Nate Watches – ‘the Last Airbender’

If you don’t want to read the long essay that follows, I can sum up it up two ways.

This.

Or take any of my Harry Potter reviews/talks and add “bad editing” to them.

On with the review…

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Oh, and I will be posting spoilers because, well you really shouldn’t bother with this movie.

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I have a shameful secret.  I have never seen anything about Avatar (the good one).  I heard it was a good show and a lot of the circles I run in recommend it, but I just haven’t gotten around to seeing it.  I have not even seen a single clip or heard any line by any voice actor.  All I had to compare this movie to was my knowledge about the show’s basics and a few screen caps I’d seen around.

Yet even then, I feel confident enough to make several bets about the show with the hard core fans.

I will admit the movie had 2 good points: 1) the actors were actually pretty good, especially for child actors.  2) the special effects weren’t too bad either.

What makes this movie so horrible is that you know M. Night can do better.  Say whatever you want about the plot of Signs, it’s direction, editing and exposition were perfection.  Here, it’s like he was replaced with his mirror universe counterpart who is as skilled as Uwe Boll.

The movie starts out with an opening crawl explaining some of the background of this new world we’re visiting.  Ok, nothing too wrong about that – but Fellowship of the Ring really did show all background of fantasy movies should be done.  But what makes this opening really bad is that we go over everything revealed in it multiple times through the movie.  Not kidding.  Off the top of my head I recall them explaining what the ‘avatar’ is THREE times in the movie.  3!  I know viewers are morons and all but we’re not THAT dumb.

And this just doesn’t go for what an avatar is.  Nearly anything that has any importance in the plot is repeated again and again.  The story of how the fire prince (Zuko I think his name is) was expelled?  Mentioned and explained at least 3 times.

Now, one of my complaints about the first two Harry Potter films were that they were too slavish to the books and didn’t bother making their own mark.  Scenes were thrown at us in rapid succession with little time for the audience to appreciate or savor what was happening.  This movie tries to have the quiet moments where things can sink in… IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES.

Favorite example: main villain, a fire general, comes to deliver a report to the lord of the fire kingdom.  The scene spends SEVERAL SECONDS (a long time in a movie where you have a lot to go over) showing us the general entering the throne room, walking down its length, then him and the lord talking.  Then the scene cuts to our heroes AND we hear the general and lord continue talking in a voice over!  The voice over of the heroes’ actions?  A good idea.  WE SHOULD HAVE HAD IT SOONER instead of wasting a lot of time with walking and close ups.

Then we have the main girl, Katara, narrate things we can see for ourselves on screen.  Why?  Is she writing a history or telling a story or something?  No explanation.  M. Night just decided that we needed to be told and shown.

Then there’s moments that I guess were originally in the show but do not work in a more restricted format.  For instance, we’re told (and shown) that the fire nation wiped out all the air benders.  Fair enough, but early in the movie we have the fire nation kidnap Aang (the last air bender) and put him to a test which if he failed, he would be let go.

WHY?  Was the “kill all air people” order rescinded?  Then later they refuse to kill Aang because “he’ll just be reincarnated”.  But it was explained that the air nation was wiped out because they knew that the avatar was due to be one of them.  So what were you planning then?  Why worry about killing him now when you didn’t a hundred years ago?  Plus, if he is reincarnated, I’m pretty sure you’ll have 20+ years of free reign as he grows up.  You know what would have worked?  Aang being sealed away was an act of the fire nation long ago (maybe aided with a treacherous water bender, giving us a parallel with the treacherous earth member later in the film) as the best way to keep the avatar from messing with their plans.  Nope, it was all an accident.

Yeah I know all of this might have been explained in the show, but for a general audience, you need to have this stuff addressed in the movie.

And look, I’ll be the first to defend that tropes are not bad, but as a writer you still have to do the work to make a trope your own.  I have no problems with Aang as the reluctant “chosen one”, but the movie makes no effort to go any deeper than the trope article.  Why doesn’t Aang want to be an avatar?  With all the reincarnating he’s done through the years, is the avatar spirit just tired?  He apparently wants to have a family.  Why?  Is it something the avatar has never gotten to do?  Did he fall in love in a previous life but his love was ripped away and the memory haunts him?  And why can’t the avatar have a family?  The obvious answer is: so he doesn’t show favoritism toward whatever nation his significant other is from, but does the movie ever bother to even mention this obviousness?  NO!

That’s what makes this movie so disappointing.  You can see the potential greatness. But… it’s just a rough draft filled with mistakes and errors. It follows the spirit of its source but never bothers to forge it’s own path.

Just… just stay away.

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6 thoughts on “Nate Watches – ‘the Last Airbender’

  1. What? The child actors were awful. Those were some badly untalented kids out there, every single time Aang – sorry – Ong said something, I just wanted to punch his face in. But that might just be me, flashing to the awesomeness that was the cartoon and not believing what they turned it into for this feature.

    The whole “no family for the Avatar” business has no grounds in the original cartoon. Much like “if a dragon dies the riders lives on, but dead rider = dead dragon” nonsense from the “Eragon” movie, this is something the og so clever movie people came up with in order to milk the drama for all that it is worth later down the line when sparks start flying between Aang and Katara. OH WOE BUT THEY CAN NEVER BE TOGETHER WHAT WILL THEY DO. Blergh. I am sorry, I am just not a fan of kiddie romance >_<

    • What? The child actors were awful. Those were some badly untalented kids out there, every single time Aang – sorry – Ong said something, I just wanted to punch his face in. But that might just be me, flashing to the awesomeness that was the cartoon and not believing what they turned it into for this feature.

      It is entirely possible my weary-addled mind was grasping at whatever it could for survival. But as Jabootu pointed out, if you compare Jaws 1 with Jaws 2, there are several instances that demonstrate just how much difference a director can make on actors (useful since the movies use the same actors). I kept thinking the actors had the talent, but not the script or director to use it.

      The whole “no family for the Avatar” business has no grounds in the original cartoon. Much like “if a dragon dies the riders lives on, but dead rider = dead dragon” nonsense from the “Eragon” movie, this is something the og so clever movie people came up with in order to milk the drama for all that it is worth later down the line when sparks start flying between Aang and Katara. OH WOE BUT THEY CAN NEVER BE TOGETHER WHAT WILL THEY DO. Blergh. I am sorry, I am just not a fan of kiddie romance >_<

      Ok – ok, I’ll try to watch the cartoon (stop encouraging me people, you’ve already sold the convert). It’s actually a shame because that sounds like something the movie could have improved on over the cartoon. Especially with the conflict of being the last, Aang has additional reasons to want to raise children, but as I said, there is a logical (read: hidden in story) explanation for why Avatars can’t have families.

      I just still can’t get over the repetition of exposition. But to be fair, here’s a positive review from a fan of the cartoon.

  2. Ok, I finally saw it with my folks. Don’t hate me, but it wasn’t THAT bad.

    I mean, it was bad. The plot holes were abundant, the editing was sub-par, and the action fell short. But it wasn’t horrendous. The acting was decent, the special effects were pretty impressive, the style/music/drama was done pretty well. It was entertaining; far from the worst fantasy movie I’ve seen. Nothing special, but it does get me excited to watch the cartoon, and I’ve now put the first disk on our netflix queue.

    I actually do hope that Shyamalan gets to do his sequels for this movie. Hopefully they’ll get better as they go, and even if they stay roughly the same quality, they’ll still be worth the rental in my book.

  3. Re, “This”: since when is a freaking Japanese aristocrat WHITE?!?!?! Or at least whiter than the Eskimo-cousins that live in NORTHERN Japan?!?! (It works well enough that I suspect they were directly inspired by

    Yes, I hated the casting, but oy!

    The “Unless you’ve never seen the show…which would make a lot of sense, really” point covers it, though.

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