Saturday, July 10, 2010

Just Bending Air

As a kid, nothing compared to the torment of waiting months for the opening night of a movie you’ve been dying to see. The anticipation of losing yourself in a world guessed but never fully imagined sends your mind into a frenzy of wonder and excitement contained only by your will to carry-on until that Friday night. And if, by some stroke of luck, the movie is based on characters you cherish and the story is one you know so well you could retell it in your sleep you know that nothing short of magic awaits you in that theater after the lights go down, the people recline and the boring rubble of trailers have ceased. This, I imagine, is how the target audience of The Last Airbender approached their experience as they descended on the theatrical rendering of the Nickelodeon series of basically the same name. What I wonder, is, just how deep did the disappointment cut?

In an attempt to explain the fantastical eastern inspired world of elemental kingdoms, hybrid creatures and a child-monk resurrected to save the land, director M. Night Shyamalan opted to open with the very basics, setting a trend for the entire film. A scroll of introductory block wording leads the way into a shallow opening, now setting the tone of film. Within the first five minutes the principles have met and are out on their mission to save world and within the next five minutes absolutely nobody cares. These character outlines scurry through scene after scene with no real urgency or insight into their quest, each other, themselves or the incredible world around them. It’s the lack of weight and regard for their circumstances and cultures, cultures whose connection with their ruling element have no identifiable correspondence or purpose other than obvious color matching and stereotypical costuming, that make taking The Last Airbender seriously absolutely impossible. The dominant Fire Nation could be Roman or Chinese or Indian or whatever as long as they’re fiery, angry and with enough trace references to the Orient. This mishmash of ethnicities had its 15 minutes of controversy well before the releasing of the film and continued to confuse well into the film. How the only Caucasians in this world came together to form a coalition of the willing is beyond me. Their Anglo features stand out greatly against the casted Asian Diaspora, which may serve to help them stand out and based off their performances they need every distraction available. Another particular stand out was the abundance of close-ups on Aang (Noah Ringer) to capture “overwhelming emotions” but these aren’t just regular close-ups where the subject’s face actually fits on the screen, no we’re talking lengthy shots of extreme close-ups where Aang carries on conversations with the top and bottom portions of his face missing. The multitude of annoyances are far too frequent to recall and far too unimportant in the grander scheme of actually surviving this film. For reasons unbeknownst to those in search of logic it seems this film was given up on by all production parties involved, save for the F/X department. Everything acts as a mere device to keep things moving to the finish line where no prize awaits upon crossing.

This film is a disservice to all, movie goers taking a chance on new world to explore, the fans for not pursuing the fertile material from the original series and the director who has destroyed his chances of gaining any trust with audiences by completely throwing this opportunity away. Avatar: The Last Air bender is an engaging exhibition of the Hero’s Journey where the virtues of “self-belief”, friendship, courage, spirituality and justice are upheld in every episode. To extinguish every possible spark that sincerely captivates the minds of viewers to not only believe in the story and its characters but to also believe in these virtues is a crime against storytelling and the filmmaking process. To know what talent lies in the mind of the once gifted director proves that this exercise is nothing short of pure laziness, unfairly condemning the potential of this film to the legion of frequent displays of incompetence. Despite the multitude of missteps made previously this one disappointments me most of all. I expected Mr. Shyamalan to be better than this.

Monday, July 5, 2010

M. Night and The Last Airbender

      This Post was written 1 week prior to The Last Airbender being released in theaters

        Two years ago when I was first introduced to Avatar: The Last Air Bender, I was skeptical. At first glance it seemed like just another children’s cartoon on Nickelodeon. But after just a few episodes I was hooked. The writing was clever, the animation was great, the story was very innovative, and the fusion of actual martial arts with the elemental “bending”was seamless. I immediately went out and bought the 2nd and final seasons and finished them within weeks. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that the show had been optioned for a movie. My excitement quickly faded back to skepticism when I saw who was to direct the movie. M. Night Shyamalan.

      Shyamalan’s first film The Sixth Sense was great. It was frightening, it had great suspense, it was well acted, and had a twist that belongs up there with The Usual Suspects "Keyser Söze" reveal. Since then M. Night’s movies have taken a steady downward trend. Signs I enjoyed, it offered some good suspense and some truly frightening moments, Unbreakable I initially did not like, however after seeing it a few more times I grew to appreciate the movie. The Village I was excited for, unfortunately it failed to deliver.  The story was intriguing at first but quickly became nonsensical, culminating in a twist that left me feeling cheated. Lady in the Water was a  poor departure from Shyamalan's usual formula, aside from some interesting visuals, the film fell flat.  Shyamalan’s latest installment, The Happening, remains one of the worst movies to date that I have ever seen. I will not even begin to describe all of the faults in this film, but after watching it, I had a decent idea of why all of the characters were inexplicably killing themselves as I felt a strong urge to shove something sharp into my throat rather than finish the movie.

      Why Shyamalan was selected to direct the film adaptation of Avatar, I do not know. But I am hoping that it will be the movie to re-establish him as a visionary young director, and not proof that his first couple films were nothing more than happy accidents.