Animadversion: The Last Airbender – Review by Kamran Jawaid and Farheen Jawaid

Below is the unedited version of the review published in iMAGES on the 18th of July 2010

the_last_airbender

The Last Airbender. Let It Be So. Pretty Please.

By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid

M. Night Shyamalan is a genius for one–second tops in “The Last Airbender”, a flimsy, un–spiced reworking of a favorite animated series of almost the same name (“Avatar: The Last Airbender” it was called). Being quick on its feet, Shyamalan’s product pops away any blind optimism associated with the franchise in less than one seconds of screen–time. It’s a wonder how drastically things change in a micro–second. The Last Airbender. It should be.

As the films screenwriter Shyamalan skims over vital introductions from the first season of “Avatar” with serious sincerity (two very misplaced emotions in this case).

The movie version stars Aang (Noah Ringer whose name is mispronounced, intentionally, as Awe-ng) the last remaining air –bender. A bender is someone trained to mold or bend the force of a particular element (Earth, Fire, Water or Air) to his will. Aang is also the reincarnation of the Avatar, a Dalai Lama like prophet in looks who is able to master all four elements with little training. The problem is he’s frozen in a bubble of ice for the last hundred years.

In its jolty opening, Katara and Sokka (the awfully cast Jackson Rathbone and Nikola Peltz) from the southern Water Tribe, find the frozen Aang, learn about his origin and become a part of his small resolute army resisting the superior, and villainous, Fire Nation, who seek megalomaniacal world domination. In their first quest, they hop–scotch over to the North, where Aang learns to water–bend and fend off an army. Aang masters one element per part in what would be a painful–to–watch trilogy.

What was genuinely epic in the series looks as grand as distilled water in Shyamalan’s world. And it’s all extraordinarily wrong: The casting. The ethnicity. The fighting styles. The choreography (one sequence in particular is so vapidly choreographed that it becomes the best example of the worse single–continuous shot in cinematic history).

For starters: the series is set in a thespian world derived from real–world geography and ethnicity. The Air Nomads were peace and harmony loving Buddhists. Their fighting resembled the “Baguazhang” style and utilized centripetal forces for air–bending; The Water Tribe used “Tai Chi” and shows influence of Inuit descent; Earth Kingdom with looks of tanned Mongols mastered the strong postured “Hung Ga”; The Fire Nation was stringently Japanese with watertight “Kung Fu”.

Shyamalan keeps these movements visibly distant and masks the culture.

The principal cast – and the water–benders – are reset as Caucasians while dark-skinned Indians turn up as Fire–benders. They are: the banished (and facially scarred) prince “Zuko” (played by Dev Patel, grinding his jaw on cue), the cool minded general “Iroh” (a misplaced yet compelling Shaun Toub), the Commander “Zhao” (Aasif Mandvi from The Late Night with Jon Stewart, plainly insincere) and Fire lord “Ozai” (Cliff Curtis playing Dev Patel’s non–threatening father). Their descent might be Indians, but their names – “Ozai”, “Zuko”, “Zhao” – are uncannily Japanese.

But still Shyamalan tries to befuddle us by showing a photograph of Zuko’s family. In the picture, Zuko’s mother wears a wannabee Sari, while Ozai and Zuko are Japanese. Maybe Shyamalan too is confused on the matter.

“The Last Airbender” is rated PG. Its fantasy is over-come by bad storytelling, horizontally misaligned up-converted 3D and worse action. In comparison even Jonah Hex looks like master–work.

Second Opinion

By Farheen Jawaid

Here’s a movie that tickles you funny and depresses with its atrocity. I still have to think hard if there was anything worth liking in “The Last Airbender”.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Yes, they chucked Avatar from the title because of the Na’vi movie) is a highly enjoyable anime influenced animated series from Nickelodeon. “Avatar” beautifully weaved its story through fantasy and multicultural ethnic backdrops and is by far the most delightful series I have seen in the fantasy/adventure genre from American animation.

But the live-action film evokes a different feeling altogether. Any enchantment died when its trailer was released on poor unsuspecting me.

In Shyamalan’s version the Japanese Fire Nation has gone to the Indian subcontinent, while still sporting their Japanese attires and names. Our Chinese hero Aang is transcoded as a Caucasian lad along with the brother sister duo Katara and Sokka. But I braced myself and waited for the movie before judging it completely. But all that could go wrong, did.

The clumsy script kept falling on its story and dialogues. So did the abysmal acting. And I grinded my teeth whenever someone intentionally mispronounced names (Aang is he’s called “Oang” for some reason).

In the original series everything is vibrant and lush and everyone had involving carefully thought-out fighting styles.

The visual palette in the live action is murky as if just been run through mud and fight choreography is unconvincingly feeble.

Ah, yes, there is one thing I like about “Airbender”. That’s Shaun Toub as “Iroh”, the only one who had an idea what he was doing in the movie. If only M. Night Shyamalan stumbled on the same idea too.

The published version can be found at:

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/images/the-last-airbender-let-it-be-so-870

and

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/images/second-opinion-870

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