I'm quite ill today, so I'll probably refrain from going into as much detail as I would like to on this topic (or so I say at this time, I may get carried away). Nevertheless, I wanted to get into this topic while it was still fresh in my mind.
First off: Avatar was a decent film. The visuals definitely made it what it was, storywise, it was pretty weak. Like I thought, it was a retelling of Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai. But visually, it was a masterpiece. I don't think I've ever seen a film look as good as this one did. The 3-D was the best I've seen in a film. The Na'vi looked so real, almost like they could walk off the screen. See it in theatres. Even if you don't "like" the story, it'll be worth it for the visuals alone. I was disappointed by the lack of character development though, and would like to learn more about the world of Pandora. It was just so fascinating, and so beautiful--almost like a character in itself.
Now, a topic most people aren't talking about: the soundtrack. I liked it. However, I recognized several bits of the music from other films. I sat there in the theatre at one particular moment wondering where one piece was from, because I knew it was from a film I'd seen multiple times. Y'know, instead of paying attention to the movie, I was thinking about music. I'd thought far enough that it was probably a violent movie, possibly a war film. Here is the piece of music in mind (I've included it as a link because the title of the piece contains a slight spoiler to the film, and I want to give people the choice whether or not they want to view it based on that fact):
Avatar soundtrack, piece 10 (begins about the 5 minute mark)
It's not the main musical composition of the piece, but still I recognized it! I did research when I got home, and found out that James Horner, the composer, likes to "recycle" his past music and rework it into his soundtracks rather than creating entirely new pieces. Therefore, I did more research, and John Tillnes a man who is obviously much more knowledgeable about music than I, gave me the insight I needed to solve my problem (with some help from the commenters as well). Apparently the repeating music at the end is called a "four-note motif", and it's a common theme of Horner's. After reading the comments, I finally figured it out: Enemy at the Gates! That motif is used quite liberally through out the film during really tense moments, thus making it stick out in my mind. It helps that I've watched the film numerous times. Here's the piece in question (again, linked to because of a slight spoiler):
Enemy at the Gates
Clearly the motif is used at the forefront of this piece, whereas it is a bit more subtle in the Avatar piece.
I found another, with a bit of assistance from a friend as well, the following piece is similar to many pieces of the Glory soundtrack:
Avatar Soundtrack, Piece 6
I've read that there are similarities to the Titanic score, among many others. I didn't catch any other similarities though, because my fascination with movie music is a fairly recent one. Before, I hardly noticed the music, save for a particularly good piece. That, and I haven't watched Titanic in over two and a half years, despite owning it on DVD. It's just too long to watch most of the time, I don't have the attention span for it. Gangs of New York is one of the very few "long" movies I can watch on even a semi-regular basis, because it's one of my favourites. However, I don't believe Kirk has seen Titanic, so that should be remedied at some point.
So how do I feel about Horner "borrowing" from his past sound tracks? It doesn't really bother me that much. He's clearly got a specific style, so if it works for one film, and can work for another...go at it. But it is a problem when the pieces are much too similar. Noticing that four-note motif was clearly distracting for me, but I also recognize that I'm quite nerdy about movies in general. For the casual fan, I doubt they'd notice. I don't think I'd say that I dislike Horner, his music is actually quite moving, but there are other composers out there that I like a whole lot more.