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A little cheese and a little whine

Film Log: The Last Airbender

Details here

This film covers the ground of the first season of the Nickelodeon cartoon series of the same name, and fans of the cartoon generally reckon it does a pretty awful job of it.  Not having seen the cartoon, I felt that this film had quite a lot to recommend it, but if you’re viewing it as part of the franchise you will probably take a much dimmer view.

The special effects are flawless and the acting, particularly from the three juvenile leads, is very good. The CG models are attractive and well-executed, and the film looks consistently attractive (in a Narnia / Golden Compass sort of way). The story is enjoyable and fairly well told. Best of all for me personally, although the Avatar is unhappy at the sacrifice he has to make in taking on the role set out for him, he steps up to it because he sees it’s right, and he doesn’t whine about it.

On the other hand, a few relatively small things stop it from being a much more enjoyable movie. The choreography is mediocre, so the fight sequences lack impact, and what should be moments of beauty and reflection as we watch the benders (yes, that’s what they call them in the script) practice their craft feel more like we’re snooping on the cast’s morning tai-chi session. The music is uninspired, and there are places where the dialog is forced and leaden.

The biggest problem, though, is the division of the antagonists into two camps – Prince Zuko, who has been banished by his father the king and can only return once he has the Avatar, and Lord Ozai, who the king has commanded to find the Avatar but not to harm Zuko. This creates nothing but confusion in the plot and in an effort to explain why a successful warrior king would do anything quite so stupid, Shyamalan has to have Zuko standing by a window talking to himself at one point in the action. This, and other, similar complications, mean that we’re still figuring out what, exactly, is going on well after the final battle sequence is underway, so that it never really gathers the momentuum it needs to deliver on its dramatic potential.

Overall, if you like the less adult end of the sword-and-sorcery genre and want something to accompany your popcorn that won’t have you on the edge of your seat, this is probably worth a go.

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Filed under: Film + TV

One Response

  1. Jim St Ruth says:

    Great review as always, Paul.
    The choreography really disappointed me, it felt like each fight was just the warm up fight; just as it looked as if it were about to really get interesting, it ended… I really felt as if I missed out!
    The signposting was also pretty bad, and I think this was in part due to the confusion about the bad guys, but I did wonder what was going on a lot of the time.
    I would have liked a better explanation of their world too; it certainly seemed very rich, but it also felt a little rushed, almost like we weren’t being allowed to see everything there was to see.
    That can be a good thing, but here it wasn’t.
    I liked the film a lot, but I wish Shayalaman would go the extra mile with his plots and produce something a little more polished. He has some great ideas and some great material, but his stuff can leave me feeling a little flat when I should be shouting “That was great!”.
    …I’m still very disillusioned from watching The Village all those years ago. The exposition/ending was just what I mean. There wasn’t the right setup for it being what it was, so the impact was off. Same here, I think.

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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