The Last Airbender

Rating: 1.5 of 5 ★½☆☆☆ 

This has already been out for a week and the reviews have been horrible, so you don’t really need to hear from me. But, in case you’re curious, here’s a reason why…

Fundamentally, I think the biggest flaw in this film is that M. Night Shyamalan stayed too close to the source material. Now, I haven’t seen the source material so that could just be flat out wrong. It might be more accurate to say that he stayed too close to the source material in all the wrong ways.

Because this a story with incredibly powerful themes, forces and emotions coursing through it that could resonate and be really significant. But it never rises to try to become a film, it plays like a live action anime.

The dialog is stilted and obvious and heavy handed with exposition and lacking completely in emotion or inflection.

The performances are equally flat and unengaging. I think it’s George Lucas syndrome where the actors aren’t actually that bad but have been told to play it that way by the director. So, instead of being living, breathing human beings in this kinda cool world they are flesh versions of cartoon characters whose mouths don’t really move that much.

Those are the two biggest problems with the film, the dialog and the acting and I think they both stem from Night trying too hard to keep the anime origin of the story and not transforming it into a rich and powerful film.

There are other small flaws – the director of photography didn’t really utilize the color spectrum and vividness he could have in playing with these elements and this fantasy world.
Then again, I saw it in 3D so maybe that was the problem. Christopher Nolan did an article (I thought it was in scifi wire but I can’t find it ETA: it’s here) about how he doesn’t like 3D because it compresses the light spectrum and the picture, though it has depth, isn’t as rich or sharp or colorful as 2D. I think he’s right. I don’t really think we’ve got 3D figured out yet, so right now I’d rather watch something in IMAX or regular old 2D than 3D. All that is to say the director of photography might not have done as bad of a job as I’m giving him credit for. It could be the 3D.
ETA: I hate 3D

The action wasn’t fantastic, though it wasn’t bad. I liked watching people bend their elements and it brought a new aspect to the fight scenes and a new sense of movement – kind of a tai chi sort of fight. But the traditional fight scenes weren’t particularly fun or energetic.

There were a few things I liked. I liked the idea of it all – the bending of the elements, the learning to accept power and harness it, releasing and experiencing emotions through the bending of the elements.
Two moments even made me cry.

sorta spoilery ยป
When the earth benders reclaimed their power and started using it was moving for me, though I think they could have dipped further into and made it stronger. And at the end, when he’s bending the ocean and the master has said that water is about acceptance and letting your emotions go where they will and the dragon has said he hasn’t dealt with his grief for his people; he’s just angry. So, he’s standing there, bending the ocean, experiencing and releasing all of his grief for the deaths of his people, for running away, for being the last and all of that grief is being poured into the ocean and bending it to his will, that was interesting.

There weren’t enough things like those.

It was full of great ideas and great themes, just poorly executed.

Writing:★☆☆☆☆ 
Characters:★¼☆☆☆ 
Performances:★☆☆☆☆ 
Directing:★☆☆☆☆ 
Production:★★★½☆ 
Overall:★½☆☆☆ 

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