Thursday, July 01, 2010

Movie review: The Last Airbender

Let's start with Sarah's opinions on the movie.

So, let's break it down, shall we?

1. Upsetting: The cartoon was bright, vibrant, joyous--even though it was also about a group of kids setting out to save the world from tyranny. But along the way, there was always time for penguin-sledding, koi fish surfing, and many, many soothing cups of tea.

2. Out-of-character: Their names might have been the same (but see point #3 before you make a final judgement on that), but otherwise . . . hard to identify in some cases. Especially Uncle Ihro's portrayal in the film, who only barely got to do anything that resembled the character that was a steady, moral presence in a world spinning out of balance. Shyamalan's "Ihro" was mostly a cypher. You occasionally got the feeling that he had principles but he wasn't funny, wasn't relaxed, wasn't helpful.

Also . . . Sokka was pretty well wasted in this film. The cartoon allowed him to be comic relief, interjecting much needed humor and levity at every turn. But he never had anything witty to say in this film. (Let's let Jackson Rathbone go back to whatever he was trying to do in the Twilight movies. If The Last Airbender Book 2 ever gets greenlighted--a pretty large if, despite how the movie tried to set things up in the final moments, Sokka needs to be recast . . . immediately.)

3. Not funny: There were no opportunities for childishness in this film. Despite his age and his responsibilities as The Avatar, Aang is a ten-year-old kid who grew up in the happy-go-lucky confines of the Air Nomads temples. Aang LOVES a good joke and always wants to have fun. Noah Ringer's Aang is conflicted and mostly silent, except for when he's discussing how conflicted he is. I completely blame the script writers for this problem. And I suppose I should blame  the casting directors. And sure, I'll throw blame on M. Night as well. And . . . sadly, I thing I'll also place some blame on Executive Producers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Koneitzko.

DiMartino and Koneitzko created the original Nickelodeon cartoon that began running in 2005 and has become a beloved property. Without the popularity and goodwill generated by their creation, this movie would never have been made. They should have done more than take a paycheck and put their names in the credits. (And if they did work mightily to improve earlier versions to get to this version of the movie, then Hollywood movie-making is irreparably broken.)

This movie was dark and muddy--and that was not just a result of the inadequate 3D effects that were mistakenly placed on a 2D movie. (NOTE: I wisely didn't pay extra for the 3D version.) It lacked charm and life. Sad.

4. Mispronunciations: On top of all of those problems, every time a character spoke another character's name . . . they pronounced it wrong. This is mysterious and inexcusable.

In the cartoon, which is the source materials and acts as the Canon, Aang's name rhymes with "bang," not "gong."
You pronounce Sokka similarly to "sock-a," NOT "soak-a!"
Uncle Ihro should sound like "eye-ro," not "ear-ro."

Honestly . . . step up DiMartino and Koneitzko. You KNOW how these characters talk! Fix it.

So . . . given all of that . . . what grade can I give this?

I'm going to agree with Sarah and say C-. And I think that is being generous.

I give them credit for getting a lot of the actual canon into the movie, but they did it in a ham-fisted and inelegant way. I recognize that they had to condense 22 30-minute episodes (10+ hours of story and character development) into a 100 minute movie . . . but the journey simply felt terribly rushed. We never had any time to learn anything about the characters and the actors weren't skilled enough to make us really want to. The situations were forced and rapid. The editing was choppy.

It reminded me of

a.) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, in which the movie was so slavish to the content of the book that there was a forced quality to it--a sense of joyless obligation to the dialogue and the situation . . .  a distinct lack of imagination; and

b.) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which the movie so heavily edited the content to fit it into the time slot that it felt horribly uneven and rushed.

The only thing that came as a surprise to me was the presence of The Daily Show's Asif Mandvi. I had no idea that he was in the movie and he played a prominent part to boot. (Oddly, I felt he also gave one of the better acting performances . . . though if I had to hear him mention "his important discovery in The Great Library" one more time, I was going to walk out. (Again, bad editing . . . )

M. Night Shymalan's The Last Airbender was distinctly disappointing. Any potential sequel needs to learn MANY things from the failure of this movie. And because of that, the likelihood that such a sequel will ever be made it highly dubious.

1 comment:

David said...

Sarah would also like to say the following: