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The Last Airbender
Genre Fantasy
Year: 2010
 
Review:

M. Night Shyamalan has systematically made the wrong decision at every turn in this film adaptation of the beloved Nickolodeon anime series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. From controversial casting decisions to a lackluster 3D post-production hack job, The Last Airbender is an incomprehensible, detached and languishing fantasy adventure, which is only buoyed by its style and special effects.

The writer-director has progressively gone from brilliant to terrible starting with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, progressing to Lady in the Water, The Happening and culminating in his most dismal effort to date, The Last Airbender. M. Night Shyamalan's projects have been original and perhaps it was the ambitious nature of his first adaptation and the process of converting this big budget Nickolodeon cartoon that must have broken his back. There's a reason Shyamalan has predominantly shone in small community features and it was quite a leap of faith for Paramount to offer up $150 million for him to create The Last Airbender.

First off, the title The Last Airbender  is incomplete. To avoid confusion with James Cameron's epic blockbuster, Avatar, the first word in the title was dropped. For a predominantly blue action fantasy adventure in 3D, the comparisons would have probably done more damage than good. Although, to be honest... most of the damage was done in the actual creation of this epic misfire. While Avatar and The Last Airbender both share some commonalities and feature some spellbinding visual effects, the two are literally worlds apart.

The cast is relatively unknown bar Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame, Hollywood regular Cliff Curtis and Shaun Toub from Iron Man. These actors offer the only redeeming performances given the quality of the characterization, their screen time and a boring script. Jackson Rathbone of Twilight notoriety offers a fragile pretty boy performance, which would even be out of place in a Chuck Norris movie. Shyamalan's take is lifeless and serious, when the series is renowned for its sense of humour and joy. For an Asian anime series, the film is composed of everyone but suitable reflections... using Indian actors for the Fire nation and a white cast for the Water nation with a Texan karate kid named Noah Ringer as Aang, the Avatar.

The casting has been controversial to say the least and all the "bad" choices are in fact bad choices just for acting ability before skin colour even becomes an issue. It's a sad day in Shyamalanland as an eager audience try to make sense of a series of loosely-based Avatar: The Last Airbender segments flow by in slow-motion. Shyamalan has followed the story quite attentively if you compare notes with episode 1, but throw in a couple of dreamy flashbacks, cut the story adrift and fail to develop a sense of continuity with a stable lead and you've got a pretty-looking, yet unmanned hot air balloon.

The lines are delivered like cold pizza and were probably meant to be inspirational. Instead they're cheesy (still cold), painful and fail to make the link between character and narrative. The only reason you finish watching The Last Airbender is because you've paid to see 3D and you'll be damned if you're not going to get your money's worth. Thing is... the 3D is almost non-existent. In fact, it's harmful to your eyes. You can't watch without the 3D glasses and the add-on 3D effects are horrible, just plain horrible. There are no crisp lines and some ridiculous attempts at 3D have been made by blurring backgrounds, making it almost essential that you see the 2D version if you have to.

The story's themes and influences run far and wide. We've got a side order of Dune with the political factions/nations in an arm wrestle - one that's never fully explained. Then we've got some The Lord of the Rings - Two Towers battle scenes reminiscent of Helm's Deep, except they're on water. Echoes of The Golden Compass also sound out as an eagerly-awaited big budget family fantasy film tanks with its dazzling effects, awkward performances and pithy story. Hell, there's even a bit of Kung Fu Panda philosophy thrown in with the free Zen garden happy meal.

The Last Airbender has been filmed in such a way that you can just imagine them shooting the entire film in M. Night Shyamalan's green screen basement with a bunch of IT guys relaying backdrops more furiously than a cheap screensaver app. All in all, it's a surreal, yawn-inducing homage to a cartoon that deserved so much better. Perhaps movie producers will think twice before they get their takeaway order mixed up again... remember vindaloo and chop-suey are best served from different restaurants.

The bottom line: Tiresome.

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