I've finally joined the rest of the world and watched AIRBENDER. I've seen one or two episodes, TOPS, so I'm coming to this as an outsider. I reserve the right to judge this as a movie, and NOT as an anime to movie adaptation. Be warned.
My initial reaction? Meh. It's strange; there are so many beautifully executed things in this movie, but it felt like the director tried to force puzzle pieces together that just didn't fit right.
I know. That's quite an ambiguous comment, isn't it? But don't worry. I've got a few pages worth to work out exactly what I meant when I said "meh." Here we go:
Where to start?
The special effects were wonderful, and from what my AIRBENDER fan friends have told me, the bending is quite true to the cartoon. I didn't get a chance to see it in 3D, which is probably a shame, considering how mind-blowing the effects already were on the terrible small town Texas screen (sorry Stephenville, but it had to be said). On the other hand, I think movies are already taking a turn for the mediocre. Too much dependence on 3D can lead to poor plot and character development, but that's another rant for another post...
My absolute favorite thing about Avatar? That adorable flying furry creature. ADORABLE. I want it. It shall be mine and I shall call it fluffy. No. In all seriousness, it won me over. IF they do the rest of these movies (and that seems to be a BIG if), I insist there be more fluffy creature screen time.
Best character in the movie: It's a three way tie, in my opinion. The princess, the water bending teacher, and Aang's air bending teacher. I cared most about them, which is strange considering how little screen time they had compared to, I dunno, the MAIN characters.
Although thinking about it, the prince and his uncle were pretty damn cool too. They weren't perfect, but they wouldn't qualify as "villains" in my mind either. Their characters were very fleshed out.
Stunts were awesome. As someone who took Tai Chi (for a VERY short period of time), it was cool to see a lot of familiar moves. It looked like dancing. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Badass.
Then there was the less beautiful, more kick ass martial arts that took up quite a lot of screen time. I loved it just as much as the slow graceful stuff, but it seems like the director waited till the last ten minutes of the film to really let Aang bust out and do his thang (haha, get it? Aang... Thang?? No??). I understand the value of not going too fast too soon, of unloading your arsenal before the battle begins, but the hour plus build up to get to what the trailers advertised most was a bit frustrating.
It seemed that the quiet bits had the most power in the movie. Aang and the prince had many flashbacks, and they were really intense compared to the present story. I loved them.
As for the climax of the movie? Without ruining it (I might have done that with the rest of this post... sorry), I thought it was brilliant. Brilliant. I teared up a little. Maybe it's a problem that I only started to care about the story and the main characters (ok, so I liked Aang a little bit before hand) at that point? Still not sure about that. But yes. This part was well done.
The cliffhanger: Yes, there is one. No, I'm not telling you what it is. If you've seen the movie, I think you'll know what I mean when I say that it gave me chills. I really, really hope they make another one (and make Shyamalan go away... I blame the mediocrity on him).
Alright, writers, get with me on this: Do not (and I repeat, DO NOT) treat your audience like a bunch of idiots. One thing that irked me more than ever was when Zhao mentioned the Ancient Scrolls from the Library he Raided. The first time he told us in depth how he got said scrolls I was totally ok with it. Then he took every chance to say (in his booming Daily Show voice) "I have THE SCROLLS I STOLE from the GREAT LIBRARY."
Repeat this four times. Really? Really? I heard you the first time, and so did the rest of the world. Shut up about it already and move along with the plot! I think I laughed the third or fourth time he said it, just because it started to get ridiculous. I can't blame him though. I blame the screen writer. And the director.
Narration: Remember STARDUST (the movie, not the book)? Gandalf (I'm aware he has a real name, I'm just not inspired to look it up right now) narrated it, third person, and it worked. I bought into it, completely. Airbender? Katara (main girl character... probably Avatar's love interest later in series) narrated a lot of the time, much to my dismay. Her acting was only so-so, and without facial expressions? Fuggetaboutit. I wish they could have slipped all of her lines into REAL DIALOGUE so I didn't have to hear her ramble with awkward inflections of slightly important information.
Which leads me to my next point: Acting. Three main actors were ok, but they could have been better. They didn't breathe enough life into the characters, which really do make or break a movie. It's getting terrible reviews, and I'm pretty sure this is why. Shyamalan created a beautiful world with great effects, but setting is nothing without characters.
I KNOW this has been mentioned EVERYWHERE, but I have to say it here. Racebending. It's wrong, it's awkward, and downright stupid. Really, they kept the story. They kept the culture. They kept the language. They kept the martial arts. They kept everything, in fact, except for the race.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those anal retentive people who NEEDS everyone to be Their Proper Race in a film (although I may have reacted negatively to Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Othello. You know, the MOOR?), but of the three (brother, sister, Avatar) main characters, there wasn't ONE that was Asian. Not. One. They were all white. Lame.
Sigh. I think the casting peeps will regret that particular move. I hope they feel ashamed.
Um, let me just say that I was WAY distracted when I saw Jasper Hale in the first scene. Then I thought no, it couldn't possibly be. My Twilight obsession must be making me insane. Then I googled it. Totally him. I was making Twilight jokes in my head the whole. damn. film. I know, Kira Fails. Miserably so. But it kept me entertained when the movie didn't.
Also? My favorite Daily Show correspondent, Aasif Mandvi, tried to break out into the film industry through the role as Commander Zhao (yes, I totally had to look up his name). Poor choice, Mr. Mandvi. I kept waiting for him to break out of character, turn to the camera and say, "Well Jon, I think we both agree that I'm not serious enough to play the main villain in this or any other movie. I'll see YOU in New York after I'm done wallowing in my failure of a move towards a better career. Back to you, Jon."
Overall, after writing about this? I have to borrow from my English TA's comments on my final paper: This felt like the first try of what could be an amazing piece of work. Lots of great insights, but it went in too many different directions.
I haven't gotten over the grade she gave me, but I thank her now for the proper words to describe AIRBENDER. I hope they try again with the sequel. As the actors grow (just like Radcliff and Watson from Harry Potter), they're sure to portray their characters more faithfully. The effects and the world are already up to par. All the sequel needs is a new director.
Sorry, Shyamalan. Maybe you could go back to THE SIXTH SENSE and do a sequel. But stay away from AIRBENDER if you value your career.