“The Last Airbender” Review (Part 1)

As you may, or may not know, I am the ultimate Avatar: The Last Airbender stan. That being said, I promise to approach this review logically and objectively, and (i’ll try) not let my fanboy tendencies overwhelm the meeker of my friends out there, those who aren’t hampered by nerd-colored glasses.
I have been waiting for an Avatar: The Last Airbender film since my initial exposure to the series. I used to diligently sit in front of the television with my younger brothers and wait on “Abbatah” (as they called it) to come on. We’d all sit, mesmerized by the wonder of these seemingly normal people twisting and commanding the essential elements to their will. As I watched it, I’d say to myself, “Now here is a cartoon that’s worth watching!”Fortunately, the bending was only the tip of the iceberg *rimshot*. I was drawn to the complex heroes and villains, the larger plot of unseating the Fire Lord driven by the subplots of basic human equality and respecting the earth that is home to all people, and the lushly imagined setting influenced almost entirely by Asian culture that incorporated eastern philosophy and mythology. (Remeber the Unagi? Yeah, it’s the Japanese name for a freshwater eel. It was also the monster that the Avatar and crew faced down in Season 1, episode 4.) All of these factors combined to create a memorable series that absorbed myself and countless other people around the world.

And then the film emerged.

M. Night. Shyamalan’s take on this series was mired in conspiracy from the get-go. He was accused of Racebending, or not being true to the races/physical characteristics outlined in the original series in terms of casting. Shyamalan asserted that he just wanted all of the different nations in the film to look fairly homogeneous, which explains why each of the different nations in the films is an individual, self contained race (except for those random Africans, and the fact that while there were a couple of Inuit-looking extras, the lead water-tribe characters were white.)

While initially being miffed at this development (what’s so hard about having an all-Asian cast? There were no white people in the show.), I chose to look past it in favor of a holistic view of the film. What follows is a concise outline of what I felt was done right in the film, followed by the inevitable screwy Shyamalan things that happen in each of his works.

The Last Airbender is a daring, and risky approach to a beloved franchise. As with any film whose source material is considered a masterpiece, producers and directors have to be careful that they stay true to the source material. Shyamalan claims that he is “very much a fan” of the series, and that he enjoyed watching the show with his children. This creates an interesting dichotomy. As a fan, he has to accurately represent the franchise. However, as an artist, he has to make sure that he leaves his mark on the work that he’s produced.Despite what many may believe, Shyamalan’s respect for the source property is evident in his visuals. There are many frames in the film that could be drawn from the show itself. Sokka and Katara’s intial scene on the ice, while not in a boat, was a very gripping show of color and detail. The visual changes to the mythos were very well done, with the costumes and props done very well. Each nation was distinctly represented by color, with the fire nation’s armor being especially resplendent. Props to Judianna Makovsky and the makeup crew.In keeping with my praise for the visuals, the CG was awesome. It had to be difficult to pull off actual scenes of firebending and earthbending (there’s no excuse for water effects, they’ve been at that for years). In addition to that, the artificially created and physical sets were on point. The Northern Water Tribe kingdom was vast and splendid, and the earth kingdom was as green and lush as I hoped it would be. For a visual person like, me the colors and textures displayed in the movie were elegantly and superbly done, especially when you consider that all of Shyamalan’s other works are shot predominantly in grey and black.

In the beginning, we fans were promised (or more like lectured) that the Airbender property would be only a rehash. No new adventures. No additional characters or scenes. Hearing that, I was convinced that i would have to accept that there wouldn’t be an all new, all epic Last Aribender Movie Extravaganza. I can accept what Shyamalan did: Because Airbender is split into three parts, present the film as a trilogy, with amazing special effects and live-action treats, and keep the storytelling changes to a minimum. I, for one, can appreciate concise storytelling, and I laud Shyamalan for his attempt to not bore those of us who already know how the story goes.. However, this method brings out a whole new set of problems, which I will outline later.

Part Two Coming Soon!

One thought on ““The Last Airbender” Review (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Lessons About Story Crafting From Avatar: The Legend of Korra | The semi-mad ramblings of a young black writer

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