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The Last Airbender (2010)

A movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

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Elemental, My Dear Shyamalan

  • Jul 1, 2010
Ever since seeing "The Sixth Sense," my nature has been to resist the films of M. Night Shyamalan. I have to admit that now. I'm aware of his technical skills and his ability to build tension, and yet something within me finds his work profoundly unappealing. I go in with an open mind, but then, minute by minute, it seems as if he's purposely trying to push me away with his unreasonably slow pacing, his amateurish dialogue, his bizarre character development, his ill-fitting sense of humor, and in some cases, his ridiculous plot twists. By the time I leave, a wall has gone up, and I feel cheated and angry. Many have felt the same way about "Lady in the Water" and "The Happening," but few agreed with me on "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs," and "The Village." The first even garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

Now we have "The Last Airbender," a live-action 3-D adaptation of the Nickelodeon anime series "Avatar: The Last Airbender." Unfortunately, Shyamalan has proven he can alienate younger audiences just as easily as older ones. It's a children's film, and yet he didn't seem to have children in mind when making it; it's unmanageably plot-heavy, the dialogue is rife with incomprehensible exposition, the last minute 2-D to 3-D conversion is unimpressive, and worst of all, the characters are badly drawn - a mistake, I suspect, that was made worse with the casting of white actors in roles that were intended to be Asian and Inuit. There are a few enjoyable action sequences and moments of digital wizardry, but on the whole, I cannot envision anyone, kids least of all, making heads or tails of this film.

The premise is that, in an alternate reality, the world is divided into four elemental kingdoms: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. Within each are people who can manipulate, or bend, the elements. The Fire Nation, having already overseen the genocide of the Air Nomads, is now waging war against the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribes. From the Southern Water Tribe, we meet a teen waterbender named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone); while hunting, they crack open a gigantic sphere of ice, releasing little Aang (Noah Ringer), the sole surviving airbender who disappeared 100 years ago. As it turns out, he's also the Avatar, which is to say he's the only one with the ability to control all four elements. Apparently, he can go into meditative trances and have conversations with a dragon spirit, a skill that's never adequately explained apart from its obvious implications.

While well skilled in the art of airbending, Aang was never trained to bend water, earth, or fire. So begins his journey to the Northern Water Tribe, since, according to him, water training the natural progression from air training. He has to be careful; the Fire Nation is aware of his existence, and more than one person is pursuing him. Firstly, there's Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis). Secondly, there's Ozai's exiled son, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), who hopes to regain his honor by capturing Aang. Finally, there's Admiral Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), Zuko's main rival.

It seems basic enough, but the plot is deceptively weighty, mostly due to extremely long-winded explanations about various spirits, periods in history, peoples, places, and philosophies. Some are woven into unnecessary subplots. When Aang, Katara, and Sokka arrive in the Northern Water Tribe, for example, Sokka immediately falls in love a white-haired princess named Yue (Seychelle Gabriel); because so little time is spent on them, we can't invest in their relationship, nor can we absorb the details of her miraculous birth or her connection to the spirit of the moon. And then there's Zuko's uncle, Iroh (Shaun Toub), who really serves no purpose except to be an easy-going crutch for Zuko to lean on. He has his own troubled past, although it's alluded to so casually and briefly that one wonders why Shyamalan deemed it necessary.

What he seems to be doing is taking an entire series' worth of information and packing it into a single film. This isn't how it works; when it comes to a film adaptation, especially of a lengthy source, one must know exactly which story should be told and then proceed to remove the extraneous details. Yes, sacrifices would be made, but the simple fact is that movies generally require streamlines plots. There's no conceivable way audiences are going to take in everything "The Last Airbender" tells them. There's simply too much of it. Worse still, it's not told particularly well. If you doubt me, listen to the dialogue Shyamalan supplies Aang with. When he speaks, he sounds more like a modern-day kid than a revered figure of myth.

I don't want to write Shyamalan off as a bad filmmaker. He has disappointed me time and time again, but I can't help but feel that, somewhere deep down, he has what it takes to make a good movie. His previous films, even the ones I flat out hated, all had flashes of greatness. What he needs to finally realize is that successful films cannot be just about the craft; he must stop laboring over atmosphere and put some effort into actual storytelling. "The Last Airbender," while stylistically and thematically different from his earlier efforts, is a burden to watch, an overstuffed and underdeveloped adventure fantasy that doesn't have any audience capable of following along in mind. Yet again, I have built up a wall, and its seeming less and less likely that I'll ever be able to knock it down.

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More The Last Airbender reviews
review by . July 02, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Indifferent Storytelling and Clumsy Direction Makes This Film Rather Dull!
I have always said that like him or not, M. Night Shymalan makes an effort to try to be original. Yes he does, but lately, it can be said that he is experiencing a sort of a creative slump, that his latest movies have become more of a miss than a hit. The last movie that I really liked from him was “Unbreakable” and that has been such a long time ago. People then began to become disappointed with Shymalan‘s “The Village” and his recent film “The Happening” …
review by . January 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
* out of ****     As if "Lady in the Water" and "The Happening" weren't enough to concern us of director M. Night Shyamalan's current mental state, "The Last Airbender" essentially confirms that the man we once loved has officially gone mad. This is the man's first revoltingly unwatchable feature; merged with that now complete feeling of pretentiousness that's been building up faster and faster as Shyamalan's movies have been getting lamer and lamer. I mean, at least "The Happening" …
review by . December 14, 2010
I have one word respect. None of which is in M. Night Shamalayn's The Last Airbender. Not only does it not give respect towards the original work but there is no respect between the characters in the picture. Watching Airbender made me so nauseous that I felt like throwing up my popcorn. And believe me, it's that bad.      The Last Airbender is the culmination of season 1, dubbed Book 1, of the hit nickelodeon series Avatar: the Last Airbender. Sadly because of the super …
review by . December 16, 2010
As a great fan of the original animated series, of course I had high expectations for this movie. And it was agonizing.      There are so many problems in this movie that I don't even know how to begin. Let's start with the most obvious. Oh, wait I still don't know what the most obvious is. But well, the first problem that really began to disturb me are the fights. If you've seen the original cartoon you know how awesome the fights are. They are exciting and …
review by . July 21, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
1/2 a star :
Long ago in a forgotten land there were four nations Earth, Air, Fire and Water the four fabled nations lived in peace and harmony with one another that is until the ruthless and power hungry fire nation declared war on the three other nations. Only the fabled AVATAR the master of all four elements could stop them but when he was needed the most he vanished, for a hundred years, the Fire nation ruled thinking that the only threat that had   the power to defeat them was long deceased. …
review by . December 05, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: The opening element montage is directly out of the show     Cons: The humor and rounded characters were left back in the show     The Bottom Line: It's a great late-night movie after a bad day at work.     Zuko: "That... Wasn't a good play."   Aang: "I'll say."   Katara: "No kidding."   Suki: "Horrible."   Toph: "You said it."   Sokka: "But the effects were decent."   Avatar: …
review by . July 06, 2010
The Last Airbender? Could be Possible
The Last airbender is a live action adaptation on a nickelodeon tv show Avatar: The last Airbender. Now the show was devided into three seasons and this film adaptaion was directed by the sixth sense director M. Night Shyamalan. Now i have to say i did like the movie but i can see why other people did not. For those who watched the cartoon the end of season 1 with the water nation vs the fire nation battle was one of the biggest events in the series but i thought the friendship between Sokka …
review by . July 15, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
When I first heard that this series was being made into a movie I was very excited. Then, however, I learned that M. Night Shyamalan was directing the movie...I was afraid that it would bomb because Shyamalan's latest films have not been the greatest. As soon as the first scene played in front of me, I knew that it was as bad as I expected it to be. First of all, Shyamalan change the pronunciation of many of the character's names. Watching further I found that many of the scenes were precise …
review by . January 03, 2011
I wouldn't go so far as the other reviewers here in giving The Last Airbender just one star. For a comic-book action movie, it's entertaining and has some beautiful locales. Still, it's a pretty unoriginal film. The acting seems almost amateurish, perhaps inevitable given that most of the actors are in their teens. However, ultimately The Last Airbender just comes across as a pale shadow of Lord of the Rings. The fighting isn't anywhere near as dramatic or emotionally powerful. With M. Night Shyamalan, …
review by . August 30, 2010
If for no other reason, The Last Airbender will bomb in British cinemas for a very childish one: someone forgot to research local playground slang.    At a moment of critical plot exposition early in the film a character motions to the mysteriously tattooed child Aang, who has just demonstrated awe-inspiring mystical skills, and portentously asks an elder:"when did you realise he was a bender?"    What little spell director M. Night Shyamalan had mustered …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


The Last Airbender is an action-adventure fantasy film released on July 2, 2010. It is a live-action film adaptation  based on the first season  of the animated television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The first of a planned trilogy, it will be produced by Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies. The series, influenced by Asian art, mythology and various martial arts fighting styles, was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and was adapted by M. Night Shyamalan, who will also direct and produce the film along with Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Sam Mercer and Scott Aversano. Filming began in mid-March 2009; the movie is scheduled to be released on July 2, 2010 in both traditional two-dimensional projectors, as well as in 3D.

Poster art for "The Last Airbender."

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Runtime: 103 minutes
Studio: Paramount

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"Elemental, My Dear Shyamalan"
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