Thursday, September 2, 2010

FILM: Running Away with The Last Airbender (Review)

Fans of the highly successful Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar: the Last Airbender have been eagerly anticipating the show's translation to a live-action film but with embattled director, M. Night Shyamalan ("The Happening") behind the wheel, would "The Last Airbender" meet expectations?

The film covers the entire first season of the animated series, otherwise known as Book 1: Water. The story centers around a young boy named Aang (Noah Ringer), who is the last member of a tribe of monks known as Airbenders who have the ability to manipulate the air around them. He is found by the brother-sister duo of Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz), two members of the Southern Water Tribe and together they go on a worldwide journey to find Aang the teachers he needs to become the Avatar he's meant to be and bring peace to a world corrupted by the evil Fire Nation.

Casting characters with a large fanbase can be tricky and there was plenty of controversy stirred up with "The Last Airbender". Noah Ringer fits the description of young Aang, but the portrayal comes up short. The lively, fun-loving character from the animated series is non-existent in the film, instead Aang is shown as quiet, moody and a boy afraid to face his role as the Avatar. Nicola Peltz fits Katara to a T. She overcomes the poor dialogue with the perfect attitude full of animated gestures that are synonymous with the character.

Jackson Rathbone does his best to fit the older brother role of Sokka but seems about ten years too old for the character. Maybe this was done by the studios to lessen the idea of three youths traveling the world on their own and making one into a more clear guide/protector role. Dev Patel plays Prince Zuko, the exiled son of the Fire Nation Lord who is obsessed with finding the Avatar to regain his father's approval. Unfortunately Patel's portrayal leaves Zuko as more of a weakened, morose son than the aggressive irritant Zuko is in the animated series.

For a film based on a successful TV series, fans would expect the look and feel of the film to match the quality of the show but M. Night Shyamalan focus was more on location shoots than the special effects and it showed in the film. Some of the decisions regarding the location of a scene seemed questionable, like having the Earth Tribe rebellion happen inside the village with Earth all around them instead of a Fire Nation Prison Barge surrounded by water which would have made more sense of the tribe submitting to the Fire Nation.

The worst perpetrator for the dismal performance of the movie is the director himself, M. Night Shyamalan. While fans can understand that the animated series set a high bar for the film to try to reach, the fact that the film is nearly unwatchable is pretty hard to believe. The film ended in a way to leave it open for the possibility of sequels to cover the other seasons of the series but the lack of fan support may make that nothing more than a pipe dream. Maybe in five or ten years the creators can look to give a live-action film another try, and bring with it the fun and energy that made the show so entertaining and was noticeably missing from the flailing film.

If you are a fan of the show, watching "The Last Airbender" will only have you comparing it to the TV series and becoming puzzled by how poorly it was made. If you are not familiar with the animated series I would recommend staying clear of this film because you probably would not be able to finish it. Instead, track down the sets of the animated series and give them a watch because you will not be disappointed.

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