THE LAST AIRBENDER

Overall Impression – Relentlessly bad, in every possible way, in every possible filmmaking discipline.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s your main character? – Aang.

What’s he trying to accomplish? – Professional: Defeat the Fire Kingdom. Personal: Nothing I can think of. Private: Decide if he’s willing to forego having a family in order to become the Avatar, though he talks about this so much, maybe it’s his personal goal?  But it’s an inner conflict, so maybe it’s a private goal?   But he keeps talking about it, so maybe it’s…aw hell.

Who’s trying to stop him? – Fire Lord Ozai is the big baddie, but there are really two others going directly against Aang; the whiny Prince Zuko and the oily Commander Zhao.

What happens if he fails? – The Fire Kingdom will suppress the other kingdoms.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan – Aang is discovered in a ball of ice, in which he’s been frozen for 100 years after running away from the monastery where he was being trained to be the Avatar, the only person who can ‘bend’ all four elements: earth, water, air, and fire.

Wanderer – After being discovered by two teen siblings who bring him back to their village, and realizing that he can’t run from his responsibility, he and they set off to find someone who can teach him the first of the skills he lacks, water bending.

Warrior – He never really becomes a warrior.  It’s possible that this is because this is the first movie in a planned mult-part story, but if that’s the case, it’s a giant miscalculation.

Martyr – He seems, at the end, to finally be willing to become the Avatar…but that’s practically the very end of the story.  Prior to that, it’s the tertiary character Princess Yue who makes the biggest sacrifice.

AND, IN THE END…

Almost from the beginning, THE LAST AIRBENDER dares us NOT to pick it to death like a pack of rabid ducks.  Teen siblings Katara and Sokka find a big ball of ice.  “Don’t hit it!” Sokka warns his sister.  So she hits it.  Inside is a kid and a giant furry creature, both unconscious.  Katara looks at him and determines that he’s ‘exhausted.’  Out of all of the possible things a kid in a ball of ice might be, ‘exhausted’ is way down the list, but at that point Aang wasn’t the only one exhausted.  And the movie had just started.

Everything about this movie is a misfire, but as this is a blog about story structure I suppose I should focus my comments on its storytelling shortcomings.

Nah.

When someone lobs a ball over the plate, one can be forgiven for swinging at it.  Besides, I’m really angry at this movie and will explain why shortly.

THE LAST AIRBENDER was an enormously popular animated series, but it was a series that stretched over three seasons.  Shyamalan was saddled with the task of taking the entire first season and turning it into a single 100 minute movie, regardless of whether the plot points and story arc of that season actually conform to a solid movie structure.  Which they don’t.  As a result, you have a story that meanders and wanders, about a hero who does nothing much beyond getting captured and escaping, getting captured and escaping.  He drives no part of the story.

The script is a nightmare of flashbacks, voiceovers, and clumsy exposition.  Seems like Shyamalan was absent that day in film school when they taught “show, don’t tell.”   The spewing of exposition instead of good dialog gets so bad that eventually Shyalaman — possibly to give his main characters a break from vomiting out every bit of information the audience needs to know — has Prince Zuko call over an anonymous village boy and asks “What do you know about Prince Zuko?” just so AnonyBoy can start HIS OWN voice over and flashback about Prince Zuko.  Thanks, AnonyBoy!  Now, back to where you came from, never to be seen or heard from again!

The direction does nothing to enhance the script.  It’s unimaginative and flat.   The acting is almost uniformly one-dimensional and wooden, with deep meaningful tones and proclamations taking the place of actual deep meaning.  And what’s with all the white people playing Asians and indigenous peoples?  What is this, the 1940’s?  I’m all for color-blind casting, but you can’t stick two white kids in an entire village of Eskimos and then try to convince me they share DNA with the tribe.

Cinematically, the entire movie looks dull as dishwater.  The colors are muted and the lighting is dark, and everything only gets more muted and more dark through the polarized lenses of the 3D glasses.  And now we come to the source of my anger.

THE LAST AIRBENDER was a movie shot in 2D and then, in order to jump on the lucrative 3D wagon (3D tickets are more expensive, in case you haven’t noticed) the movie was reprocessed into 3D.  But it’s a 3D experience that means nothing because not one single shot, not one element, was designed to enhance the 3D viewing experience.  Actually, that’s not true…the opening and tail credits were designed to look pretty in 3D.  Shyamalan’s company logo at the start of the movie is the best 3D effect in the entire film.  Seriously.  Compare this to the other AVATAR — James Cameron’s — where EVERY shot was designed for 3D and you’ll understand what a blatant, unimaginative, and larcenous ploy this is; get people to pay more for a lousy 3D version of a movie that they could see in the original 2D in the next theater over?  I implore you…DO NOT spend the money to see this movie in 3D.   You are being scammed.  You might as well send your money to that Nigerian banker who contacted you via email and seems to really trust you.  I know I’m being harsh, but as soon as Paramount sends me back the difference between the ticket prices I’ll back off.

I can’t remember a movie that has left me this disappointed before, and I surely can’t remember a movie that has made me this angry.

— Jeffrey Alan Schechter

3 Responses to “THE LAST AIRBENDER”

  1. David Goulet July 19, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    How did you know about the Nigerian banker?

    Seriously though, thanks for taking the bullet on this one and saving me the dough.

  2. Craig Galbraith October 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    I totally agree with you Jeffrey on both the story structure and the 3D scam. In fact it got so bad and I was so exhausted and angry that my wife and I walked out of the cinema ‘never to be seen again’!!

  3. Ron Smith January 27, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    I completely agree. Airbender was horrible in every way right from the start. Very disappointed.

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