Sunday, July 11, 2010

Movie review: The Last Airbender

First a confession:  my daughter started watching Avatar: The Last Airbender on Nickelodeon a few years back, and quickly became a huge fan. My husband and I also became fans of this children's anime-style series.

We were so gung-ho about this show that in the summer of 2008 -- well before the show was well known -- my darling daughter decided that we needed have a family Halloween costume as the characters in Avatar.

So, in October 2008, momma designed and made 4 original Avatar costumes. 

Daddy as Sokka, Darling Daughter as Katara, my son as Aang, and I was Toph.

To say that my family are fans of the series would be a major understatement.  To say that my Darling Daughter was mildly excited that there was a live action movie coming out is like saying my husband has a few Star Wars figures.  (That's another story...)

As the build-up to the movie began, our only real fear was the lack of a rating on the movie. 

What's going on M. Night? Can't get those rating guys to give your kids movie a PG rating?  Too violent or something?

A mere 2 weeks before the release, the movie finally had a PG rating.  The only warning is "fantasy violence." Whew.  I was concerned that we would have no choice but to take our 6-year-old to a PG-13 movie (there was no stopping this girl!  Do you see that picture above???). 

The reviews come in. 

My husband and I start reading the scathing reviews of The Last Airbender the day it comes out.

Nobody likes this film.

Poor M. Night Shyamalan has a scarlet letter on him as "that director who could only make 1 1/2 good films" (hey -- Unbreakable was 1/2 good).   Rather than reviewing the film on its own merits, the movie was graded as "how bad did M. Night screw up this awesome kids TV series?" 

Despite the reviews, daddy still took Darling Daughter to the movie. 

And guess what?  She loved it. 

And guess what?  It's a KIDS movie.  The kids' opinions really count.  They will watch it over and over again -- cheering on the good guys and booing the bad guys.  They do not care if the director made a bad film 5 years ago, or if the CGI is perfect. 

Daddy also liked it;  so this week, we went and saw it for our date night (after all, we are all fans of this kids TV series -- I was nearly as excited as my daughter about this film).  I also liked the film.  Of course, there's things I'd do differently -- after all -- I'm a huge fan of the show.  But, overall -- I was entertained, and the movie stayed true to the TV show.

Here's a run-down on the major issues brought up by the critics and my thoughts.
  • The 3D was bad.  Actually, the 3D was non-existent.  It was tacked on afterward -- probably forced by the production company because every other film this summer has it too.  In my opinion, the film should not even be reviewed on the 3D quality because it was not filmed in 3D.
  • The story was hard to follow.  I'm going to have to assume this came from critics who never saw the cartoon series. The story followed Book One: Water (the first season) very closely, though most, if not all, of the minor plot points were dropped. I'm also going to assume that most people paying to see this movie have seen the TV series. I can't critique how hard the movie would have been to follow if I had not already known the TV series, but it did follow a pretty straight forward plot. 
  • The element bending didn't look real.  Ummmm.... it's fantasy.  It was based on a cartoon.  There are kids whipping up wind storms, soldiers throwing fire, and prisoners creating earth walls.  I'm not sure that's supposed to look "realistic." Plus, as a kid's film, the movie needed to put kids at ease that this is not real -- that this is fantasy.  If the violent scenes looked too real, I doubt M. Night could have kept that PG rating.  My 6-year-old thanks you for that.
  • Bad acting.   The acting was, in fact, spotty.  Noah Ringer was decent for a young lead;  his martial arts looked great, he was convincing as a distraught Aang, but I would have liked more of the light-hearted Aang, too.  Dev Patel was excellent as a conflicted villain. Jackson Rathbone was ... well... handsome as Sokka;  I was hoping for a bit more comic relief, but apparently there was no time for that.  Shaun Toub was outstanding as Uncle Iroh -- I think we all want an Uncle Iroh now.  Aasif Mandvi was just not evil or cunning enough as Commander Zhao.  The weakest performance was Nicola Peltz as Katara;  she was just not intense enough, and a little annoying.
  • Wooden dialogue.  Some dialogue was clearly added solely to move the plot along, and it was a bit tedious. Overall, the dialogue seemed fine to me, but I'm no expert in this area.  But there was one problem with the dialogue -- they change the pronunciation of several key names.  For fans of the TV series, this was just annoying.  Why do this?  This is the one thing I just did not understand.  It seemed so unnecessary and contradictory for a movie for fans. Specifically, the pronunciations of Aang, Avatar, Uncle Iroh and Sokka were changed.  Just annoying. 
  • Races of the main characters are wrong.  This has been a major issue in the news and with the critics.  Why did M. Night make the main characters white when the characters in the TV series are clearly Asian?  I can't answer that question, but I will answer something that some critics may have missed:  M. Night is consistent within the film world he created.  There are 4 nations, and in M. Night's version, the Fire Nation are Indian, the Earth Nation are Chinese/South east Asian, the Southern Water Tribe are Inuit, and the Northern Water Tribe are Nordic.  The Air Nomads are of mixed races.  But wait... Sokka and Katara are from the Southern Water Tribe and they are white!  Actually -- dear avid fans of the TV series -- Gran Gran (their grandmother) is from the Northern Water Tribe, making them mixed Nordic/Inuit.  Now, if I was casting the movie -- everyone would have been Asian, but I don't think this is a reason to say the movie is "bad." It's not the first time the movie version took some liberties.
So, that's the run-down on the critics' issues with the movie.  In the end -- this is a fantasy movie for kids. They will decide if this movie is a keeper. My daughter liked it, and she has a pretty discerning eye for a kid.  I have a feeling we'll be buying it on DVD.

Movie Monday @ Messy Mommy


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