|Can you feel the excitement?|
The movie Eragon (2006) has become the poster boy for horribly bad book-to-movie adaptations. And with its laughably wrong plot, obnoxiously dull characters, atrocious dialogue and plain silly CGI, it’s easy to understand why it’s become infamous. The Last Airbender, the latest M. Night Shyamalan film, has been compared to Eragon in terms of badness. For fans of the original Nickelodeon show, Mr. Shyamalan's adaptation is nearly as offensive as Eragon, and while it’s easy to understand why the comparison is made, The Last Airbender doesn’t quite live up to the horrible reputation it’s received.
The Last Airbender’s critics certainly do have a point. Fans of the show have numerous legitimate disappointments, such as the somewhat politically incorrect casting choices. For a show set in a fantasy universe with Chinese overtones, none of the actors are Asian. Furthermore, the main character’s two friends, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz), who are portrayed in the show as having a slightly olive complexion, are both played by Caucasian actors, while scorned Prince Zuko, the “bad guy” who attempts to capture the main character, is played by Indian Dev Patel, while in the show he’s pasty white. There’s also the pronunciation choice. For some inexplicable reason, the character Aang (Noah Ringer), pronounced in the show like the end of the word “hang,” is pronounced like the end of the word “bong.” The same goes for other characters in the show. Why the change? Were the old pronunciations just too dull? Or had Mr. Shyamalan never actually watched the show? It’s unclear. Even those who’ve never seen the show find problems with the movie. The fight scenes, which generally involve magical manipulation of water, earth, air, or fire, contain an excessive amount of what appears to be some type of yoga before any of the magic can be used, making most fight scenes into weirdly elaborate dances. Mr. Shyamalan's grasp of comedy is also apparently rather weak, and the character of Sokka, who is basically comic relief in the show, has no actual comic lines, making his character boring to the point of complete uselessness. Similarly, main character Aang, a playful young child in the show, is infused with the misplaced gravitas of a horror movie protagonist.
But although Mr. Shyamalan has trouble with the comedic aspect of the movie, his seriousness lends the more dramatic parts of the movie an appropriately mystical air. A scene where a mysterious masked ninja rescues Aang from prison ends with a haunting fight scene in a dark, brooding castle courtyard where Mr. Shyamalan’s penchant for elaborate choreography finally leads him right. The final battle scene, an assault on an icy Venice-like city, plays out with the same sense of epic grandeur. The sweeping shots of flaming catapult rocks falling into the city bring to mind the scope of fantasy classic Lord of the Rings, and a villain’s dastardly plot to cripple the magic of the waterbending defenders plays out with the drama and brutality appropriate to the situation. The characters also reflect Mr. Shyamalan’s preference for angst. Although comic character Sokka is dull and lifeless, Dev Patel is excellent as the emotionally conflicted Prince Zuko, who, after being banished from his home by his father, the evil Fire Lord Ozai, must capture Aang in order to regain his honor and return home. This melodramatic character is played well by Dev Patel, star of Slumdog Millionaire, without being absurd or unbelievable, but with something like emotional depth.
So, although M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the light-hearted children’s television show is often heavy-handed and lacking in humor, as well as occasionally entirely misinterpreting the show, it still manages to have sparks of grandeur. The comparison to Eragon, which on the surface seems plausible, really misses the triumphs of The Last Airbender. While not a particularly good movie, The Last Airbender replaces the airy light-heartedness of the original show with a seriousness that adds an element of grandeur to the fantasy story that ultimately manages to redeem it from the realm of epically bad Eragon.
Overall Review: Neutral.
Death and Glory,