Shyamalan Week: Redux Review – The Last Airbender
When this review was first posted on The Site That Shall Not Be Named, I spent far too many words on reacting to the reviews of others. Of all the reviews I’ve written it’s one of two I lamented most. The other does not bear rewriting here because the less thought spared to that film the better. However, with this film seeing as how I was trying to write a minority, albeit not staunch defense of it; I failed that aim by trying to counter arguments. Unless, entirely relevant I dislike comparative analysis of films as a shortcut to writing a review. If that’s the aim it should be a separate piece. Argumentative points or analysis of mass reaction are made for op-ed pieces not an appraisal of the film itself. Therefore, I present to you now an edited version of that review which internalizes, and distills it all to what I thought of the film and nothing else.
The Last Airbender (2010)
This isn’t a complicated movie and moves briskly. A film can have a slow pace if that is the appropriate pace for the narrative being told, this film works with the pace it has and does not seem to be extraordinarily quick-moving and there are peaks and valleys in the emotional ebb.
I never saw the TV show. I don’t care if I do but I liked this. One can have a preference for one or another but ultimately a film is its own work. How much it used or discarded of the original is ultimately a debate that’s academic, and ought not affect one’s interpretation of what is presented. On that note there was a flashback I was begging Shayamalan for early on the film and it was delivered at the climax and it was better and more well-placed where he put it and quite emotional. So sometimes he does know best.
One of the more enjoyable elements of the film was that it was a essentially a simple through-line which was not burdened by unnecessary complications just necessary information.
As for the dialogue, it does slip into the unforgivable zone on the rare occasion. It serves a function and moves the story along. This is no worse than Mr. Lucas, who himself has referred to his dialogue as “wooden,” and I always referred to as “functional” as it did what it needed to
The effect of the performances on the film overall, as is the case with most motion pictures, is nominal. It’s true Jackson Rathbone is better in Twilight than here but there are some cornerstones here like Dev Patel and Shaun Toub. Meanwhile, the protagonist, Noah Ringer, isn’t asked to carry too much of the load. Most of the time he is “bending” (performing martial arts) as opposed to speaking. Should the series continue he will be able to develop his acting skills not unlike the Harry Potter cast who were very raw and unpolished when they started.
As for the 3-D, it wasn’t shot in 3-D, so don’t watch it in 3-D. I saw it in 2-D and it looked fantastic. All you really need is good cinematography, which this has and the production design is absolutely out of this world in its splendor and brilliance. Philip Messina deserves special recognition for his work here (Note: in December I will likely cover some BAM Awards oddities through the years. This was one of my more lamentable snubs). The same goes for Judianna Makovsky’s costumes. The score, as is typical for James Newton Howard, is wonderful.
What I liked here is that you saw M. Night Shyamalan go to a different place. I first became an admirer of his after seeing the vastly underrated Wide Awake, which was actually his second feature. After he did the The Sixth Sense and it was one of the biggest sleeper hits of all-time the burden of expectation fell on him. While he enjoyed(s) making “feature-length Twilight Zone episodes” it became kind of a game. “What’s the twist?” or “What did you think of the twist?” as opposed to “What did you think of the movie?” About the only thing I did appreciate about The Happening was the fact that he tried to monkeywrench his own formula and deliver a tale with no easy answer. As is the case with many works of fiction like that it’s hit-or-miss. Here he finally bit the bullet and went on a full on departure and for the most part lost himself in the story and didn’t make it your standard Shyamalan aside from the expected cameo, which is a lot less subtle and welcome than the “Find Hitch” appearances he is referencing.
Overall, though flawed, I thought it was a successful step in a different direction for the director (Note: mind you this was his first feature after The Happening.