The Last Airbender

Shyamalan Wasteful

         
 

02 July 2010| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Gloomy and tiresome. It would have been more fair to have reviewed The Last Airbender in a 2D format rather than 3D, since you can barely see the thing half the time. Imagine seeing a normal movie ten years ago with sunglasses inside the theater – this is what retrofit 3D add-on has done to the movies. Yet this gimmicky add-on enforced in the post-“Avatar” era is the worst 3D job yet.

Only those who have seen the Nickelodeon series will have a fastened idea of what is happening in the film. Back then it was called “Avatar: The Last Airbender” but the beginning prefix of the title had to be chopped off once James Cameron got the big-screen rights to it. With “Airbender,” the diminishing talent of M. Night Shyamalan, whose career went from “The Sixth Sense” high to “The Happening” low, gets another whack, although this time, he’s a director-for-hire.

Ditching kitchen-sink suspense for panoramic spectacle, M. Night Shyamalan gets to work with a story that takes place in a land far, far away. How many centuries back and what planet? Did I miss something? But if there is one thing Shyamalan actually does well here it is composing action scenes with unbroken steadicam shots that move in and out of martial arts moves with kink.

But what kills the film, more than the bad 3D, is the casting. Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz, as brother and sister Sokka and Katara, are awkward white kids in an Asian setting speaking in Beverly Hills or Malibu dialect, while other Indian actors are mixed in randomly, and other whites given shades of make-up and lighting effects to help look Asian. Huh? Yes, this is recipe for disaster, isn’t it?

The little hero is Aang (Noah Ringer, who is white, not Asian) who may be the Avatar that can overwhelm the dark side, in this case, the Fire Nations. Aang is the Chosen One – he’s like a little shaved-head monk with Buddhist tattoos lining his forehead – is only persuasive in this exotic Asian setting when it’s a wide angle shot and he doesn’t have to talk. Dev Patel (of “Slumdog” fame) is, hold your breath for this compliment, a nice-looking guy. Can’t wait to see him get another role so he can have a continuing career. Because as Prince Zuko, he sucks. I can’t figure out what he’s trying to do with his character except that he’s flexing his eyebrows in order to invoke a fiery temper.

The actors would have been better off not talking, and Shyamalan would have been better off not writing the TV-to-screen adaptation. But the magic scenes are for a few moments neat-o if cheese-o. In addition to airbending little thwarting tornadoes, there is firebending (blah) and water-bending. The ever so slightest enjoyment is found when Aang hurls strands of gulpy water energy at bad guys whom as a result get swathed in human size totems of ice blocks (the bad guys wriggle inside helplessly). But too often the picture quality is atrocious to look at, and the actors look out of place.

103 Minutes. Rated PG.

ACTION & ADVENTURE / CHEESY / BAD MOVIES WE HATE

Film Cousins: “Krull” (1983); “Willow” (1988); “Spy Kids” (2001); “The Happening” (2008).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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