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A few (dismal) words about The Last Airbender

the-last-airbender-super-bowl-spot-4-2-10-kc []LAWD HAVE MERCY! The Last Airbender is an ABYSMAL DISASTER!

So, O.K. the film has gotten a lot of discussion, no doubt right here on S & A, because of the controversial casting of white actors in non-white ethnic roles, most recently earlier today (scroll down), and I’ll get to that in just a minute. But where to begin?

The incomprehensible plot which jumps around from location to location without any logic or reason? The insipid, shallow characters? The amateurish acting? The clumsy, badly choreographed and edited action sequences? The crummy CGI effects? Or the awful, groan-worthy dialogue that’s at least 75% pure exposition? And in spite of that, you still can’t figure out what’s going on or who is who.

The uneven, awkward narrative pace of the film (which at 103 minutes still feels too long) really smells of some last minute, Hail Mary re-editing to salvage something that was never working in the first place. What in the hell happened to M. Night Shamalyan? He did make some good films once, didn’t he? Then there was The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening, which I thought was his worst film ever, even worse then those other two. Clearly I was wrong. Evidently his early films were just miraculous flukes.

And I must to tell you about the NON-3D 3D. You know, of course, that the film was formatted into 3D at the last minute. Looks like they didn’t completely finish in time. Can’t recall a single image that even remotely looked like it was in 3D. With the glasses, it still looked flat. And if you take off your glasses during certain scenes you can clearly see shots that were still pretty much in 2D, and then the next shot would be fuzzy which meant …OOPS!… back into 3D again, even though, watching it with the glasses, it still looked like 2D. And did I mention it was dark? I mean really dark (with or without the glasses on), as if the bulb in the projector was fading out.

Now as for that casting, I can see what people are upset about. As I said in my previous post today about the film’s casting and the director’s response to it, I had never heard of the cartoon before. But, from the film, it’s clearly dealing with Asian and Inuit people and culture (By the way, doesn’t anyone say Eskimo anymore? Is that yet another non-PC phrase?) So having four pouty-lipped white people playing the lead heroic characters is jarring. Even worse, all the bad guys are darker skinned Indian or Hispanic actors. (And yes, there is one brother in the film who plays a monk, who’s a sort of mentor to that Last Airbender kid, but he appears only briefly in a few scenes and has not a single word of dialogue.) But the film never deals with Asian or Eskimo (there I said it!) culture in any real or detailed way, only superficially. So for all it does, the film could have been set in Nebraska with no loss whatsoever.

And there you have it….


31 comments to A few (dismal) words about The Last Airbender

  • L.P.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again – a live action movie was unnecessary. The animated series was great enough; the film was just to ride the tide of the show’s popularity. That was my stance before I found out about M. Night at the helm, and the insulting cast selections. Don’t think I forget for a minute that Jesse McCartney was the original choice for the role of Zuko.

    • they considered Jesse Mccartney as Zuko, man thats not cool.

      The animated series was perfect in my opinion, was sort of like we are the world meets Asian folklore, but the film seems a bit barren from internet reviews.

      I am still going to watch it just because I am a big fan of the animated series

      • L.P.

        At least watch it for free. XD I’m a fan of the series too, but it will be a cold day in hell before money leaves my wallet for a ticket to this film.

      • Laura

        I am also a fan of the series. I knew that a movie would not due justice to the series. For one the the series is a character driven story. That’s what makes it so engaging. Blockbusters and character driven movies do not go together in Hollywood. What could be said in the movie that was not said in the series. Than on top of that you have the bad casting choices. Forget the fact that casting was white. They were set to get some Disneyfied lead actors –Jesse McCartney–please. At least they dropped that bad idea.

        I know my daughters are fan of the series like myself. I do not want to see the movie –at least not pay to see the movie. My daughters I don’t know. I think I will let their dad take them.

  • happybrowngirl

    I’m just cracking up at the opening “Lawd Have Mercy.” I can’t wait to see what Angry Asian Man will say after reading your assessment. He just tweeted he’s about to watch it right now!

  • Zeus

    This further confirms that M Night is nothing but an arogant God Damn HACK! :)

  • Zeus

    “arrogant” — sorry, it must be emphasized. No surprise here.

  • Zeus

    Oh yeah Sergio. From your earlier post. Dude said:

    “I had complete say in casting. So if you need to point the racist finger, point it at me, and if it doesn’t stick, then be quiet.”

    WELL. Looks like not only is he a HACK but he just admitted he is a racist because from your review, it sounds like “it DOES stick.” White Asians??? :)

  • Gust

    Criticism is the judgement (using analysis and evaluation) of the merits and faults of the actions or work of another individual. Criticism can mean merely to evaluate without necessarily finding fault; however, usually the word implies the expression of disapproval.

    I understand you dislike the movie but if you want to be a serious critic and be taken seriously by viewers you have to up your claims….

    It can be easy for me to say your review, sucks, it was a absolutely waste of time. It has no real depth. Sounds like an angry person on a rant. Incomprehensible blah blah …

    I want to know why plot is incomprehensible. How did they jump from location to location without any logic or reason? The reasons for the insipid, shallow characters? The amateurish acting? I need the reason, or else why should I believe what you write. And if you didnt spent less time complaining about the 3D glasses and casting and write more about the movie it wouldve made you look more credible.

  • Well, thanks for nothing, M. Night. I guess Inception is all I have.

  • Alece

    Fans of the show, curious of how it will look in “real life” will see this film regardless of what critics say. People went to see Grown-Ups although it was largely panned by critics and we all know there are hundreds of other examples of this happening. Let’s face it, Airbender will do relatively well at the box office whether we like it or not.

    By the way, they are having the NY premiere of Airbender tonight where I work and I must say that the set up is a bit excessive. They are using carpenters to build a set-like back drop for the red carpet to create a feeling of being in another world. Unnecessary.

  • Me

    I still (and will always contend) that “The Sixth Sense” was stolen from somebody else and M. Night Shamalamadingdong DID NOT WRITE that. If he had written something as good as his first movie in ANYTHING since then….I could believe it. He should have left this one on the shelf too. Maybe he needs to consider something else… maybe directing OTHER folks’ good scripts.

  • Sergio

    Here’s the opening paragraph from a fellow film critic about the film — to show I’m not the only one

    “… the 2010 summer movie season has officially hit rock bottom with the detonation of “The Last Airbender,” M. Night Shyamalan’s stupefying awful live-action adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon anime series. This is not just the worst film of the season or the year to date, this is quite simply one of the worst films to ever achieve a commercial release. “How bad is it?,” you might ask. It is so bad that it now marks the artistic low point in the career of the man who gave us such mega-bombs as “The Village,” “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening.” It is so bad that I would rather attend a Henry Jaglom retrospective than watch any five minutes of it again in this or any other lifetime. It is so bad that it is one of the very few films that I can think of that would come up on the short end of the stick when compared to the infamous “Battlefield Earth.” It is so bad that I would be perfectly content to simply write the phrase “Your Movie Stinks, Night!” over and over again if it weren’t for the fact that I would have to pay Roger Ebert a quarter in royalties every time I did.”

    And this from another part of his review…

    “Yes, “The Last Airbender” is one of those all-time disasters that will have viewers shaking their heads in disbelief for years to come–my guess is that if you took a photo of the audience immediately after the first time it was screened for Paramount executives, they would look almost exactly like the audience in “The Producers” after experiencing the opening number from “Springtime for Hitler” for the first time–”

    • Jay

      “…It is so bad that I would rather attend a Henry Jaglom retrospective than watch any five minutes of it again…”

      That is brutally funny.

  • happybrowngirl

    You also got a mention in the Wall Street Journal’s blog by Christoper John Farley!

    • Sergio

      Yes I was informed by Tambay about that just a few hours ago.

      WE’RE IN THE BIG LEAGUES NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Zeus

    My question is, what dirt does M Night Flopman have on studio execs to keep getting movies greenlit?

  • Just a guess, but despite the fact that it’s trending in the deep negative as of today, Armond White will probably rave about it and call it “a humanistic piece of art.”

    Just a guess…

  • Sergio

    A friend of mine just said the same thing five minutes ago. So obvious that he will won’t he?

  • Blaqueronin

    I agree with the sergio review, Lauren and LP assessment. I can not say it any better. Oh wait Roger Ebert broke it down even better in his review saving the casting choices for last to roast M and Paramont. They really deserve it and don’t get it. The movie karate kid remake should have told them american white kids don’t sell well in movies. Strictly foreign white kids and now people of color. Suckers.

  • Anthony E.

    I’ll still see it. Everyone dogged Losers and A-Team and not the best films but entertaining, truly pure fun at the multiplex.
    So I guess Eclipse will destroy box office. I saw that today and though it is best of series that ain’t saying much. It was okay, some nice camera work but acting is still campy material. But it’s crazy the gang of friends is back but the one TOKEN BLACK guy just vanished and is nowhere. Oh well that’s Hwood.

  • Blaqueronin

    As a die hard fan and martial artist I would only see it for free. There is no way I can support crap. The reviews from all over A.V. Club to Rotten Tomato say stay away. I enjoyed the Losers. I also went in with low expectations and matinee showtime.

  • Slaylow

    I realize this comment is LATE, but perhaps someone will take note. Just caught the Last Airbender today at a dollar cinema (took my 9 year old daughter). I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised and actually did enjoy every bit of it. Seems like the criticism of the film followed two basic tracks: the racebending issue, and the plot/execution of the film itself. As far as the plot, what it a masterpiece? Of course not, but it was what it was: a quasi-mystical martial arts action adventure. Nothing more, and fairly well executed, I thought (did not see it in 3-Dumb…) Although I did take exception to replacing the main brother and sister characters with obviously white actors, it seemed as though everyone except for those two were clearly Indian (or Indian-looking), Asian (or Asian-looking), or somewhere in-between.

    Speaking of Indian (as in, east-Indian), I too thought it odd that they would be portrayed as the villains, while the so-called fairer skinned whites were the heroes. But, it also occured to me that perhaps the ethnicity corresponded to the land/climate each represented… not trying to make excuses, just a thought. Also took note of the fact that the main monk/spirtual guide for all the airbenders was black. Now, some will claim “magical negro”; others will liken this to the fact that it’s been well proven that the true ancient keepers of knowledge have always been of African ancestry (Kemet, Kush, Axum, et al…).

    Maybe it’s just me, perhaps the dust needed to settle a bit before people judged the film objectively. Would I give the film an ‘A”? No, perhaps a solid C+. But definitely not the disaster it has been portrayed to be. Just my 2 cowries…