Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Movie Review: The Last Airbender

Back in 2005 I was still in high school and was watching way more anime than I do today. Nickelodean released a show that year called Avatar: The Last Air Bender. It was an American made show that had taken heavy influences from Asian cultures.

The show took place in a made up world where people had the ability to bend Air, Water, Fire and Earth. Each style of bending was based on a real life style of fighting. Water bending is almost complete comprised of Tai Chi. About a hundred years ago in this world the fire nation decided to conquer the other nations. At about this time the Avatar, a mystical person who is a reincarnation that can bend all four powers, disappeared. The show opens with two teens in the Southern Water Kingdom finding the Avatar who has been in suspended animation for a hundred years in a block of ice.

The show on its surface was for kids, but had themes and issues for teens. The prince of the fire nation, Zuko,  was an extremely complex character who was kicked out of his kingdom for showing compassion and struggles with his need for acceptance and doing the right thing. Aang, the Avatar was forced to confront the fact that an accident meant his entire people were wiped out and that the entire world was counting on him to kill a man he had never meet. Katara struggled to be a water bender and a woman in a society that thought she should be relegated to a healer position. Sokka, Katara's brother, dealt with the fact that his entire tribe basically left him in charge and his lack of bending making him a less useful member of the group.

The show was fantastic and funny. I thought they could have switched a romance or two to make the story have a greater depth but that was me nitpicking. The show was fantastic and I re-watched it on several occasions. I watched the first season with my boyfriend and he then on his own watched the rest of the show.

The movie on the other hand was perhaps on of the greatest failures in cinema for this generation and perhaps the next three. The opening voice over was carried on into the entire movie. The characters had the acting depth of an elementary school play. The movie attempted to cram in the side story locations when it should have simply focused on the over arching story. Details of the show were thrown in at random. Most of the first season was an extended road trip as the three main characters traveled from the south pole to the north pole. Most episodes existed to show the depth of the world. Including parts of these episodes in the movie was completely idiotic.

The biggest offense was simple change of lines and actions. In the show Aang ran away from him home because the elders wanted to take him away from his adoptive father. He knew he was the
Avatar but it wasn't that big of a deal, the issue was his adoptive father was still protecting him from a more grueling training. He ran away in a fit of anger and got trapped. In the movie he ran away when he found out he was the Avatar, because he knew that the Avatar wasn't allowed to have a family. I about shot Shamalamdingdong for that. In the movie version is is completely is fault that all the Air Benders were slaughtered, in the show he had no idea. In the movie they tell him they need his help to stop this threat. So Aang from the movie sucks ass.

Another massive offense was the casting. The fire nation was Japan. Lets be honest. It looked like Japan, the people dressed in traditional Japanese clothes and eat sushi. The earth nation was a combination of China, Korea, and Thailand. The water nation was supposed to be eskimos. In fact every actor for the water nation except for the main characters did have that native American look. So what gives with casting two Russian looking kids for the leads? Then Shamalamdingdong had to go and make the fire nation Indian. Because god forbid he doesn't get to put himself in the movie some place.

The changes to the story and actors were surface level. The writing suffered greatly. The show had been well written, the movie was something that I think was written by a pre-schooler attempting to recreated the show. I hate voice overs on principle and this movie proves that using them is never really a good idea.

I can't even being to point out all the things that were wrong with this movie without re-watching, because I tried to scrub it from my memory, but I will never watch it again. The point that made me laugh is that when the creators of the original show were asked about the movie they made it a point to say that they were not involved in the project at all. They said they were not consulted at all and then politely tried not to say they thought the movie was an abomination.

The one saving grace was that my favorite character Toph, a blind girl with the strongest ability to earth bend in this generation, was spared and not in the movie. She doesn't show up until the second season so she is save where she belongs, throwing insults and kicking rocks. Hell she was the first person to bend metal, something that was thought impossible.

For those interested the creators of the original show have announced a sequel of sorts. This will follow the life of the next Avatar, who will be a girl from the water tribe. The story is going to focus on the fact that science in the world is quickly pushing benders out of the picture. They promise there will be steampunk and rebellions. The show is entitled Avatar: The Legend of Korra.

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