Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Last Airbender

What can one say about M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender that hasn't already been said, as evident by it pathetic 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Well, for one thing, it's ghastly the film made nearly $70 million over the Fourth of July weekend, no doubt inflated by it's 3-D surcharges.  That the story, an adaptation of the popular cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender, is an utter dud-- not just disappointing, but boring, full of needless exposition and desperate for franchising, therefore embodying the very worst of contemporary big-budget Hollywood films.  What else-- oh the acting is fairly atrocious; with all the protest and negative criticism regarding the casting of white actors in non-white roles, it seems almost a service to those outraged that the film is an utter flop and the lily white stars are quite disposable.  And for a film that reportedly cost $150 million to make, why does it look so crappy?  It's not just the last-minute 3-D hack job that's tacky, it's the whole production.  When I took those silly glasses off, all I saw was cheap, phony CG effects, and when I put them back on it was just the same crappy effects darkened.

I'm quite relieved that I didn't pay for this film, but I felt nothing but sympathy for those who had, because how could one not feel ripped off by this joyless, excruciating exercise.  The point is after the fiascoes of The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening, how on earth is Shyamalan willing to get a major studio (in this case Paramount) to shell out buckets of money on a big summer tentpole release?  How after a track record of every picture of his being exponentially worse than  it's predecessors is this man still welcomed to the club.  It gets richer, The Last Airbender is his biggest film to date in scale and budget, it's really his first attempt at working with effects and yet Paramount Pictures is willing to dump a potentially lucrative franchise into this man's arms.  I don't get that logic-- if a studio wanted to waste hundreds of millions of dollars, I'll glad take some of it off their hands.

And yet, perhaps Paramount isn't solely to blame.  I personally almost hate to admit this, but I've seen of Shyamalan's films (even the silly indie Wide Awake he made shortly before The Sixth Sense catapulted him into this entity that would eventually turn evil.)  And the truth of the matter is that The Last Airbender is the first film he's ever made without any redeeming qualities-- it's a disaster on nearly every level; one hopes that Mystery Science Theater 3000 is revived just to make something entertaining here.  For the thing is that before I believed Mr. Shyamalan, thoroughout all the wrong-headed choices, and reported ego issues, had bonafide talent as a filmmaker (not as a writer), but there's a style to him that has kept even his worst films slightly afloat because he seemed a controlled filmmaker of mood and pacing.  Even in the dreadful The Happening, visually the films looks eerie and kinda cool in certain shots-- the movie is awful is nearly ever other way, but there was something small to hold onto, something to grasp that there might be a shred of unwasted potential in Shyamalan.

But in Airbender, there's nothing-- crappy looking fakery, a bloated self-serious story, small and very mannered performances, and zero sense of pace, mood or control.  The story centers around a boy named Ang, who is the Avatar, or the One, or whatever, he's a little boy with great power and responsibility.  He has to save the world, or second rate middle-earth replica of the world by keeping the peace between the fire and water regions, or whatever.  The fire people are evil, and there's been a great war for a century, but the little boy must save all.  I hear the cartoon is actually fairly decent, but one wouldn't easily get the sense from the film, with its neediness to simplify every aspect and explain everything at least four times.  Seriously there was about six points in the movie where I thought, "I know, move on," but the movie didn't listen.

Of course thankfully the movie does invite the opportunity for a sequel.  I feel like a broken record, but Hollywood, when one is watching a movie and throwing a zillion dollars at it, perhaps it would be in the best interest of all involved to worry about said single movie and focus on franchises later.  For the money this film inexplicably made, a question lingers-- does anyone like it?  I watched this film with friends of mine, who love this kind of stuff (I admittedly don't), and they didn't like it either-- something to mull over, before part two is put into production.

One more note-- if one does desire two hours of exterminating your brain cells, don't bother with seeing it in 3-D.  The only luzury is the three to five dollars more the studio will profit.  I noticed two sequences in 3-D in my experience-- the Paramount logo (easily the best part of the movie), and the end credits.  Everything else looked flat and dark and sad.  I have nothing against artists toying around with the medium, but let's keep it at that from now on....please.  F

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