Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review: 'The Last Airbender'


I should start out by saying what I said in my Twitter post last night directly after seeing the film: "No one see 'The Last Airbender'. It is ABYSMAL beyond belief. I am shocked and appalled. M. Night Shayamalan should be beaten in the street."

I initially was not going to go anywhere near this film after hearing how it progressed before it was actually filmed; the casting of all whites in the main roles, changing the calligraphy on maps to "unreadable sigils", altering whole characters' personalities to make the movie more serious. That last bit was one of the MAIN reasons I was against the film, but I'll get to that in a moment.

I'm sure some people somewhere out there who haven't seen the film will go, "Oh, it's just a live action adaptation of a cartoon. How bad could it possibly be?" To them, and to everyone who still hasn't see it, I say, "Go watch the cartoon, fall in love with those characters and their struggles and triumphs and quirks. Then go watch the film. Make sure you spend $10 like I did {even with a student discount}, and see these things that make the series wonderful raped and pummeled before your very eyes."

I missed the very first part of the movie because we were late getting to the theatre, but since I'd seen the series {now on my second go-around}, I knew what was going on already.

As I mentioned before, whole characters' personalities were altered and changed. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the character of Sokka. He is the comic relief of the show, quite obviously from the beginning, and is the "brains" of the gang, being more science-minded than anything else. He makes hilarious and often clever observations and is a strong warrior, much like his sister Katara and friend Aang, the Avatar.

The Sokka, excuse me, 'So-kah', of the film, is none of these things. He is a serious, angry seeming young man, wearing a constant expression of constipation who can't seem to get a sentence out faster than two years. I've seen Jackson Rathbone in exactly two films, and I am not impressed whatsoever. He needs to either pick a new acting coach or just GTFO because he has sucked majorly so far.

Katara, while she still retained the correct pronunciation of her name {I'll get to that in a moment as well}, seemed like she was always breathless and on the verge of tears half the time. She didn't seem like a very competent water bender, and unlike her counterpart in the series, is not someone I would want on my side in a fight.

Aang, excuse me, 'Ong', the all-powerful Avatar, had a look of frightened constipation half the time. This was his only real fault, as unlike the other two actors, he seemed to actually trying to give it his all.

Most of the series' events was explained through montages and Katara's narration, before it finally got to the climactic battle at the Northern Water Tribe where Aang is able to summon a massive tidal wave, wiping out all the Fire Nation ships in one fell swoop and saving the Northern Water Tribe, and the rest of our heroes.

Most of the movie seemed as if M.Night had skimmed over the wikipedia article for the first series, and then filmed it based on what he could remember. The bending, which was beautiful and rapid fire, and based on actual tai chi/martial arts moves, was more like expressive dancing in the film. And boy was it slow. By the time Katara had summoned a water globe, which leaked constantly, by the way, she should've been overtaken by at least two people.

The pronunciation of the names; 'So-kah' instead of 'Sock-a', 'Ong' instead of 'Ang', and things/places/other people; 'Ag-knee-kee' instead of 'Ag-knee-kai' and 'Ah-vah-tar' instead of 'Ava-tar' bothered me on different levels. On the one hand, the director was apparently trying to go "closer to the Asian pronunciation", but on the other, when these names and things are the ONLY things that have their pronunciation altered, it looks sloppy and amateurish. ESPECIALLY in context with the show. I don't care if you're trying to make it closer to the Asian pronunciation, keep it the same way it has been!

Now, we get to the part that most people, including myself, have issue with; that of the races of the characters in this film. In the show, all of the characters are clearly Asian of some sort. Those from the Water Tribe are Inuit. Those from the Earth Kingdom are a mixture of Japanese and Korean {I'm speculating on this, judging from the written characters and the architecture of the cities of Omashu and Ba Sing Se, as well as the names of these places and various characters; Haru, Ju Dee, etc}. Those from the Fire Nation are Japanese/Chinese {again, judging from the names of the characters; Mai, Azula, Zuko, Zhao, Iroh, Tai Lee, and the places}. Those from the Air Nation {not sure if this is correct, but I'm not saying "The Air Nomad Nation" like the film did} are Tibetan monks, pure and simple. You could argue that Aang's features are ambiguously white/Asian, but I have always seen him as Asian, so we will stick with that.

SO, bearing all of this in mind, I don't understand the reasoning behind changing the races of these people, and especially in such a half-assed way. Katara, Sokka and their grandmother are all white...in a village of ENTIRELY ASIAN/INUIT PEOPLE. The Fire Nation went from being Japanese/Chinese to being Indian. That wouldn't have been a problem, since Indians are Asians, except that they weren't that way to begin with! Zuko originally was going to be played by Jesse McCartney, another white dude, but "scheduling conflicts" forced him to drop out, and Dev Patel was cast as Zuko.

You can't tell me that there are no big name Asian actors and actresses who could've been cast in these roles and would have drawn people to the theatres. There's a plethora of Asian actors out there, many of whom are big names, that SHOULD'VE been in this film. Ken Watanabe could've been Uncle Iroh for Christ's sake!

Most of the Asians that I saw in the film were portrayed as largely inept and stupid, and it offended me, a non-Asian person. Example; the three leads are taken to an Earth bending refugee camp after some Fire Nation soliders see Katara water bending to help an Earth bender child who had come upon them, clearly needing help. The refugee camp was in an area SURROUNDED by earth...yet after a "stirring" speech from Aang, they fought and overtook the Fire Nation soldiers guarding the camp.

So, what you're telling me is; a huge group of Asians needed help from whites in order to get them motivated? In order to get them to see the OBVIOUS solution that was right in front of them? Every other village they went to and liberated, including a village of black people, ensuring no minorities were left out, despite the fact that there WERE no black people in the series, probably could've done the same thing on their own without help from three teenagers.

I could go on and on ad nauseum and I would still be saying the exact same thing about the race issue in this film, so I'll move on from this, but will direct you to look at a site that can probably say these things a lot better than I can: Racebending.com

Last issues I had with the movie, aside from EVERYTHING:

-All exposition was explained by either narration or through characters "figuring out" what was going on. Granted, they had to put a whole season of a show into a film, but come on. 'Lord of the Rings' did it much better, as did many other films.
-The use of extreme close-ups, to the point of a huge close up of one character's eye was unnecessary and, I thought, overdone.
-The camera angles were ridiculous as well, with half of the actor's faces being cut off from the frame as they were speaking to one another.
-More changing of characters, and a huge one at that; Fire Lord Ozai was seen prominently in this film. He showed compassion and worry over the fact that he hadn't heard from his son, Zuko, in quite some time. DESPITE the fact that he had banished the kid for talking back to one of his generals. Fire Lord Ozai was not seen, though he was heard, until halfway through season 3, and he had an enormous presence.
-The sets and costumes were a joke. Minimal effort was made, like with most things in this film, to ensure proper clothing for the characters and making sure the sets were correct for the places of the Nations.

I can't think of anything else to say, except for three things:
1} M.Night Shayamalan, please for the love of everything holy, STOP writing your films. You SUCK at writing. Also, you owe me and everyone else who sat through this tripe at least $10 and 2 hours of their life back.

2} Everyone who has not done so, please please please see the television show. Don't let the fact that it's a cartoon derail you from doing so. I was very much a skeptic, but after seeing 4 episodes of the first season, I was hooked. I watched the entire first season in 12 hours and ordered the other two, and my own copy of season 1, as I did so. It really is worth your time to see it.

3} Roger Ebert said it best when he said in his review of this film: "'The Last Airbender' is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right...I close with the hope that the title proves prophetic." Source

So do I, Mr. Ebert. So do I.

Grade: F

2 comments:

David said...

Wow. Epic fail on M. Night's part. I can't believe I even ~considered going!

Semi-off-topic, but one of the things I've really liked about the ~series is the fact that Fire Lord Ozai's appearance has been kept secret so long. I'm incredibly eager to see what the asshole actually looks like. Poor Zuko. ;_;

WTF, M. Night, all that daddy!angst is INCREDIBLY good material to work with, and you just shit all over it, to make him more relatable to the audience? He's (as far as I can tell from the end of S2) a COLD, HEARTLESS ASSHOLE WHO DISOWNED HIS SON. Way to completely bastardize yet ANOTHER character.

FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUU.

(That felt really good and therapeutic. XD)

Greekletter Tau said...

angry megan is angry.

grrrrr.

behold her furrowed eyebrows. furrowed because she is ANGRY.