Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Reel Low: The Last Airbender

It’s hard to imagine a movie can fail in as many ways as M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” does.  Given the apparent rich source material, it makes me question Shyamalan’s ability as a film maker and as a storyteller.

“The Last Airbender” is the first of what is presumably a trilogy of films adapting the three television seasons of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, which tells the story of the boy Aang who is the last of the Air Nomads and prophesied savior of the world.  Aang has been trapped in ice for the past 100 years having run away from his duties as the avatar.  While he’s been on ice, the world has been devastated by war as the Fire Nation has moved to subjugate the world under its fist.  Now that Aang has resurfaced, the armies of the Fire Nation and its dishonored prince pursue him to prevent him from thwarting their plans.  Aang and his newfound friends, Katara and Sokka, set off on a journey so that Aang might learn to bend the other elements and become the hero the world needs.

A pretty standard setup that looks great on paper but is so poorly executed it makes me wonder how Shyamalan was unable to do anything great with it.  The dialogue is poorly scripted and often gives characters lines describing actions the audience has just seen on screen seconds earlier.  I like to think audiences haven’t become that inattentive.  There also seemed to be some disagreement on how names and words should be pronounced, most being pronounced in a way that makes me think the actors were trying to sound either smart or Brittish.

The action scenes felt clunky and poorly shot with a lot of the wire-work standing out as wire-work.  There is little about them that builds tension or excitement.  The only thing about the action scenes and the movie in general that really worked was the music.  Also, Shaun Toub’s performance as Uncle Iroh was one of the few shining points, breathing the only sense of humor into an overall dull atmosphere.

Before “The Last Airbender” came out, there was controversy over casting Caucasians in ethnic roles.  Now that it is out, it can be said that is least of the film’s problems.  This movie was lacking in so many ways that it’s (hopefully) doubtful that the other two seasons will get covered.  If they do have a go at them, I hope they can bring someone else on board who might be able to salvage the mess Shyamalan has left in his wake.


Matthew Olcese said...

I'd heard nothing but bad about this movie. My interest cannot be lower.

Why comment then? Two prominent movies in one summer with Caucasians playing non-Caucasian roles (Prince of Persia being the other)? Kinda weird right?

Are studios THAT unwilling to throw money at a crappy project unless honkies play all the title roles?

Unknown said...

Apparently so.

I do look forward to watching the rest of the television series though, then being properly outraged at the live-action adaptation.