Title: The Last Airbender
Posted: July 29, 2010 (05:40 PM)
When I first heard rumors that there was going to be a movie adaption of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I seriously considered writing M. Night Shyamalan a letter asking to audition for the part of Zuko or Sokka. I was so engrossed in the series at the time that I wanted to bring it to life myself. It was a momentary passion, one inspired by the most beautiful American-made cartoon of all time -- epic and action-packed yet sincere and endearing, Avatar: The Last Airbender won the hearts of millions, many of them outside of its intended 6-11 age demographic.
Having seen the movie now, Iím glad nothing came of that plan.
Iím sure some will say that I should not have gotten my hopes up, and the truth is that I was immediately skeptical about The Last Airbender, if only because of the dubious history of franchise medium translations. I was also skeptical when I heard the project was given to Shyamalan (a director whose work I am not especially fond of) and that the film featured no Asian actors whatsoever. Itís not like I didnít know better. Yet despite my skepticism, I held onto a sliver of hope that The Last Airbender would do the series justice. At the very least, I figured that even if it wasnít on par with the the cartoon series, it might still make for an entertaining fantasy action flick.
Shyamalan defied even most conservative expectations by making a horrible movie by any standard, one that not even several online reviews could have prepared me for. It was the worst movie I had seen in a long time, and the words of one critic describe it perfectly: ďSurely the worst botch of a fantasy epic.Ē
The Last Airbender is actually very faithful to the series in the sense that it changes few facts or elements of the timeline. It is unfaithful in the sense that it fails to bring its world and characters to life, or in any way channel the seriesí spirit and personality. Everything from Shyamalanís script (they let him write it) to his lamentable cast are responsible for making this happen. The opening, which attempts to set the stage for the movie, scrolls text while Nicola Peltz narrates the same words at the same time. The poor writing and noticeable mispronunciation of ďAvatarĒ were early warning signs that my worst fears were about to come true. All Shyamalan had to do here was replicate the introduction of the seriesí first episode.
The next fifteen minutes involve Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone exchanging non-sequiturs, exposition and bullshit in what is some of the most poorly written and stiffly delivered dialogue in any movie that even pretends to take itself seriously:
Aang: We were forced under the water of the ocean.
Katara: Oh...I see.
Noah Ringer has no acting experience, a fact made painfully evident by this film. Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone are even worse despite having some experience, and itís obvious that they were both thrown in just because they are pretty faces. Jackson Rathbone pisses me off in particular. Nicola Peltz is at least on track with her character, though in the end she fails because of both the script and her own inabilities. Rathbone on the other hand is among the least faithful to his character, and itís safe to say that his inclusion was part of a move to capture the horny teenage girl demographic.
Things hardly get better from there -- there are just too many things wrong with this movie, from miscast Indian actors trying much too hard to feign villainy to Shyamalanís incompetent directing and storytelling. The script is bad enough, but Shyamalan never even has any idea where to put the camera or his actors, whether itís during an action scene or even a conversation. The camera is too close when it needs to be back a bit, and too far when it needs to be in your face. At times, narration displaces dialogue and action entirely, which has the effect of creating huge lapses in the development of both the movieís narrative and characters, which is already quite thin and disfigured to begin with. Much of what dialogue there is serves the purpose of exposition rather than actual interaction between characters.
No matter who got to direct The Last Airbender, one of the obvious problems the movie would have had to face is the task of condensing over 400 minutes of the seriesí first season into a movie. The series engages in a lot of side-storytelling, and even if this movie had been three hours long, many of the side-stories would need to be cut. Shyamalan makes the mistake of allowing only 94 minutes for the plot and the characters to develop, and the result is that they donít. It would have been a challenge to be sure, but the accomplishments of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films prove that it is not by any means insurmountable. (And Peter Jackson arguably faced a much bigger challenge than Shyamalan.) Done right, The Last Airbender should have been a three hour movie. It should have cut out some of the more incidental escapades and characters, while still allowing the principals time and opportunity to flourish, grow and live. Although, considering how The Last Airbender ultimately turned out, perhaps itís for the best that it only runs for an hour and a half.
Shyamalan not only failed to meet his challenges; he couldnít even get the easy stuff right. The Last Airbender is not only a bad movie; it utterly fails to even be an entertaining popcorn flick. The action is consistently unimpressive and the special effects seem as though they could have been done at least ten years ago, if not more. The soundtrack is composed with some technical skill but is conspicuously bombastic, a painful mismatch with the underwhelming fight scenes and broken storytelling. He didnít even have the courtesy to pronounce the following names correctly: Avatar, Aang, Sokka, Iroh, Agni Kai. This is so braindead simple. I have seen some ridiculous posts floating around the Internet that these are the ďreal, AsianĒ pronunciations and that the cartoon ďAmericanizedĒ them for ease of pronunciation. The cartoon is American-made, and the real pronunciations are the ones that people heard in the sixty episodes that they watched over the course of three years.
There are so many things wrong with The Last Airbender, but the absolute worst is the fact that so many people are going to see this movie and get the wrong impression. Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the best works of fiction of the past decade, and many people will never know this simply because it is a Nickelodeon cartoon. The Last Airbender was a golden opportunity to reach out to new audiences, much in the way Peter Jackson enchanted an entirely new generation of people with The Lord of the Rings.
When you compare this movie to even just the first two episodes of the series, the cartoon has better acting, writing and fight choreography; it even has more drama. The scene where Aang enters the Avatar state for the first time in the series, when he is unconscious under water while Katara calls out to him -- these thirty seconds are more electrifying than all 94 minutes of Shyamalanís film.
Given the fact that The Last Airbender is supposed to be only the first movie in a trilogy, thereís still time for damage control. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko need to cut their losses, take the project away from Shyamalan and give it to a new director who will recast it entirely. The second wisest course of action would be to leave the trilogy unfinished at 33.3%.
Title: Re: The Last Airbender
Posted: July 29, 2010 (09:08 PM)
I want to watch the cartoon now.
Title: Re: The Last Airbender
Posted: July 29, 2010 (09:10 PM)