Why The Last Airbender Fails
There was such potential for The Last Airbender film, based on the beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender American anime series, to be the start of a very lucrative and popular film franchise. The cartoon series is filled with humor, rich characters, intriguing mythos, action, adventure, romance, friendship, coming-of-age, etc. All sorts of amazing things in the source material which could have life breathed into it in a real-world setting.
Yet, from it’s very conception it was fumbled so horribly.
There has been a riot of protest against the casting choices made for this film and with good reason. You wouldn’t expect a cartoon cast that is racially diverse, with a plot that is set in areas of a fantasy world devoid of white people to be represented as anything other, right? Especially when their cultural heritage is so integral to the plot and the characters themselves.
Of course Hollywood would change that. They need to appeal to white people, the main contingency of their audience. While I don’t agree that is the case, Hollywood has explained their rational on many occasions. But instead of changing just one or two characters races – they change them all. Aang is now Ong, a pouty lipped white boy. Katara, Sokka and their Grandmother are now the only white people in the entire Southern Water Tribe. All of the Northern water tribe is comprised of white people.
The Earth benders are Japanese, the Air Benders are mixed race, and the Fire Benders vary between East Indian and Middle Eastern, all featuring dark skin aside from Uncle Iro. So in this way Hollywood is allowed to perpetuate the myth that dark skin = bad and light skin = good. Again. As always. Even more shameful coming from M. Night Shyamalan, a director of color.
Gah – these turn of events are so horrible that people have been planning for years to boycott the movie. Unfortunately, I was caught up in the fervor of watching the television show with my nephews and agreeing to see the movie with them before I realized what had happened to the cast of one of my beloved shows. It’s either compromise my morals or break my nephews hearts at this point – so I sucked it up and chose to watch the movie.
At no point after reviewing the cast list did I believe it was possible for this movie not to suck. I had some hope. But a serious compromise of the core of the source material does not a good adaptation make.
THE NAME IS THE THING
And screwing up the name pronunciation of main characters is not EVER going to please a fan-base. So not only are the main characters completely the wrong races, but their names are also pronounced improperly. According to M. Night Shyamalan himself, he chose to use the root source of the words and had a linguist come in to explain all these details. OK – fine, but WHY bother doing this after you already horribly mangled the race of the characters? Why be sure to include something that will no doubt whip the fan-base into an even further frenzy?
Cause you really don’t care about the source material. You are already taking liberties and pissing on something beloved and who cares about getting it right? Grrrr. I don’t think I’ve been this insulted by an adaptation since The Last Stand or Spiderman: 3. Actually, this is probably worse. Not only did I visibly cringe and actually verbalize to the theatre every-time I heard the mis-pronunciation, but the pacing was off, the acting was subpar at best and the visual styles were all terrible as well.
THE FILM PARTS OF THE FILM
Were all awful. The really visual interesting pieces of the film (the bending) were few and far between, and for the most part the visual style was dominated by these strange really close-in and tight shots that didn’t allow you to absorb the action or the scene itself. Frowny face for that.
I don’t even remember anything compelling about the music, which was also one of the selling points of the cartoon series. Hearing the few opening strains of the beginning and end credit sequences was absolutely a comfort and delight when watching the show. There is nothing similar or engaging about the score for this film.
The acting was horrible. Jackson Rathbone has already proven in Eclipse he can’t act worth a damn, and it’s even further cemented here. Of course, he can’t help that all the joy of his character was written completely out, and he had nothing to do but act somber and bark orders. Ugh.
The chick who played Katara did a fairly passable job, but had zero chemistry with Aang. There was absolutely no hint of their romantic entanglement, and it’s fair to see why. Aang had no sparkle. No attraction as a character. Even with all the other pieces barely hanging together, the film could have been salvaged by the white actors BEING those beloved characters. But no.
TOO MUCH EXPOSITION
I am sick to death of boring-ass voice-overs in Hollywood movies doing the job of what a few minutes of snappy montaging at the beginning could take care of. And these voices randomly appearing – explaining exposition chunks that have ALREADY been covered within the movie? That’s just exceedingly bad film-making on so many levels. So many levels!!
This film does not deserve as much attention paid to it as it’s getting. My only hope is that it’s release was able to convert fans (like myself) prior to viewing who will loathe the film itself but be that much more endeared to the source material. I for one, to make up for having viewed that piece of shit last night, will be sure to purchase the cartoon series.
Please – do yourself a giant favor – and watch the cartoon series. It’s worth so much more of your time and money and patience and love. This film is an insult to film and the love that went into its source material.
It makes me incredibly sad that it could turn off potential fans of the series because of its tragic ineptitude. Heed the warnings of those who have gone before and skip this monumental crap fest.
Watch at least the first two episodes of the cartoon instead. The entire series right now is streaming on Netflix Instant Watch. I guarantee you will fall in love or at least gain a better appreciation for the frustration of the fan-base.
As for M. Night Shyamalan, I would think no less than a public apology is going to secure him another chance at directing ever again.
BECHDEL TEST: PASSES the Bechdel Test for Women, PASSES the Bechdel Test for Men, and PASSES the Bechdel Test for Race.