The Last Airbender
How can a movie be both repetitive AND confusing?
Kissing fun goodbye since 1999
One might suggest that M. Night Shyamalan is not experienced with action or heavy green-screen. I think Shyamalan had a BLOOD GRUDGE against his editor, and felt so much seething hideous death-hate that he was willing to scuttle a hundred-million-dollar movie based on a beloved property THAT ALREADY EXISTS IN CINEMATIC FORM. Why else would the following occur?
– No establishing shots (BAM! You’re in tent in a village you’ve never seen before!)
– No transition shots (BAM! Prince Zuko’s unconscious in the woods! BAM! He’s standing next to his uncle on a ship! Then to fill in the gap that A SINGLE SHOT OF PRINCE ZUKO WALKING would have helped, his uncle has to ask something like, “Where have you been the last four days? Are you the weird dude in a blue suit who showed up over the last four days? No? Okay, I’ll take your word for it. I wasn’t really interested anyway, because I’m getting a foot massage.”)
And it burns, burns, burns…
– Almost all action scenes handled in a fluid master. You know what fluid masters are great for? NOT ACTION SCENES.
– An entire two-minute dialogue scene (between Sokka and the northern water tribe princess) handled in a way-too-close two-shot. No cutting. Then go to another scene. Then come back to Sokka and the princess and they’re still in the same two-shot. HELP WE ARE STUCK IN THE TWO-SHOT!
– Another two-minute scene handled with TWO shots (Whoa! Hold your horses, Kubrick!) — a way-too-close two-shot of Katara and Sokka and a REALLY WAY TOO FRICKIN CLOSE-UP of Aang. Like, from his eyebrows to his lips. I have never seen a shot like that in a Hollywood movie before. Maybe Shyamalan was trying to convey the nuanced emotion of Aang explaining “we should save more villages and stuff, and I bring this up because the audience will never see us actually doing the thing I am describing.” The editor seems to know how unbearable the freaky-close-up is to watch because he cuts to Katara and Sokka listening silently and just stays. And stays. The editor should not have murdered M. Night’s entire family or whatever he did to make M. Night SO FRICKIN MAD at him, that’s all I know.
And there’s more.
– The voice-over. Oh, God, the voice-over. The movie starts with a text crawl that then IS READ ALOUD to you. EVERY EPISODE of the show starts with the same short montage getting you up to speed. You don’t even have to storyboard it! IT’S ALREADY DONE.
But if I didn’t have voice-over I’d hardly be in the movie at all
– There’s a scene where Aang and Katara are practicing their water-bending tai chi moves by a creek. You’re supposed to get that Aang is not as good as Katara. However, THERE IS NO WATER BENT. It’s like this shot just never made it to the effects artists! I didn’t have a problem with the 3/4 of the movie that weren’t in 3D, but COME ON SHYAMALAN YOU DIDN’T EVEN WATCH THE FINAL CUT.
– Much has been rightly made of white actors being cast to depict characters of color. But when the white Sokka and Katara return to their tribe — where EVERYONE LOOKS INUIT except for them, you realize that only Sokka, Katara and their grandma are white, and these are also the only speaking parts in the tribe, and your chin falls on your chest. Whitewashing is one thing. Making WHITENESS A REQUIREMENT FOR BEING ALLOWED TO SPEAK is another. And that thing is SUPER RACIST.
– The “Last Airbender” cartoon is funny. Funny a lot. Like, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, season two. There are three attempts at funny in this movie. One is botched because the coverage is wrong (Katara screws up a water-bend and accidentally entraps Sokka in ice, and instead of cutting to reveal this we just paaaaaaan on over. Furthermore Sokka’s actor has apparently been informed not to squirm or try to escape [as his character would naturally do] because, I dunno, the digital ice around him would be harder to animate?). Another is Aang showing personality, which might be a useful thing to put in the first act instead of IN A FLASHBACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CLIMAX. The third I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure there was one. I guess. Somewhere.
Check out my capacity for joy!
Some nice things to say:
– The kids were good at the physical stuff. They were able to sell the bending movements, even if no one could sell lines like “we need to show them we believe our beliefs as strongly as they believe theirs!”
– Aasif Mandvi was pretty good, even when asked to stand on a ship, stare into space, and read lines like, “Say, Prince Zuko’s uncle Iroh, I sure am sorry various members of your family died hideously at intervals I will now describe to you.” He made it work, chewed a little scenery, had a little fun. I envision M. Night pulling him aside over the whole shoot being like, “Aasif, take this seriously. Less fun. I need less fun from you.” And him being like, “Sure, Night, whatever you say,” and then having fun anyway.
There’s more but I think I’m done for now.
Aaaaaaand spent enough.