M. Night Shyamalan brought us Sixth Sense, arguably the best film in the suspense/thriller genre. It was an exceptional film that has been followed by a variety of films that run the spectrum from excellence to forgettable. I actually like a couple that were panned, like The Village and Lady in the Water. I even defied conventional wisdom with my perspective of The Happening. Unbreakablewas average to me, but I have been among Shyamalan's supporters through good films as well as the not-so-good. But I draw the line at The Last Airbender. Nothing about this film was good to me, other than the exceptional CGI, which is what sold me on the film to begin with.
The Last Airbender was written by M. Night Shyamalan, based on the children's cartoon that debuted several years ago. I never watched the series, but had an idea regarding the concept. Although the film may remain true to the original cartoon series, it did very little to hold my interest. The characters were flat (in fact, they were a complete and utter mess) and the plot was simplistically predictable. The dialogue was sappy and hackneyed. The film was intended to be one of a series, basically laying the foundation for future films. Maybe Shyamalan was naive enough to think that this film would somehow have the epic capacity to become trilogy with free-standing segments like Lord of the Rings. If that was what Shyamalan was shooting for, he fell woefully short. There was nothing epic about this film, unless you count epic failure.
The casting in The Last Airbender was an equal failure. In an obvious effort at diversity (and possibly an attempt to create an alternate reality), a variety of national identities are infused into the storyline, but appear out of place. Caucasian kids that live like Eskimos? The actors didn't do much to capture my attention, either. The airbender himself (Noah Ringer) had to be right to make this thing work. It wasn't even close. He seemed too effete for my taste. His two closest companions (Nicola Peltz as Katara and Jackson Rathbone as Sokka) add nothing to their roles. This project was bigger than the actors, who also happened to be saddled with a stinker script. Dev Patel (as Prince Zuko) of Slumdog Millionaire fame was the only bright spot for me. And he was confined by the script as well. I was unimpressed with the performances, which appeared to be as poorly crafted as the script.
The special effects seemed to have captivated Shyamalan's attention far more than the other foundational aspects of this film, resulting in stunning imagery, exceptional costumes and a visually appealing quality. It is too bad that the effects become nothing more than window-dressing on a terrible script and mediocre acting. The use of water, fire, earth and air elements are seamlessly accomplished with phenomenal results. I was impressed with the interaction of the elements which resulted in visually credible effects.
The Last Airbender was one of the worst films I can recall having seen and definitely the worst of 2010. Not only would I recommend against seeing this film, but I am happy that Shamalayan was not permitted to make the sequels to this film. It was bad on every front except for the special effects. Although I have been a supporter of Shyamalan on films that have been on the receiving end of harsh criticism, he deserves any fallout that he gets for this film. It is just that bad. 2/10.
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