Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender
Directed, Produced and Screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis

Running time 103 minutes

Based on Avatar: The Last Airbender by Michael Dante DiMartino Bryan Konietzko

The plotline follows that of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender that ran on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. For those that might not have caught the series, Avatar: The Last Airbender drew heavily from elements of traditional Asian culture. The world of the Last Airbender was an Asian-influenced world of Chinese martial arts and elemental manipulation. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. Each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society. Furthermore, people known as Benders have the power and ability to control and manipulate the element of their nation using the physical motions of martial arts. At any given time, there is one person in the world who is can bend all four elements. This person is the Avatar, also the spiritual entity of the planet in human form, constantly reincarnated through-out the ages.

Of course we only find that out as the series / movie time line advances. Because the world clearly isn't anywhere near as idyllic. The world is steeped in violence and battered by a 100 year war brought about by the disappearance of the Avatar those 100 years ago. The main antagonist in the war is the Fire nation bent on total world control.

The Movie like the animated series starts at that 100 year anniversary. Two young people from a tribe at the south pole discover a glacier with a form inside. Breaking into the ice they discover a young boy with a six legged bison. The boy of course is Aang the last airbender and the long lost Avatar.
The rest of the movie revolves around Aang trying to find masters that will finish his training (so far he can only airbend) while trying to avoid the Firenation who want nothing more than to control the Avatar.

The movie comes to an end where the animated first season ended, so if you were hoping that the movie would tie up some loose ends, not happening.

My initial interest was to see how well Shyamalan would take the Nickelodeon animated series into the realm of the live action. My first reaction was that the live characters really didn't match those that had become familiar with the animated series. At every turn it's put a face with name. Shyamalan's choice to use non asian actors was not well received by critics and I can see why now. Otherwise though, the plot timeline follows that of the animated series reasonably well. Special effects from the "benders" are much like what you would expect. Appa the multi-limbed flying bison is a great piece of cga as are some of the other fauna.

The blu-ray offering is a 50 50 mix. The video is excellent quality. So renting just for the movie is certainly an option. The extras are a bit slim but unlike many movies there is some extra entertainment value. Deleted scenes are a treat as are some making of shorts that certainly entertain. There isn't any director comments or anything of that ilk, but I am not sure another 103 minutes of M. Night explaining his thought process would be a great disk extra anyway.

So overall? Well It's no Batman or Superman, but The Last Airbender's progenitor is a whole magnitudes less intense. I think the best thing that the director could have done was to stick as closely to the original material as possible, and this was accomplished.

Overall, movie rates a 7.5 and the extras a 7 so overall 7.25 I think is fair.


jason kahn said...


I have to respectfully disagree wiht you about this. I watched the animated series religiously with my 11-year-old and I consider it one of the best animated series I have ever seen. We both saw the movie version in the theater. The time line was about the ONLY thing the movie got right. The acting was simply awful, like 8th grade play awful. The 3-D was murky and tacked on, and there were several lines that didn't even make sense. My son, who is an easy mark for movies like these, hated it. 'Nuff said.

Beam Me Up said...

Hi Jason
I didnt get to see the 3d version. Everyone I have heard talk about it though said the same thing. Simple terrible. The blu-ray I rented of course was just the regular movie so I felt that what cgi that was available was reasonably up to the task. I may have been more oblique about the rest of the movie....Like you I felt the only thing that really stayed on course was the timeline. I had trouble with the actors and was always confused as to who was who. Your son and you are dead on with the animated series. It is truly some of the best anime out there. M.Night did the series no good at all. I was willing to give the translation from anime to live action so play but then I just though...ok if this were true, how would you feel about a live action UP for example and my answer was made for me. The movie didnt need to be made, unfortunately it was always in the works. The animated series was almost like advanced paste up, working out how the movie flowed. But again we are back to the timeline which we bot agree was the only thing that was about the only thing they got right. I would not watch the movie a second time so I guess I am more in your camp.

Thanks so much for the comments Jason.