It's Shyamalan's Fault (The Last Airbender Review)

Jul 14, 2010

When I heard there was going to be an Avatar: the Last Airbender movie, I was excited. And also, apprenhensive. The series was pretty lengthy, had more than a few subplots, and loads of characters to develop. How could they cram around ten hours (per season) of story and character development into one film? Despite my worries I tried to remain optimistic. "Oh it's no problem, the writers are apparently okay with the director, so it's fine." And then all my hopes for a decent adaptation of my favorite western cartoon series were dashed against rocks, fed through a wood chipper, and flushed in the toilet along with grandma's partially digested breakfast.

The film was bad from the beginning. I mean literally, the beginning. That shoutout to the series opening won't fool anybody; expository openings are a sign for bad scenes to come. And damn, was I right. There's really, really bad fight choreography in that earthbender-village-saving scene, not to mention a laughably bad part where half a dozen earthbenders did several over-the-top forms to move a pebble small rock, and several scenes where characters just talked to explain things to the viewer. Watching this thing was only enjoyable because it was so bad.

The casting of this film was controversial enough without me touching on it, but the acting was just...I blame the script. I mean, who would even give an effort for a good performance with a script that shoved expository dialogue awkwardly into scenes (most of which were usually nothing but expository dialogue!) and treated the viewers like kids with short attention spans or grandparents with short term memory loss? Yes, Zhao I heard it a dozen times before, you went to a goddamned library. The pacing was so bad even a fan of the series can barely comprehend the mess of a story, and characters were butchered beyond recognition.

Sokka isn't funny (I know they took out the slapstick, but way to go leeching the enjoyable sarcasm out of him!); Iroh is nothing but a forgetable, stereotypical, kind, old guy; Katara is devoid of personality; and Aang is an emo twelve-year-old. I thought the boy was supposed to have the airbender sense of humor and carefree personality. He was also supposed to run away from a fight unless absolutely necessary, not face soldiers head-on. And, hmm...I know I forgot somebody...Ah. Zuko, I don't mind. He's an angry jerk at this point of the story, so no young actor could pull him off very well.

Remarkably such a trainwreck could be at least half decent if the writing was handed to someone competent, like the 16-year-old Avatar (the cartoon show, not James Cameron's movie) fan across the street, and/or if any writer from the original show was on board. Right now the only good thing to say about The Last Airbender is it had good effects. Might I mention they were good CGI effects wasted on a bland, lifeless film. And what we have to blame for that is the casting of decent to good actors in the wrong roles, really bad dialogue and pacing, and direction. In most films we have several people to blame for that, but with this movie it's just one man.

Someone who ruined a good story for fans everywhere.

Someone who apparently has no idea that pacing is different between a plot-driven story and a character-driven one.

"...I have a style that creates a certain pace..." "...it creates a very similar pacing in every movie. Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and I believe The Village were all the exact same length."

Someone who took a popular series so unlike his previous works and decided to make it the same way as his older stuff.

"I can only see it this certain way and I don't know how to think in another language." "...so I don't know how to adjust it without being me. It would be like asking a painter to change to a completely different style."

Dammit, Shyamalan.

Source of quotes: New York Mag's "Vulture" section



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Nee_san   2011-01-07 08:16:00

Dear friend,
I have to agree with you on all points about what you said here. I watched the movie after it came out on BlueRay and though my family(Who's never seen the show) liked it fair enough even they had issues with it. I personally was driving my head into the wall every time Sokka opened his mouth or the Benders had to go through an entire ritual to get a single drop of water/ pebble/ flicker of flame/ or breeze to stir.
Your review was fun to read and I was glad to see someone else understood how I felt. On another note, I have to admit that I love all your reviews and your blog. I can't wait to read your short stories. I'm officially a fan of yours now. I enjoy rereading all of your review and can only say I wish you luck on the rest of it. I'll be reading and hopefully I can lend you a bit of moral support.
Forever and Always,
Nee_san