Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Last Airbender

The One

Having seen the movie, I'm actually quite disturbed by the numerous comments slamming it, from things like being racist (what gives?) to more spiteful ones that seem to enjoy jumping onto the bandwagon to discredit writer-director-producer M Night Shyamalan. I suppose he's suffering from the weight of the tremendous success his first feature film The Sixth Sense brought him, and everyone expects a continuous Midas touch, but having seen all his films, I am still of the opinion that he's a good storyteller, and have ventured beyond gimmicky reveal surprises to now tackle mass appeal entertainment, and showing that he's equally adapt to work on existing, established characters, versus creating his own thus far.

Not having seen the series in its animated form, I'm probably more ready than the purists and fanboys to accept Shyamalan's version (surely you cannot expect too much to be crammed into 107 minutes?), which in this film is but Book 1: Water, dealing with the discovery of Aang (Noah Ringer) who happens to be the last of his kind, an airbender. For those not in the know like I was, the opening scroll provides a quick update on what benders are – folks who possess the ability to manipulate their respective elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth, while only an Avatar, a chosen one if you will that is constantly reincarnated and rotated amongst the elements, will exist to ensure peace and harmony throughout the lands (almost tribe-like according to the elements as well). But the Avatar had disappeared for a century, so in the meantime the Fire Nation decides that it be best they begin to wage war to rule the world.

Which is not surprising, and probably what Shyamalan had wanted to say in his movie continuing from his take on the environment from The Happening. The story's kept extremely simple to follow, so that the target demographics of the fans – the kids – will find it easy to understand the underlying, explicit message that it is important for everyone to take care of Nature, and highlights man's tendency to disrespect Nature and all things sacred. There's an expected loss of morality when governance, in this case the Avatar, is missing, and there will be parties abound to exploit this gap in the meantime for personal power and glory. Good folk have to stand up and be counted against oppression, and quite appropriately, it's the Fire nation to go rogue since fire is an important element to spark off the industrial revolution, from there utilizing technology and militarizing it, as well as the very obvious pollution that goes hand in hand.

It's also no wonder that the Avatar, for all his powers, gets to learn a lesson about how he's there to keep the peace and not harbour intentions for revenge, since his own tribe is wiped out (hence his title as the last of his kind). Another important message and reminder to the kids in the audience that with great power means great responsibility (oops, wrong movie), and rightly so we don't see Aang unleashing his powers in bloodthirsty mode. Noah Ringer should be given credit for his charismatic take as the most powerful elemental-bending child in the world who still needs to undergo training and lessons to fulfill his destiny, and while he's not using his powers, he still has that very nifty staff to rely on, which expands into a hang glider. How cool is that?

The other hand to hand combat weapon that I thought was top notch was the boomerang-sword, which unfortunately only had a scene in which it was used and caught in the scene in full glory. Industrial Light and Magic continues to show why it's still one of the go-to effects houses with the flawlessly designed and delivered bending effects, and frankly what was seen in the trailer actually provided yet another reason enough to catch this on the big screen, with massive water and ice sheets, force-push abilities and even a glimpse at what the Earth-benders can do when they bandy together against a common adversary.

Supporting characters include the Southern Water tribe brother and sister team Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz) who were responsible in chancing upon Aang, and Prince Zuko (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame) and his uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub) being the antagonist here with quite a rich backstory that puts them at odds with the Fire Nation Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) which I suspect the subsequent films may see them turn into allies.

This was originally intended as the first part of a trilogy, and I hope that the rest get made because there's been too many false starts to the promise of fantasy franchises, from The Golden Compass to The Dark is Rising to name but two in reason years, where the box office returns were less than expected and hence the follow up films got canned. Sure the undeserving ones shouldn't have any more films made, but this film had a certain charm and quality to it, that I want to continue following Aang in his quest to become the Avatar. Highly recommended, if you have been waiting for a contemporary film franchise that's set to thrill, and surely I will be visiting the original source material if I have the time.

And oh yeah, if it's not shot in 3D, then don't bother watching it on 3D since conversions reeks of money making exploitation and desperation.


Kaiablue said...

But the thing is you would have had to see the cartoon it was made from to understand. It's nothing like it's supposed to be. Even the minor details are major here. A fan cannot truly apperciate the movie because there simply is nothing to apperciate.

It is racist because the cartoon is anime and the people in it are Chinese and other. Not white.

You can't simply say what you said because this was supposed to be a real life repersentation of the cartoon. The charaters have no personality. I suggest you watch a few episodes. Or atleast do more research first.

Stefan S said...

Hi Kaiablue, guess I have to put some money down for the animated series then!

clay said...

No one can truly appreciate this film because it fails on every level. The characters in this film (and I use that term loosely) are so bland and so boring they make the cast of Twilight seem as expressive as a fireworks display. None of the emotions matter in this movie, only exposition which is boring. This has all the signs of a movie made simply from a wiki synopsis, not from someone who even has the vaguest interest in the story.

One could say "Well they had to explain it for a new audience and cram in a season that lasts 8 hours into under 2." Then explain how the Lord of the Rings could manage perfectly what this could not? Those books are much longer, have much richer lore, far more detail and buttloads of characters, and so it should be reasonable that within 2 hours, a respectable adaptation to Avatar: The Last Airbender could be possible.

Those "messages" you mentioned, don't matter in this film because they are COMPLETELY glanced over. The only characters that were even remotely good interpretations were Iroh and Zuko, the rest were cardboard cutouts of cardboard cutouts. Our heroes in this film, we have no good reason to even care about them. Why should we? They don't seem to care they're even in the film. They act as if they're in a middle school play or are working off a speeding ticket. The only reason we even know we should even root for the main characters is because we're told they're good guys and the firebenders are bad guys. That's it. Again, if the characters don't care, why should we?

In the show, the martial arts flowed well with their bending, every movement made had a purpose. In this movie, they flailed their arms around a bunch and made a tiny splash or moved a tiny rock.

Everything about this movie fails miserably and is something we'd expect of fantasy films back when they were expected to suck. You know, before Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter came out and showed the world they could be epic adventures. It fails as an adaptation and it fails as a movie. And no, this is not just a fan of the show throwing a fit, nor is this someone who wants to "jump on the bandwagon" as you humorously try to say, but someone who actually likes movies and likes good story. This is a film that could only entertain a small child, because they're the only ones who can be entertained by flailing arms for no reason and things moving around.

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