Friday, July 2, 2010

Movie Review: The Last Airbender

Overall Grade: C-

What shocks the most about M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender is not that it's bad, (children's fantasy series don't always deliver on screen, Eragon anyone?) but that it's an absolute incompetent mess. Extending grace, I would first try to understand if the source material was flawed or presented an unadaptable challenge. On that note, it seems clear that the basic concepts of the source material are the few creative bright spots of the film. It's when Shyamalan overlays his adapted screenplay and his confused directing that the concepts fizzle out under overly expository dialogue, barely sketched out characters, and half-baked themes and arcs.

Still, M. Night can walk away with a few successes on this film. For the most part, the art direction, costume design, and visual effects work well to create the world this bumbling story inhabits. They are some great landscape shots and a clear idea (artistically) what the different nations (fire, water, wind, and earth) look like and feel like. Add to that a couple good shots of action when M. Night allows his camera to focus for a longer period of time (a camera move he would use for his most dramatic moments). Dev Patel walks away with perhaps the only three dimensional character (albeit slightly overplayed at times), and in my opinion is the only character to emotionally root for in this film. That's a problem.

Overall, Shyamalan seems to get bogged down in trying to explain this whole bending universe solely through expository dialogue. It shocks me that someone who was able to keep such subtlety and restraint in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable couldn't find out how to let the story tell itself, Robert McKee would not like this film. So many fans hoped that coming upon previously written material would give Shyamalan the creative spark he needed to return to his former self; those hopes are now dashed. As bad as The Happening was, at the least it was the failure of an artist taking risks with original material. What makes The Last Airbender a bit harder to stomach, is that there is no risk here, only incompetence on display.

The only noticeable difference between a Shyamalan directed Last Airbender and if Uwe Boll (In the Name of the King, Alone in the Dark) had directed it, would be the name in the credits. I've tried to keep up hope with Shyamalan, but he seems to only be going downhill (which is saying something after The Happening). There's always a possibility for redemption, but for now, the most accurate way to recommend Shyamalan's work in The Last Airbender is, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here"

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

I realize I am a few years behind, but alas, I shall respond nonetheless. I was quite disappointed by this film. I have seen very few Shyamalan films (this & Sixth Sense) and don't intend to see more. Beyond the awfulness of the storyline (which is basically a very poor retelling of the first few episodes of the cartoon), the characters' names are incorrectly pronounced throughout the film. As a fan of the show, I was disappointed. I walked out of the theatre afterwards confident that this film had ruined any chance of seeing more Avatar on the big screen. It's three years out and I was right.

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