Avatar: The Last Airbender

Erin, Matt, Kurt, and I went to go see M. Night Shyamalan’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” last night, and I can say that I feel like I’ve been ripped off. I want my money and my evening back.

The Good:

  1. General Iroh was cool.
  2. Momo and Appa’s CGI were very pretty and lifelike.
  3. The CGI and martial arts associated with bending were, on the whole, pretty cool looking.

The Terrible:

  1. The writing was on par with some of the papers Christa reviewed during her Science Fiction Writing Workshop class. Shyamalan was apparently the main screenwriter, and he repeatedly violates the “Show, Don’t Tell” policy. Most of the characters’ lines are monologues explaining what they are doing, rather than letting the characters’ dialogue and actions explain what they’re doing. Thus, the characters end up feeling wooden and distant to the film because really, the actors are just reading text off a script with a little bit of inflection.
  2. Did I mention the writing was terrible? The dialogue that does exist is depressing and focused on defeating the evil Fire Nation. Where’s the childish delight in life? The penguin sledding? The joy of these 12-year-olds that comes from feeding Appa berries that make his tongue blue? They might as well be on the final stretch of a triathlon through Mordor.
  3. The screenplay had very poor pacing. Characters zip in and out of the plot like it’s a roller derby. Take the Princess Yue/Sokka story, for example. My interpretation of Shyamalan’s script (which allocated 5 minutes for this story) goes like this:
  4. Yue: “Hi, my name is Princess Yue, Sokka is hawt, oh I have to go die for the moon spirit now.”

    Sokka:  “<Vader> I LOVE YOU! Noooooooooooooooooo! </Vader>”

  5. At numerous points throughout the plot, the characters are introduced to a new feature of the Avatar universe. Except they already know about these things because some person (probably their mother or their father) has already told them. You’re from the south pole – you shouldn’t know about jungle things! Grrr, lazy writers. Have I mentioned that I hate the script yet?
  6. The actors can’t pronounce Aang or Sokka “correctly”. They say “Ah-ngn” and “So-kuh” instead of “Ang” and “Saw-kuh”. I’m willing to ignore this, but it bothered Erin and quite a few of the people in the row behind us.
  7. The 3D isn’t worth it. It barely adds anything to the movie, other than being annoyed when you remove the glasses and the screen is blurry.

Recommendation:

  • Go watch the Animated Series again. You’ll thank yourself and save money.

TL;DR:

  • I was disappointed because I felt M. Night Shyamalan took brilliant source material and squandered its power by reducing character dialog to little more than narrative sidebars, reducing character actions to little more than “wraagh I have bending powers”, and not capturing the joy of friendship between Aang, Sokka, and Kitara.
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  1. #1 by Chadwick on July 2, 2010 - 12:48 PM

    Wait a minute…I thought you wouldn’t watch Avatar ’cause Aang was like 10.

    But yeah, this is basically what I’ve been hearing. Like, I was prepared for this to not be very good, but I wasn’t really prepared for what I’m hearing was possibly the worst movie of the summer. Or, as the AV Club put it: “If any movie ever warranted a class-action lawsuit against the filmmakers, it’s The Last Airbender.”

    Also, this explains why when I saw the Rotten Tomatoes review of this earlier, they kept calling Aang “Ong.”

    • #2 by Joshua on July 2, 2010 - 1:32 PM

      Okay, what does TL;DR: mean? Also, wasn’t Aang Asian in the cartoon? Why was there not a single Asian person in the film?

      • #3 by Chadwick on July 2, 2010 - 1:49 PM

        Too Long; Didn’t Read. In this case, as in “In case you were too lazy to read the rest of this, here’s a summary.”

        Honestly, Aang never struck me as Asian. Though the Fire and Earth kingdoms definitely did. And the Water tribes were more like the Inuit than anything. As far as I can tell, the Fire Kingdom was represented by Indians.

        • #4 by Joshua on July 2, 2010 - 1:50 PM

          Huh. Okay. Maybe it was the bald head that had me thinking Shaolin monk then. Then again, there’s a Shaolin Master who’s Hungarian.

    • #5 by Andrew D. on July 2, 2010 - 2:12 PM

      No; that was a rule I placed on myself from 2007-2009. It’s 2010 now, and I’ve lifted “No Anime With Protagonists Under 18” rule, on the beggings and pleadings of my girlfriend. And, TBH, the Animated Series was pretty awesome.

  2. #7 by Erin on July 2, 2010 - 3:43 PM

    I personally thought Aang was Chinese. I was under the impression that there were really no white people in the cartoon.

    All the good guys are white and the bad guys are non-white. Wow.
    I think it is silly to pronounce a name wrong. I know a movie can be a kind of interpretation of what it’s based on but, really?
    Calling Aang “Ong” is like calling Chewbacca “Chowbacca”.
    Oh, and Momo is found at an Air Temple, which is cool. But he is not given a name. You don’t find out Momo’s name until an hour after his introduction.
    Good job in the editing room guys. Good job.

    • #8 by Chadwick on July 2, 2010 - 5:41 PM

      Lol. Hey, it’s an Erin! But yeah. Aang might’ve been Chinese. I don’t know. But he was the least ethnic person on the show that I recall.

    • #9 by Joshua on July 2, 2010 - 5:44 PM

      Yayy!!! Happy Erin! We missed you at Teh Gathering. I hope your sister and her husband are doing well in their new duty assignments.

      BTW, how’d you like the Chocolate Stouts?

      • #10 by Erin on July 4, 2010 - 1:24 PM

        The light one was pretty good. I didn’t much like the dark chocolate one. My brain was confused at what I was drinking. Lately, I’ve tried Berry Weiss, which was excellent, and the Wheat Monkey at Summerfest. I thought it was weird when they put an orange in it but that beer was tasty!
        Sorry I missed teh Gathering!
        Jen and Dave are busy packing right now and they ship out on the 19.

  3. #11 by London on July 2, 2010 - 9:04 PM

    According to TvTropes (See Fantasy Counterpart Culture) the countries were ‘inspired’ accordingly Air nomads-Tibet, Water tribes-Inuit, Earth Kingdom-China, Fire Nation-Japan.

    I was getting ‘tibet’ from Aang the whole time but that was because the only other kind of ‘monk’ are the catholic ones who make wine. It becomes more pronounced after his costume change in season 3.

    I was going to actually go see this out of respect for the show (which was awesome) but by the sound of it I’m better off with my pirate flag.

    • #12 by Chadwick on July 2, 2010 - 9:08 PM

      Yeah, Tibet was what I always got from the rest of the Air nomads. Just not Aang for whatever reason. Too pale and wide-eyed, I guess.

      Oh, if you’re going to see this, everything I’ve read says to make sure you see the 2D version to spare yourself an additional layer of suffering.

  4. #13 by Matt on July 3, 2010 - 9:59 AM

    /agree

    BTW, I wish we would have treated the movie like GI Joe, where we all showed up intoxicated and insulted the movie.

    …Thinking back, GI Joe was put together better.

  5. #14 by sheep, andrewd18's coworker on July 16, 2010 - 12:34 PM

    I agree as well. I was rather disappointed with the film. And I like M. Night Shamalyan.

    I think its biggest deficiency for me was the writing. The cartoon, despite its original audience target of preteen, attracted an audience far wider than that (20-somethings, parents with preteen kids) due to the fact that the show was written with material present that they found entertaining. The film was written *only* for preteens. As such, they failed to meet the actual audience expectations in the writing department.

    Everything else Andrew mentioned is true as well, but I think the target audience expectation on the part of Blinding Edge Pictures was poorly thought through.

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