Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Last Airbender - *

The Last Airbender is terrible on just about every level a film can be. It fails to achieve everything that it sets out to do. It's an eye-sore in every visual respect, from the drab cinematography to the ubiquitously atrocious special effects. The story is as silly as it can be, and what little narrative you can draw from its mess of pseudo Eastern religious cliches and unexplained mystical power structure, to the "Avatar" itself, begs to be laughed at. What's worse is these things are presented as if the audience should know how to put them in a logical order (something Mr. Shyamalan used to know how to do himself), let alone find them entertaining.

Airbender also acts as yet another example of a truly failed adaptation. Not every medium translates well to another. The film is adapted from an Americanized anime cartoon on Nickelodeon, where you can get away with a lot of the things Shyamalan tries to pull off in a live-action film. Crazy animals work just fine in a cartoon, where they fit in to the visual landscape and animation style, but when you have a CGI turtle-seal in a real-world Arctic setting, it just looks like garbage. Even something as simple as a haircut is made to look embarrassing for anyone involved in its creation. Or when an Element Bender is about to use his powers, he goes through a strange, way overlong ritualistic kung-fu dance before some of the horrid CGI effects escape his hands. It's pretty astonishing. The question that most often comes to mind while watching the film is, "Am I really supposed to be taking this seriously?" Unfortunately I'm not sure what the answer is. One thing is clear: Shyamalan thinks it's a masterpiece... It's not.

I really should hate The Last Airbender. I should. But I don't. I appreciate it in the same way I do films like The Neverending Story. There's something endearing about misfired children's fantasy films. Pure imagination stifled by the inability to capture it on film is a beautiful thing. Or a hideous thing. Whichever it is, it's kind of fun to watch. And trust me, that's not giving any credit to M. Night Shyamalan.

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