Category Archives: last airbender
The Last Airbender ~ Long before a friend turned me on to the beautifully animated TV series, I saw large chunks of this movie while on a cruise. You know how television on a cruise ship is like half a dozen movies on a continuous loop? This was one of them. I was unimpressed.
At the time, I had no foreknowledge of “Avatar” or bending or any of the mythology involved. I was bored by many undialogued scenes, cool special effects but without substance, and what seemed like a lot of spiritual mumbo jumbo and clever subtext that I just didn’t understand. Pretentious was the word I was looking for. And I was bored by it. If memory serves, I actually found Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time more interesting.
Of course the other factor at work here is M. Night Shyamalan. I love M. Night. I even have loved M. Night after it was uncool to love, or even like, him any more. When the critics turned on him and left to drown in low box office and derivative stories I loved the guy. I even dug Lady in the Water, but even I was let down by The Happening. And though he only directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for this one, I was hopeful this would not continue the critic’s curse. It sure didn’t seem like it from what I saw however.
In the pre-“Legend of Korra” excitement, and having also watched a dozen or so episodes of the original series too, I decided to give the feature film another shot. The first thing that struck me about The Last Airbender is the somberness of it, the almost lack of humor. That said, it is respectful of the source material, but almost too much so. It’s like M. Night wants so badly to give it a serious treatment, he forgets it’s a story about kids, he forgets to have fun. This is just not about childlike wonderment, it’s about being a kid too, despite the world it takes place in.
The Last Airbender also has something in common with many of the films made from Stephen King books. If you have read the books, you already know what the characters are thinking and feeling so you dismiss any absence of same on the screen. This also works with this movie, having seen the source material. This is why it felt so empty the first time I saw it, but on more recent viewing, I understood it.
The two hour movie is essentially shorthand, or Cliff’s Notes if you will, of the fifty plus episodes of the animated series, or the first third of them at least. M. Night strives to keep a lot of it in, even when it has lost its context. It’s a lot of tell over show, and any writer will explain its the other way around. Much is lost by M. Night being meticulous. Without knowing ahead of time what is what, the film becomes a convoluted mess.
Despite all that, the second time around I enjoyed the film quite a bit. There are some wonderful visuals, some that I wouldn’t have thought this director capable of, but again, it’s not the animated series, but it tries in its own way. And in that way, The Last Airbender is a great companion piece to “Avatar,” just not alone.
Those who know me well know that I struggle with insomnia. Last year when I purchased an iPhone, coupled with the insomnia, I started to develop a bad habit – watching entire runs of TV shows while I sat awake in bed. After I had finished up “Nip/Tuck,” I asked on Twitter what folks thought I should watch next.
Other than things I had already seen, I got all the usual stuff thrown at me like “Buffy,” “House” and “Babylon 5.” Sigh. Friend and Vidcast partner Allison made a suggestion that at first I thought was odd – “Avatar The Last Airbender.” I’m not much of an anime guy. Other than the old old school stuff like “Speed Racer” and “Kimba,” the only anime I’ve ever been into was “One Piece.” But I respect Allison’s opinion a lot, despite appearances on the Vidcast, so I gave it a try.
I was more than surprised, I was blown away. I was introduced to a fantasy world in which some people have the ability to ‘bend’ the elements, in other words, to control the earth, the air, the water, and the fire. One being, the Avatar, has the ability to bend all four, and is basically proclaimed the savior and leader of people by example. In this world, the Avatar has been absent for over a hundred years and is released from an icy tomb. Once free, he must finish his training and grow up. The young boy Avatar and his friends together defeat the Fire Empire that has ruled much of the world with a fascist regime.
Along the way, I fell in love with the characters, the story, both episodic and overarching, and the beautiful backgrounds and animation. It is an amazing series that I can not heap enough praise upon. I was mesmerized and devoured well over fifty episodes in just under two weeks. Yeah, it was that good. But then it was over.
Imagine my surprise recently when I learned that Nickolodeon, the network who made “Avatar,” was working on a sequel by the same folks. I was thrilled. Several weeks ago “The Legend of Korra” began airing. The story picks up almost a century later. The Avatar has brought a new age to the world, one of prosperity and enlightenment. Republic City is the capital of much of the world, a world in the midst of a cultural and industrial revolution. Into this turn of the century steampunk world of Republic City comes Korra the spunky new Avatar in training.
The creators could have gone the easy route, a rehash of the original series, a proven formula that worked, but they went different. This is a whole new spectrum of the concept. Korra is in a cityscape, she’s a bending athlete, and the world is in upheaval between the benders and the non-benders. Much like “Avatar” before it, I love this show, and can’t recommend it enough. This is an amazing show. Watch it.