IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! The Last Airbender

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I may have to turn in my nerd card. See, I've never watched the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Never. Not one episode. And it's something that's right up my alley. I mean, people who can manipulate the elements of earth, air, fire and water through will alone set against one another in a cosmic balance rooted in a unique mythology heavily influenced by Buddhist-flavored mysticism? Hand me my chopsticks, I'd dig the hell out of that. I mean, I just got done reading the entire Dresden Files series and I use 'alchemy' in just about all of my branding. I should be a huge fan of Airbender.

But while I've never seen the series, I can understand why the M Night Shyamalan film from 2010 based on the franchise would both thrill fans of the series and whip them into a frothing rage-filled frenzy.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

As I said in the intro, there are people in the world of The Last Airbender who through concentration and focused movements reminiscent of the martial arts can manipulate the basic elements of creation. Each of them belongs to their own nation, and the Fire Nation has gotten the idea that they should run the whole show. They've started a war and according to legend, the only force capable of maintaining the balance of the world and deciding the conclusion of the conflict is the Avatar, a 'bender' who has power over all four elements. The Avatar, however, has been reincarnated as a little kid, and it's going to take some time for him to get a grip on water, earth and fire; his mastery of air, however, is damn near instinctive. This is good, as the Fire Nation kinda sorta wiped out the rest of his kin.

The movie concerns itself with the first season of the show, called "Book 1: Water" which spanned 20 episodes clocking in at around 30 minutes each. That's 600 minutes. The film The Last Airbender plays out at just over 90. And yet we need to cover who the nations are, what the Fire Nation is after, who Aang the boy Avatar is, who his friends are, what motivates his enemies and how the various powers of the benders of each nation work. That's a lot of narrative ground to cross, and if you want to both please the fans and introduce non-fans to the world, you can't leave a shred of it out.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
The fight scenes really are impressive.

The absolute wrong way to do this is layer the dialog of the characters with exposition. Instead of showing us who these people are, The Last Airbender tells us, through narration and conversation, everything that's essential for us to know. It doesn't trust us to pick things up through observation or draw our own conclusions. Even kids can pick up the Fire Nation being bad or Aang's past being tragic without it needing to be spoon-fed to them. And this is the bulk of the movie. I understand that it was a daunting task to put this all together in a single film that had to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, not to mention being what amounts to a saving throw for M Night Shyamalan's career. But when you need to slog through this stuff for over an hour it really starts to wear on you.

However, the news is not all bad. The visual effects in The Last Airbender are pretty seamless in their mixing of the motions of the actors and the CG used for the elements they control. The music is fantastic and the costumes are great. When the script lets up on the exposition and lets the characters at least attempt some growth, you can see the potential peeking out from around the plot explanation. And as the film ramps up towards its climax the expository elements start falling away to let some stunning moments take place which come very, very close to redeeming the entire project.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
One of the few characters actually given room to grow.

For what it's worth, the film of The Last Airbender has underscored my need to get into this series and explore it more fully. Based on what I've been told by reliable sources like my little sister, the film is a success in that regard. The film looks great and it's good to see fresh faces from all over the world on the big screen, even if I had trouble buying Aasif Mandvi as a bad guy at first. I'm torn on this one. There's a part of me that wants to recommend it based on the visuals, the potential and the clear loyalty it has to its source material and the good intentions it has of staying as true as possible without mucking anything up.

But in the end, the plodding pace of the first hour and the way it tries to cram in every bit of exposition into the mouths of its characters it can undercuts all the goodwill and craftsmanship put into the film. I'm going to watch the series, and I recommend anybody interested in this story do the same. To quote many a disapproving parent: I'm not mad, Last Airbender. I'm just disappointed.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Next Week: Red Planet

Good review, though our opinions of the movie differ. As a huge fan of the series, (which is MUCH better than the movie, start watching it asap) I can tell you the movie isn't really that loyal to the series. Names are pronounced differently, firebending and the comet work differently, bending is about ten seconds slower and looks more like dancing. Also, it has this scene:

Alchemist, the only good thing about this movie is that it will prompt you and others to possibly check out vastly superior show. However, I fear the immense suckitude of the film will also turn off more potential Avatards. The movie merely hints at the series' high points. Oh, the martial arts of the movie stink compared to the animation. In the show you can really see the different fighting styles for each element, where as in the film they all use wu shu/performance/dance martial arts. Also, prepare for different pronunciation and characterization.

Nigh Invulnerable:
Also, prepare for different pronunciation and characterization.

They could be pronouncing things in Esperanto as long as the story improves, and based on what everybody has said, the series is much, much better in that regard.

probably the worst movie i have ever seen in my life, the show is a thousand times better

Trying to cram an entire season of a show (one I might add features no real "filler" type episodes) into one film is doomed to fail from the start...and it did.

I honestly have no idea why this film was made in the first place, if the intention was to introduce more people to the series then that didn't work because I doubt after seeing this people probably wouldn't think highly of the series.

"It looks pretty" has never been an excuse to see a movie (or play a game) for me, so this movie is basically horrible in every way to me.

Also, the costumes may look nice, but they don't resemble those in the series...

Seriously, where are Zhao's side burns!!!???

I loved the show, still haven't seen the movie, but I guess that was a good idea.

Another great review :)

Double Post - Fucking Dial up

 

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