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The Last Airbender: Why Do They Still Let M. Night Shyamalan Make Movies?

Jenny reviews the actually awesome and beer snortworthy moments in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The Last Airbender: Why Do They Still Let M. Night Shyamalan Make Movies?

I'd like to tell you all a little story. About 3 years ago, around Halloween, I asked my then 3-year old nephew Gabe what he wanted to dress as for trick-or-treating. He answered emphatically "Aang the Avatar!" The response of both his parents and myself was something along the lines of 'Who the what?' so he began explaining the awesomeness of his favorite cartoon. 'Aang the Avatar' soon became near and dear to my heart, if, for no other reason, but to have something to talk to the little guy about.

Now, when I heard that M. Night was directing the live action version of this beloved story, I thought well, this might actually be okay, since it's already a well-written tale, so he'll just be directing someone else's story, right? Wrong!!!!!!!! The dude wrote his own screenplay! I knew it would suck, but still had some hopes. Silly me.

I did however, enjoy myself, even during the snort-worthy scenes, and will break it down in our typically scientific manner for you, our readers.

For those of you not familiar with the cartoon, let me sum up the story for you:

The world is made up of four nations (conveniently, elements!): Fire, Water, Earth & Air. In each nation, there are benders -- those with the power to move their element -- and then there is the Avatar -- the one person who can control all of the elements.

In this story, the last Avatar was an Airbender, but he disappeared 100 years ago. In that time, the Fire nation has taken over the rest of the world, and rules with an iron fist, killing air, earth and water benders, hiding ancient scrolls, and keeping a military state.

One day, a brother and sister from the water nation discover a boy who has been frozen in the ice. His name is Aang. Their grandmother believes he is the Avatar, and so does the Fire nation, who sweep in, led by Prince Zuko, to take him away. The brother and sister (Katara -who is a burgeoning waterbender- and Sokka) rush to rescue him, and then help him on his journey to master the other elements and bring peace to the world once again.

Now on to the movie! Following in the steps of Sarah's reviews of New Moon and Eclipse, I'll divide my review into two categories: Actually Awesome and Beer Snortworthy.

ACTUALLY AWESOME (elements of the film that I really did enjoy with v. little sarcasm)

1.  Uncle Iroh

SPOILER: I mean, the dude can make fire out of nothing!!!

Actor Shaun Toub wins the award of being the cast member who not only didn't make me snort beer up my nose even once, but was actually awesome! Clearly, the man needs no direction. As Prince Zuko's Uncle Iroh, he was the great mentor, plus it's always nice to see the 'bad guy' with the good mentor for a change.

2.  Special Effects

If only we all had one of these whatever-this-is!

The movie, for the most part, looked pretty great. I say pretty great, because I went into watching it with the mindset of 'How would I view this if I were taking my nephew?' (Basically, it will appeal to the kiddies.)

I watched it in 3-D, and visually, it was pretty cool. Shyamalan successfully brought to the screen the fantastical world of Aang without making it look too cartoony.

3.  Fights!

"Hey Karate Kid, wax this!"

Martial arts abounded, which always makes me happy. How did you do that, little Noah Ringer, from Dallas, TX? I can't find any information about you on IMDB, that would, like, tell me if you're a kid-sized black belt. Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure most of the other actors learned the fight choreography just for this film, and they did a bang-up job!

TRANSITION: BOTH AWESOME AND SNORTWORTHY

1.  Prince Zuko

"Chaiwallah, why don't you give up this ridiculous quest and go find yourself a girl?"

Hey everybody, it's Anwar from Skins! And I know he can actually act! And he's trying so hard! Sorry you got such a sucky director, Anwar, but I still kind of loved your performance, even though if I could sum it up in one word, it would be a v. v. angry "Waaaahhh!" accompanied by a foot stomp.

BEER SNORTWORTHY (moments where I snorted the beer I was drinking, which I consider to be a sign of pure entertainment)

1.  The Direction

"Guys, so just look around real slow, like you're thinking "Maybe it's the trees... '"

I know this doesn't exactly qualify as a 'moment', but I list it here, because it applies to the WHOLE film. The moments of un-snortworthiness were few and far between. The direction was so bad, I felt bad for the actors.

2.  The Abysmal Attempt To Add Romance

Princess Yue: "I once played a character named 'Very Attractive Girl'."
Jasper: "I'm prettier than you. Have you heard my band?"

This just didn't work. Did. Not. Work. I don't even think my nephew would care about this ill-fated romance, and not because of the acting! Oh no, purely based on the fact Shyamalan gave it NO time to develop, and it wasn't essential to the story anyway! Yet he still tried to make us care at the end? Bad form, sir.

3.  The Acting

Aang: "I'm doing the big hands, you can't do the big hands!"
Jasper: "Okay, I'll do my old standby: Cray Cray Eyes!"

I have done some acting, y'all. Not much, but enough to know that with bad enough direction, it sometimes doesn't matter how hard an actor tries (ever seen The Brothers Grimm?). And the actors in this movie TRIED. They tried hard. They embraced the dismal script and ran with it. Each and every one of them. They sold the goofy comedy with every fiber of their being, and at times it was so obvious how much they were trying to BE their non-existant characters, it was almost painful to watch. In fact, it was painful. Beer up the nose does not feel good.

4.  The Pronunciation

So M. Night, in trying to... actually, I don't know what he was trying to do. Fuck up a beloved story in every way possible? Make yet another terrible movie? Ding-ding! Achieved! But I digress. In the cartoon, Aang is pronounced with a hard 'A'. It is the western pronunciation, but it is how we've come to know it. In the movie, they pronounced it the traditional way, with a soft 'A', as in 'Ahng.' Usually I'm all about using traditional pronunciations, but this is the main character! And it's been established, by me and my nephew and hundreds of others that he is 'Aing' the Avatar, dammit! You choose one part of the story to ethnicize, and it's messing with the lead's name? Instead of, say, not casting mostly white people? LAME.

 

Thus concludes yet another highly scientific analysis brought to you by the makers of drinking games. Your turn! Do you agree with me, or disagree? Any awesome or snortworthy moments I missed?

Jenny Bird's photo About the Author: Jenny grew up on a steady diet of Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov and Star Wars novels. She has now expanded her tastes to include television, movies, and YA fiction.
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