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Thursday
Jul012010

THE LAST AIRBENDER is worse than The Phantom Menace (review)

Rating:  (Dreadful)

Wow. I know remaking movies is popular, but did Star Wars Episode I need to be "re-imagined" so soon? With The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan proves that he is more oblivious to his own failings than George Lucas. The acting is atrocious, the 3D is awful, and the script is worse than Prince of Persia (review). The original Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series is the best source material you could ask for, but Shyamalan drowns in its world, floundering even the easiest of tasks, much like George Lucas, who insisted on writing and directing the Star Wars prequels.

Return of the Phantom Menace

Here is the plot of The Last Airbender. Two lifeless characters discover a young boy who they think is "the chosen one"--a magical "Avatar" who can master all aspects of the Force. Using air, fire, water, and earth, he will unite the world's warring factions and bring peace to the galaxy. (His midi-chlorian count is probably through the roof.) Unfortunately, every time he says anything, everyone in the audience grinds their teeth because he's played by a boy (Noah Ringer) who can't act. 

In this world, everyone uses the force, but to use it you have to flail your arms around like a madman and dance like an idiot. Aang--the annoying little boy--does this often. Like everyone else in the film, he talks as if he's reading from an encyclopedia. Like Lucas, Shyamalan doesn't realize that real people don't say things like "I think Aang had a vision in the Souther Air Temple Prayer Field" or "Katara, do not hit that sphere."

Like Anakin and Obi-Wan, Aang and the gang always know exactly where to go, what to do, how to do it, and often pause for several minutes to explain what's happening in drawn-out Airbender jargon. Instead of organically discovering the world around them, Shyamalan's characters read the Wikipedia pages about where they are and where they're going. It's lazy writing that comes from a director who thinks he can tell a 20 episode story in 2 hours by simply cutting out the scenes he doesn't like. 

Like The Phantom Menace, we hop from location to location and never have a clue what's going on, but the characters are super serious about it all. If we weren't busy laughing at how contrived their performances are, we might care too. Eventually, it all ends in a giant computer generated battle, where the water people fight the metal people, just like it did 11 years ago in The Phantom Menace.

I kept trying

I really want to like The Last Airbender, but can't get over how colossally Shyamalan fucked this up. He had 100 million dollars and produced one of the stiffest, most lifeless films I've ever seen. Is Peter Jackson the only director who can film a live action epic?

The cartoon was beautiful; this film should have been animated. Characters are clothed in garb that is too clean, freshly stitched, and bright to exist in the real world. Aang, who looks fine hopping around in the animated TV show, runs around like a slow fat kid on wires during most stunts. Then all the sudden he'll go from fat kid to CGI superman and do a crazy trick unnaturally fast. It's awkward. Shyamalan has no instinct for action. His best sequences are poor imitations of speed-up-slow-down sequences from 300 and The Matrix Reloaded. At least Lucas understood good action. Only in a few scenes of suspense does Shyamalan's directing feel at home.

Don't get me started on 3D. The film glasses make a dark film darker and the film was retrofitted with 3D  like Clash of the Titans (review). I don't mind 3D when it's done well, like in Toy Story 3 or Avatar, but this is a terrible way to make a quick buck (3D tickets cost several dollars more).

I hate to say it, but I hope this tragic mess bombs at the box office. I don't want Shyamalan to make Avatar books 2 and 3. M. Night Shyamalan is a director that knows exactly what he wants and insists on writing his own scripts. Unfortunately, he seems unable to alter his written vision when he gets behind the camera. I hope he finds better friends--the kind who will tell him that nobody wants to watch real people dance fight for two hours. After that, I hope they can show him how to get the stick out of his ass and have fun. I thought The Happening was a joke, but now I think M. Night Shyamalan, like George Lucas, may have no sense of humor after all. 

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