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.

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