Friday, July 2, 2010

Review: The Last Airbender

Based upon the Nickelodeon series Avatar- The Last Airbender.

First off, I watched season one of the series over the past few weeks and am watching season two currently. I love the series. Totally awesome work.

This review is of the currently released film directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

The story follows the adventures of Aang, a young successor to a long line of Avatars, who must put his childhood ways aside and stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations.

Is this going to a be a super hit? An Academy Award winner? A deep drama?
It's a 400+ minute series truncated in to 100 minutes of special effects.
Everyone will bicker about parts of the series being clipped off, combined with others parts, parts shifted. Which parts were most important to you? The cabbage vendor? Mang the gap-toothed fan-girl who called Katara a floozy?

Everyone will have a favorite part, and in a film adaptation you can guarantee those sacred cows will be slaughtered in the name of condensing the film in to one easily chewable bite for the target demographic.

I think if I could have one wish for the film, it is that I wish it was about three hours long so they had time to really delve in to the characters and the events that shaped Aang, Katara and Sokka etc.

That wasn't to be. The target demographic is the short-attention span generation and 90-100 min was all they had to tell a really long and deep story, which is a crying shame.

Without spoiling things I'll say that series events are shifted around. Parts that were originally Katara's became Aang's. Some bits were chopped off. Some bits were shifted slightly. I feel that the overall vibe was there, and the cuts and shifts made were due to time constraints to build on Aang's character as we had little time for anything else. I would have loved to see more characterization, but again, time constraints.

Show don't tell. I hear that all the time and in this case it was necessary. There was a lot of ground to cover (literally) and a bit of back story was necessary.

Effects. Awesome. Choreography, awesome. Acting, some was a bit flat, some good. Plot, largely the same as the original series and largely true to it. I believe that the writer and director did a fine job in dealing with the constraints they had. If they had more freedom it could have been better. Just remember that their hands are tied in many ways on this.

Whitewashing? I call bullshit. While the original series was entirely Asian in many ways, the film is more regionalized: some nations being Asian, some Indian, some Caucasian, some mixed. Some sigils were neutralized. Still the overall flavor was right. It's still the same story, with the same theme. The regionalization is there to make it palatable for everyone: Whites, Asians, Indians, Blacks, everyone, not just a single culture, which I think is reasonable.

Pronunciation of names? Seriously people? That's a pretty lame nit-pick. Gimme a break.

I think I would have liked a fat uncle Iroh, but Shan Toub did an ok job with it. Noah Ringer did a fine job as Aang. Dev Patel was good as Prince Zuko. Nicola Peltz (Katara) and Jackson Rathbone (Sokka) were a bit flat, but they didn't have a lot to work with either. They didn't really get a chance to shine.
M. Night Shyamalan directed without his usual tricks, switcheroos, and whammies.

The Grade:
Overall, the film was enjoyable but felt rushed. Like the whole thing was a montage or a highlight reel of the series. The kids in the theater cheered and said it was awesome, so that is great. If it does it's job it'll get people to watch the series for more of the good stuff as this was just a taste.

Did it suck more than anything has sucked before?
Fans of the series will likely be let down as their expectations will not be met. Then again, fans are always bastards to make an adaptation for. Everyone judges an adaptation by the original material and not on its own merits. It's called an ADAPTATION for a reason. Still, you can never please some people.

I give it 2.5 stars out of 5.

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