07 July 2010

The Last Airbender Review.

I was really hesitant about watching the film. On one hand, there were a lot of people who seem to hate the movie. On the other is that Avatar was one of the few animu that I enjoy. On the third mutant hand is that if the movie was truly terrible, I don't want to contribute to its success.

Well, after the first weekend box office results, I was content to know that the paltry sum I paid won't make this film a financial success.

I want to comment that I watched it on Tuesday. Cineplex apparently now has a special deal where for the same price as normal, you also get a regular popcorn and a regular drink. Neato. I might watch all of my films on tuesdays now. When I got into the theatre 10 minutes before the preview started, I walked into an empty room. All alone. By the time that the movie started, there were less than ten people. Flop.

The Last Airbender is by no means a great film. I'm not sure if it is a good film either.It definitely isn't the theatrical disaster that some people are calling it. This is definitely not Battlefield Earth of the decade.
So, I have seen all three seasons of Avatar, so I understand the story behind the movie. I don't know for sure if a non-fan can properly follow the story or understand its significance.


1) Tone
Avatar is supposed to be for kids to enjoy. The animu had a lot of silliness to many of the scenes. I can recall only two instances in the movie which had the light hearted scenes of the show, and they both involve Katara accidentally splashing Sokka with her faulty waterbending.

While the story of The Last Airbender has a lot of serious elements, the humour in the show helped create more rounded characters. It showed that despite only being kids, they were fated to do such incredible things. I don't think Aang smiled or laughed once in the film. He definitely doesn't have the same playfulness as the series.

2) Dialogue / Treating people like Full Retards.

“Do you have a spiritual place I can meditate?” “Yes, we have a very spiritual place.” 

When Aang goes to the very spiritual place to meditate, he first talks about how the record for the longest meditation was four days, and that it took a lot of concentration.

“We need to show them that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in their beliefs”
The dialogue in the movie is bad. I was cringing about once every minute. I can't really blame the actors for being shit when they are forced to work with this type of material. Then, each of the characters announced to everyone else what they were going to do in the scene. Yue and Sokka both says that they were going to leave the room. And they do. Katara then announces that she is going to stay. And she does. Its as if the audience is incapable of seeing what the characters are actually doing, so the writer decides that it is necessary for the characters to say exactly what they are going to do.

AND THEN Katara starts to talk with Aang, who just started to meditate.
"Aang, can you hear me? It's Katara."

Oh, and Zhao / Fire Lord Ozai's various conversation about Zhao going into a lost temple and finding a scroll which will lead them to victory. They had to constantly bring it up because M Night doesn't believe that the audience has the capacity to understand what is going on. If we don't get to see Zhao getting the scrolls which contained this awesome secret, we don't really need to hear about him doing it five times. They could have excised all of those scenes and just had Zhao show up at the end.

3) Pacing:  Trying to fit 440 minutes of content into 100 minutes.
Obviously, the movie will not be a direct translation simply because of the time contraints.
 I understand that not every single line of dialogue or every single episode can be filmed. There's just a problem when Aang, Kitara, and Sokka arrives at the Southern Air Temple, and they didn't know each other's names.

Another example of pacing issue is that the 'romantic' relationship between Princess Yue and Sokka was reduced to one of the many narration dialogues. That's fine, I guess, except that they placed such a great deal of time later on their emotional goodbyes. If time was not spent developing the relationship, then time shouldn't be spent on them at all.

According to casting and promotional posters,  the Kyoshi Warriors were going to play a major part with the film. Extending the film by another 20-30 minutes and incorporating more of the episode content would have definitely helped create more rounded characters.

4) Bending / Movement tracking.
I thought that they should have made the computer animation sync more with the movements of the actors. It just seems kinda silly for the actors to swing their arms a couple rotations in front of them just to have the water animation remain the same.

The fire in the fire bending is far too slow. It feels like a really slow fireball that is heading in a direction. I did not like this.

There were scenes lasting about 30 seconds when Aang and Katara are practicing water-bending by doing Tai Chi. Practice is good, except that the movements between the two characters aren't even consistant. One of them would hold their hands together, while the other would have them apart and uneven. The director should have told them to do it again.

What I did like:
Wonderful set/costume design. I loved the 'feel' of the world. The movie made me believe that it was possible for a city to exist like the one in the north pole. Yeah, the artists had the animu to base everything on, but I thought they did it wonderfully.

Zuko's story - I think the actor and character is very consistent with the show. He is driven with the same passion and anger of the series. The only WTF moment is after he kidnaps Aang, we see that Zuko has been having a soliloquy while staring out the window. Didn't need to see that, and its not really the appropriate time. I just wish that we had seen Iroh try and calm Zuko down some more. The Iroh/Zuko relationship is one of the best in the series.


It feels to me that The Last Airbender could have genuinely been a good film. The set designs were there. The whole concept about the look was spot on. There were problems with dialogue, which can't easily be fixed. There is definitely a problem with some of the pacing. Hopefully there will be a director's cut that can somehow salvage this mess. Reincorporate some of the other side stories and cut around the stilted dialogue.

I really do wish to see a second and third installments, but I wouldn't want to have the same writer involved. I think he's a capable director and a good producer.

The Last Airbender was directed, produced, and written by M. Night Shyamalan

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