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Will The Last Airbender be the last Airbender… movie?

The Last Airbender - M. Night Shyamalan

It will be, if Roger Ebert has his way. His half-star review has just been posted and as you might guess, it’s pretty savage:

The Last Airbender” is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.

[…]

The first fatal decision was to make a live-action film out of material that was born to be animé. The animation of the Nickelodeon TV series drew on the bright colors and ​“clear line” style of such masters as Miyazaki, and was a pleasure to observe. It’s in the very nature of animation to make absurd visual sights more plausible.

Since ​“Airbender” involves the human manipulation of the forces of air, earth, water and fire, there is hardly an event that can be rendered plausibly in live action. That said, its special effects are atrocious. The first time the waterbender Katara summons a globe of water, which then splashes (offscreen) on her brother Sokka, he doesn’t even get wet. Firebenders’ flames don’t seem to really burn, and so on.

[…]

As ​“The Last Airbender” bores and alienates its audiences, consider the opportunities missed here. (1) This material should have become an A-list animated film. (2) It was a blunder jumping aboard the 3D bandwagon with phony 3D retro-fitted to a 2D film. (3) If it had to be live action, better special effects artists should have been found. It’s not as if films like ​“2012” and ​“Knowing” didn’t contain ​“real life” illusions as spectacular as anything called for in ​“The Last Airbender.”

I close with the hope that the title proves prophetic.

On a sidenote, it sounds like Ebert is a fan of the original cartoon, which is pretty cool.

Meanwhile, Keith Phipps over at The A.V. Club gives the movie an ​“F”:

Adapting a well-regarded, epic-in-scope Nickelodeon animated series, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has failed to do right both by his source material and his own strengths as a filmmaker. Set in a world in which the population is divided amid the four elements, and some skilled practitioners can control those elements to their own ends, the film vomits out complicated mythology in mouthfuls of exposition, when not putting a supporting character’s voiceover narration in charge of relaying major developments. Shyamalan manages a few striking images, most of them involving otherworldly landscapes created in Greenland and Vietnam. But none of the care and craftsmanship evident in projects he originated, even lousy ones like The Happening, find their way into this movie.

The movie currently has a score of 6% at Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 13 at Metacritic, and I don’t really foresee it getting much better. I had a feeling that this would be the case, which is a real shame considering the awesomeness of the source material.


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