A Man and His Movies Movies

‘The Last Airbender’ Movie Review: Lifeless ‘Airbender’ is a cautionary tale to adaptations

By Sean Harris ’11
THE ROUNDUP

Left to right: Dev Patel plays Prince Zuko and Shaun Toub plays Uncle Iroh in the Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon Movies adventure, "The Last Airbender." (Courtesy Industrial Light & Magic/MCT)

Where do I even begin on this one?

If it comes down to a choice of seeing the latest teenage vampire soap-opera in the “Twilight” series (yuck!) or seeing people bending the elements to fight in a battle of good vs. evil in “The Last Airbender”, pick “Twilight.”

In fact, I’d go as far to say that compared to this film, “Twilight” looks like “The Godfather.”

Director M. Night Shyamalan, a man who once had a promising career riding off the success of “The Sixth Sense,” now resembles the director’s equivalent of a one-hit wonder.

With his career quickly diving, Shyamalan has attached himself to something that had potential; a possible trilogy based on the Nickelodeon cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

Promising storylines, complex characters and exciting action were at Shyamalan’s finger tips in this adaptation. Now that it is all said and done and up on the big screen, the potential has been squandered, and hopefully “The Last Airbender” will serve Shymalan’s sinking stone.

The storyline of “The Last Airbender” is set in a world split into four nations based on the elements air, water, earth and fire. Certain people of these four nations can control the elements to do their bidding, but only the Avatar can master all four elements.

The current Avatar and hero of the story Aang (Noah Ringer) has been missing for 100 years, during which the Fire Nation has started their campaign of global dominance.

Aang is found frozen underneath a sheet of ice by the last water bender of the Southern Water Tribe Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone).

The trio then decides to head for the Northern Water Tribe so Aang can master water bending.

The group also has to avoid Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), a banished Fire Nation prince who can only regain his honor if he reclaims the Avatar, and Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), an arrogant Fire Nation official.

If that storyline sounds interesting, then I recommend picking up the animated series on DVD. Sadly, the film is just a hollow shell of the series, and a stain on this already bleak summer movie season.

Everything that was good about the series has been sucked out by terrible performances, an abominable script and a plot that simply can’t do justice to a full season of television.

And the main problem of the film is just that; two hours of film is not enough to duplicate 10 hours of television. To truly make a good adaptation, Shyamalan needed to make the story his own, which he didn’t.

The plot picks certain episodes of the series and splices them together, diminishing them to the lowest possible degree. The same can be said of the characters: as a fan of the series, it makes me sick of how little respect they are given.

Characters that had whole episodes in the series devoted to their development now only have a few poorly written lines to deliver clunky exposition. In truth, even if the plot was better, the script is the true killer of this movie.

Besides the script and plot, the acting is awful. But I don’t think the failure of this movie rests squarely on the shoulders of the actors. I even saw potential in some performances, specifically Patel and Ringer, which all things considered, was good casting.

One positive thing that can be taken away from the movie is its look. For the most part, I don’t think they could have done any better with the sets or the special effects. But with a budget of $150 million, I wasn’t expecting anything less.

“The Last Airbender” is a film that made me mad on many levels. It made me mad as a fan to see all the potential be flushed down the drain.

And, as someone who goes to the movies a lot, it made me mad that Shyamalan, a director who is either talentless or tasteless, is given $150 million to waste on just another adaptation, while more talented writers can’t get their original ideas off the ground.

Mr. Shyamalan, you should be ashamed. It’s time to get your old flare back or get out of the business.

1 out of 5 horseshoes