a new composer had to be found to write the music for Avatar’s sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, and that assignment has been given to a relatively unknown name in the industry, Simon Franglen. Two albums were released with his music for The Way of Water: A regular soundtrack album and a version with more material divided over more tracks. I will be looking at the expanded version for this review.

Franglen has not yet written many scores in his career – at least not as the main composer. However, he had been working with Horner on many movies, including Avatar, Titanic, Wolf Totem, and The Magnificent Seven, which he had to complete after Horner’s death. In addition to arranging Horner’s music, he produced the two successful songs “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic and “I See You” from Avatar. 

Usually, a characteristic song was an important element of the music Horner wrote for James Cameron’s movies, and Franglen continues that tradition with a twist. “My Heart Will Go On” and “I See You” are both end-credit songs, whose melody is used in the score, but for The Way of Water, that song is “Nothing Is Lost (You Give Me Strength)” performed by The Weeknd, and it only contains a hint of the theme’s melody. The heart and soul of the score for The Way of Water can be found, however, in a different song. This song is sung in the movie by actress Zoe Saldana, and you can find it on the album in the last track “The Songcord.” The song impressed me when I heard it before I saw the film, but in the movie itself, the emotional effect is even more pronounced. The wonderful melody, which will stay in your mind for quite a while, is the foundation of The Way of Water’s main theme, representing the family of the protagonist Jake Sully. The theme finds its way into many cues in the score, but the most prominent version can be listened to in the first track, “Leaving Home.” The music in that cue is performed by the whole orchestra with support of a choir.

In addition to the main theme, you can hear some new musical ideas representing other aspects of the movie as well, but they are less prominent than the main theme. The humans returning to the magical world of Pandora, where the story of Avatar takes place, are, for example, represented by an ominous-sounding theme with a foundation in the lower strings, with a brass melody line laid over it. You can hear this idea in the tracks “A New Star” and at the beginning of “Masks Off.”

To match the musical style of its predecessor, not only are the soundscape and instrumentation replicated in many places, but Franglen was also able to incorporate a couple of existing themes from James Horner’s score. At certain moments in the movie, especially when old times are relived, you can hear the “I See You” theme, with “Happiness Is Simple” being its most gorgeous version.

In The Way of Water, the story takes us back to the breathtaking jungle of Pandora and introduces a brand new world on the same moon. This new world is the ocean, inhabited by another indigenous tribe that coexists with beautiful animals. The music for these parts is also different in order to reflect the magic of the sea. The track “The Way of Water” is a perfect example of the different kinds of sounds, with long melody lines, all kinds of bell sounds and a female vocalist. Another outstanding track that illustrates life in the water is “Payakan,” a gorgeous track representing a whale-like animal, in which the main melody is beautifully performed on a cello, surrounded by all the bell-like elements and long supporting melody lines.

As with Horner’s work, Franglen wrote much in service to the images, with an occasional theme, original or pre-existing. The music he wrote for The Way of Water fits well with the story, but not much is needed to achieve that because every shot of the movie is breathtaking due to the record-breaking budget. During a scene with a sinking ship, I noticed the difference between Horner’s and Franglen’s music. Both composers had scored such a scene, and I could hear metallic percussion sounds in both cues. Still, Horner’s take on such a scene in Titanic was richer in sound and contained more musical details than Franglen’s. Franglen’s version is bolder in sound, with big choir parts and percussion, as can be heard in “World Upside Down.”
In case you did not know, The Way of Water is the second movie of the franchise with three other  Avatar movies currently being produced, with the last of those planned for 2028. Franglen will at least be composing the music for the third Avatar movie, which, in my opinion, is a good idea. He was able to keep the spirit of Pandora’s world alive by honoring the old while creating something new. I love the new song and the theme that accompanies it, and I love the second Avatar movie and its main theme more than I did the first one. I am curious where the story, and with that also the music, will go from here.

Listen or buy


The highlights are in bold.

  1. Leaving Home (3:27)
  2. Songcord Opening (1:58)
  3. Happiness Is Simple (2:22)
  4. A New Star (2:56)
  5. Train Attack (3:03)
  6. Masks Off (3:22)
  7. Converging Paths (1:45)
  8. Rescue and Loss (6:39)
  9. Family Is Our Fortress (3:06)
  10. Sanctuary (2:55)
  11. Into the Water (3:40)
  12. Training Montage (2:15)
  13. The Way of Water (2:30)
  14. Where the Men Hunt (1:45)
  15. Payakan (3:30)
  16. Mighty Eywa (4:12)
  17. Friends (1:47)
  18. Cove of the Ancestors (2:46)
  19. The Tulkun Return (2:51)
  20. The Hunt (5:47)
  21. Kids in Peril (3:36)
  22. Na’vi Attack (4:43)
  23. A Farewell to Arm (2:26)
  24. Eclipse (3:12)
  25. Bad Parents (3:23)
  26. Knife Fight (2:47)
  27. World Upside Down (2:03)
  28. From Darkness to Light (4:14)
  29. Family (3:14)
  30. Songcord Chapter (2:10)
  31. The Spirit Tree (2:57)
  32. The Songcord (3:19)

Total length: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Hollywood Records (2022)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *