Avatar: The Way of Water (Simon Franglen)

Coming thirteen belated years after James Cameron's record-smashing first entry into the universe of Pandora, comes 2022's sequel, "Avatar: The Way of Water". While many fans adored the first film, it received quite the critical beating by many, criticizing its formulaic storytelling and simple characterization, while Cameron delivered a thrilling adventure and cutting-edge CGI. The sequel delivers more of the same, with Cameron's environmental messages hitting hard, but with the characters hitting a bit more depth, as they explore the concept of family and what one is willing to sacrifice to protect those they love. Jake and Neytiri are now happy parents of four, but are forced to go on the run when the "sky people" decide to make a return visit to Pandora, seeking sanctuary from the Metkayina water tribe. For me, though the script is still a bit simplistic, I found the experience rich and immersive, with some of the previously bare-bone characters given a bit more nuance and relatability, and as per usual, Cameron's action set-pieces and environmental and undersea explorations are utterly breath-taking.

With the tragic passing of original composer James Horner back in 2015, there were years of speculation as to who might be hired to handle the future sequels, in the absence of the master. Ultimately, Cameron choose British composer Simon Franglen, who was a regular Horner collaborator as far back as "Titanic", and had experience in the world of Pandora already, as he finished Horner's work on the music for the WaltDisney World park experience. Although Horner's absence is missed, Franglen rises to the monumental challenge with great aplomb. The score is a love letter to Horner, not only reprising his main "I See You" love theme liberally (along with a few other smaller motifs from the score), but Franglen incorporates tons of little rhythmic, harmonic, textural and instrumental details that pay loving homage to his friend's entire oeuvre. But on top of this, Franglen delivers plenty of his own unique style and voice, including many new shimmering electronic colors to accompany the underwater moments, as well as a hefty action sound. The rich new thematic base includes a sweeping family theme, based on a diegetic folk melody sung by Neytiri, a melody for the attacking human organization, a later vengeange motif for Quaritch, a three-note motif for Kiri's relationship with Eywa, a theme for the Metkayina clan and the 'way of water' itself, and a theme for the whale-like creatures who share a spiritual bond with the Na'vi of the story. Overall, the package is full of great thematic density, great action and emotion, and creative use of orchestral, electronic and vocal colors, and rises to the very high bar established by its predecessor.

Franglen became involved since the early development of the film, and reportedly wrote almost five hours of music, though of course, not all of that made it into the lengthy film. Walt Disney Records released two albums, one a more condensed experience, featuring the song collaboration with The Weeknd, and a longer score-only album that features approximately thirty more minutes of score and is closer to film order, which really does the score better justice (though several smaller moments are still missing). For the first album, I thought that cover art was just incredibly boring, with the score cover a little better, but still very dreadfully basic. With such a gorgeous film, set of official posters and artwork, and some fan pieces to choose from, this was a joy to work on, so I present a total of fifteen new and alternate covers to choose from. The end credits of the film give a credit for "original Avatar themes" to James Horner, while the official cover only credits Franglen, and by his calculations 90% of the score is original. Anyways, I felt crediting Horner would be a nice gesture... but then I was limited in terms of the actual spacing and layout of each individual cover, so the choices are fairly random, other than adapting to the individual cover's needs.

The first twelve covers all feature official poster artwork. Fortunately, most of these I was able to find in textless, so editing far largely fairly simple, other than needing to make minor cloning edits to add wider margins or compress some space, or stretch out the bottom water area in an image to make extra space for the title and credits. The only major structural change was Cover 10 (the poster used for the Screen-X ads) of Jake on his ikran, in which I matted out Jake and then slid the entire background further down in the image, as I thought it fit the limited composition a lot better this way.

Covers 13 and 14 feature official concept art from the "Art of" book. I didn't have access to the actual book (otherwise I'm sure I'd have a whole other handful of pieces here), so unfortunately, don't know the specific artists to credit for these yet.

The final four covers all feature fan artwork. Cover 15 is by artist Gabriel Vitoria, which features incredible likenesses and details for the main characters, though I wish the background water was more fully painted in. I tried to incorporate Kiri into the image, as she sits much lower in the full image, but the composition was simply too crowded to allow her to stand next to her brothers. Cover 16 features art by Phase_Runner. Cover 17 is by Ryan Smallman, the major piece of editing I had to do was to shrink down Tsireya and her ilu down in the bottom right corner so that they wouldn't be cut off half-way, as well as removing the title from the poster which was sitting on top of some coral, this all took several hours of cloning and zoomed-in painting to fill in the gaps make everything blend together smoothly. Finally, Cover 18 is by Adam Stothard, my only real change was changing the bottom of the image, as I had to remove the title logo, and then use other parts of the image to paint back in the sea-bed over which my title and credits could sit.

These were a lot of fun to work on, I just love the colors. Frankly the film is so gorgeous, and even watching it a second time, I wish I could just take freeze-frames of dozens of moments and make covers out of those--this is the advantage of building a film almost entirely from CG--that the entire film can truly look as stunning as the concept art for it. Let me know your favorites!

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