The Last Airbender

Making a film adaptation of a book, graphic novel, musical or television show is a daunting task. So when I first heard there would be an Avatar film, I was skeptical, but ecstatic about the possibilities. Needless to say I was disappointed when viewing a trailer about a paraplegic fighting in a blue alien’s body for the sake of a foreign planet. Later, I found the trailer I had been looking for, The Last Airbender. Little did I know that the initial disappointment would pale in comparison to the catastrophe created by M. Night Shyamalan.


The story is complex so I will give you the general idea. What it boils down to is the fate of the world is put on the shoulders of a young boy, Aang who has to travel the world learning how to become the Avatar – basically the universal peacekeeper.

There is so much more to the story, but you will have to watch the show – Avatar: The Last Airbender – because the movie does not do it justice. This is definitely a film that would make no sense if you have no background in the story. To be fair, the first season of the show has an immense amount of information that would be incredibly difficult to cram into two hours of film. Now to be honest, Shyamalan fails on almost every level to portray the important aspects of the first season.

We’ll start with what prevented this film from receiving a RESOUNDING F. The special effects are well done. They accurately show the special powers the cartoon contained. We are given ample opportunity to see each of the elements – earth, water, fire and air – being controlled and it is quite a sight, especially air because how would you make bending air visible? The only other accurate and solid part of the film is the costume design. The different tribes were given the same outfits as the cartoon, which gave the film a little more legitimacy.

For everything else, brace yourselves. There is no continuity between names and places and actors. In the show, each tribe somewhat symbolizes an actual nation – fire being China for example. In the film, there are white and Indian actors with clearly Chinese or Japanese names. I know there are plenty of Chinese or Japanese or even Korean actors and actresses that could have fit in perfectly in these roles, but Shyamalan ignores that and goes with cultural diversity that doesn’t make sense. At one point, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) looks at a picture of his “family” and the picture contains a Chinese family… seriously.

The writing – another Shyamalan creation – is just painful. Every character could be given the moniker of “Captain Obvious”. The dialog is absolutely simplistic and at times childish. Shyamalan also called for a change in pronunciation of names and titles. Aang went from “ay-ng” to “ah-ng” and Sokka went from “sah-ka” to “so-ka”, to name a few. These may be the more accurate pronunciations, but if they weren’t that way in the show, then why change them? Also, Sokka is taken from comedic relief and almost main character status to side character tagging along. The kids, at little fault of their own, clearly had no idea how to act around CG effects. When dealing with mythical creatures and the elements, they look awkward and uncomfortable. Lastly – for this review, the faults of the movie are practically endless – instead of small scenes or subtle dialog depicting important plot points, a lame narration is attempted that doesn’t even come close to achieving its goal.

Hate is a strong word. Therefore it is applicable to what writer/producer/director Shyamalan did to such an amazing story. It saddens me that Avatar: The Last Airbender will forever be tarnished by the first attempt at a live-action version. I strongly urge you to watch the show and avoid the film at all costs.

    • frank
    • March 19th, 2012

    The show, by far, is one of the best animated series I’ve ever seen and I work in children’s media.

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