Friday, July 09, 2010

606 - The Last Airbender review

Have you ever had a child attempt to explain the mythology of a stupid cartoon you don’t watch? “The Last Airbender” is like having a once renowned and exciting director spend $150 million to explain the mythology of a stupid cartoon you don’t watch. The characters, if you can call them that, sit around and discuss their magic powers and mythical bloodlines, occasionally punctuating the exposition with a poorly directed action scene. A small child sitting behind me in the theater remarked “This is just like an episode of the show.” Well, at least he cleared that up for me.

The film is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who burst onto the scene over ten years ago with “The Sixth Sense.” His films’ prestige have steadily declined ever since, and this, his biggest project yet in scope, doesn’t speak well for his capabilities as a filmmaker of any kind. I often tried to overlook the dreadful story and appreciate the exorbitantly expensive production values, but this was no help. The designs are lazily pirated from countless other fantasies, the ocean looks like the water from the tank on a studio backlot, the environments look as warm as a July afternoon despite being largely drenched in snow.

The plot’s borderline incomprehensible, relying heavily on the target audience’s foreknowledge of the source material. To an outside observe such as myself, I can just report that it concerns several otherworldly nations filled with people who each can control elements such as fire or water. Total control over such things might allow for some startling advancements or interesting culture, but no, the people mostly just use these powers as an excuse to do yoga, practice a religion that’s vaguely Buddhist, and have magic fights.

There’s a boy, the titular “airbender,” which means he can manipulate the wind. He’s played by Noah Ringer, a young actor whose career would be better off with any other debut feature than this. I’m tempted to slam the acting as weak, but that’s a touch harsh; this dialogue is of such a low quality that Laurence Olivier would struggle to make it sound good. Then again, some of the acting is just bad.

The story’s action ends up centering on a magic pond filled with magic fish. By then the details are largely irrelevant, because you’re either bored to tears, or you’re a child. Then again, that child behind me in the theater shared some additional insight about halfway through when he told his mother “I’m tired of watching this movie.” I might not know the show, but I knew how that kid felt.

1.5 out of 5

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