Friday, July 16, 2010
The Last Air Bender: a review
Immediately after the career of “artist” was invented came the career of “critic”. M. Night Shyamalan has come under some heavy criticism for his recent film “The Last Air Bender” and there are lots of “last” jokes going on out there in reference to Shymalan’s career. The people who hated it REALLY hated it. It’s one of the lowest scores ever on the Tomatometer.
I’ll admit it right here, I’m a fan of this writer/director. I like his pace and style. I like his slow, small way of telling a story. I like that his characters talk strangely...just off center of how real people talk. Every shot is important to him. Usually, the information in a scene unfolds unexpectedly. His movies kind of dawn on you.
I liked “The Last Air Bender”.
This movie is quite a departure for Shyamalan. It’s PG and made with kids in mind. Most of his films have been PG-13 and with more mature themes. It’s based on source material, Avatar: The Last Air Bender, a nickelodeon produced Japanese style animated series. It tells a large, sweeping story about fantasy cultures in a whole new world. Most of Shyamalan’s films are based in Philadelphia and tell small stories happening within extraordinary circumstances (alien invasions, killer plants, narfs in the pool, etc.).
I liked how faithful it was to the show. My boys and I had been watching the first season to ready ourselves for the film. Many shots were tips of the hat to the show. I liked it’s mythic tone, there’s a history that I believed. I liked the artistry of the cultures, costumes, creatures and landscapes. I didn’t mind that the people spoke in an other-worldly way. I didn’t mind that some rules of the world have to just be accepted. I enjoyed myself.
My kids liked it. The whole row of children they went to see it with liked it.
Did it rely a bit too much on narration to drive the story along? Yes. It was the story arc of the entire first season of the show. It was maybe a bit too much to take on as one movie. Did it leave out some of the whimsy of the cartoon? Yes, I missed some of the silliness and more carefree spirit that was in the show. Shymalan tends toward darker, subtler humor. Did I see the terrible 3-D version that everyone’s so angry about? No. I’m not a fan of the 3-D thing. I prefer my movies 3-Dollars less thank you very much.
What’s at the heart of me posting my own review? Well, after finally seeing the movie with so many horrendous reviews out there, I walked out of the theater thinking, “Why all the violent, angry language about this movie?” And it got me to thinking about our critical, savvy, “impress me” culture out there. If “The Wizard of Oz” was made today, we would say the acting is bad and the story is cheesy. If “The Arabian Nights” was written today we would be angry because they never tell us how the magic works and that some of the stories end without an ounce of conflict or darkness.
This is not my favorite Shyamalan movie (it’s going to be hard to beat “Signs”) but I liked it. It was good time to spend with a friend on a Summer evening. With beautiful shots, fun action and themes of facing your fears, letting go of hurts and choosing sacrifice, this was a good movie to see.
Thanks Mr. Shyamalan. Hope it’s not your last.