The Last Airbender

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In a world divided into four kingdoms named for the element which some gifted citizens can “bend” to their will, the Avatar, a spiritual figure and the only person who can harness all four elements, keeps the peace between nations and balance with the spirit world. When the young untrained Avatar Aang goes missing, The Fire Nation uses its bending skills as a weapon to enslave and suppress the lands of Air, Earth, and Water. One hundred years pass when Katara and her older brother Sokka discover Aang frozen in the ice of the Southern Water Tribe. When Aang realizes the world he was destined to protect has fallen to pieces in his absence, he teams up with the siblings to fully embrace his role as the Avatar and end the tyranny of the Fire Nation.

I sat in my cushy seat anticipating the splendor I witnessed in the trailers with tapping toes and an open mind. I’ve waited for years to see writer-director M. Knight Shyamalan succeed as creatively as he did with the Sixth Sense with much faith in his talent. And seeing that this time I was dealing with an adaptation rather than an original Shyamalan story, I trusted it would keep his typical “bait and switch methods” at bay.

It is not an easy feat for anyone to reduce 24 thirty-minute episodes into a 100-minute screenplay–especially one of the most popular anime series’ to hit American television. Anime is generally more eccentric, colorful and fantastic than the classic cartoons we grew up on in the US. Its use of exaggerated character expressions, costumes and settings is considered to be simply impossible to translate into a live-action film. (Especially after the supreme failure of the Dragon Ball adaptation). However, this is where The Last Airbender succeeds. The sets are brilliant, the costumes splendid, the CG quite mesmerizing. Some of the most breathtaking shots were directly storyboarded based on the original animation.

Where Mr. Shyamalan fails is capturing the heart of the story and it’s characters. In essence, we receive a Cliff’s Notes version of the plot, skimming the origins of the principle characters and skipping the rich history of the lands and cultures they are from. This is a fatal mistake considering he is launching a potential franchise.

The vast visual smorgasbord makes up for the lack of character development. However die-hard fans of the anime will be disappointed to find a watered down version that cuts plenty of beloved characters and has almost none of the humorous charm of the original.

Directed by M. Knight Shyamalan

tags: M. Knight Shyamalan, the last airbender

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