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even my henchmen think I’m crazy | by maryann johanson

The Last Airbender (review)

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Somewhere, Ed Wood Is Smiling

We surely must respect an artist of the caliber of M. Night Shyamalan. He’s always been a filmmaker who clearly wants to stand out from the crowd, give us movies that may look, on the surface, like the same old, same old, but once you get into them, evince a true break from the current paradigm. And he’s done it again with The Last Airbender. It may appear — from the posters and trailers and ads and such — that this is yet another tedious $200 million action fantasy cashing in on the popularity of a franchise from another medium. It may look like — as I deemed the recent Clash of the Titans remake — another example of “empty, cheap, cold, soulless corporate filmmaking, and that that’s its good side.” But it’s so much more than that.
It is not for the likes of Shyamalan (The Happening, Lady in the Water) to leave the audience with the impression that, well, his movie may have failed, may be dull and perfunctory, may make you wish you’d stayed home, but it’s not like anyone involved wasn’t trying: they did their best but the gods of cinema simply did not bless them; the lightning did not strike, the souffle did not rise, the Jell-O did not gel, and that happens sometimes. No: Shyamalan wanted to ensure that his film, his Last Airbender would not be lost in the Hollywood dross: he wanted to assure this he was presenting the audience with awfulness on a scale that would boggle the mind. He wanted to leave us shaking our heads and marveling at a terribleness that was not merely terrible, but a terribleness that leaves you astonished at just how very, very terrible it is.

“Astonishing!” –MaryAnn Johanson, FlickFilosopher.com

Because, honestly, from the bottom of my geeky movie-loving heart, I cannot explain the jaw-dropping awfulness of The Last Airbender in any other way. It looks, by all that Ed Wood considered holy, that Shyamalan simply stood his inexperienced and incapable young cast in front of a bluescreen (flat, lifeless CGI settings would be added later) and shot the first read-through of the first draft of the script. Which was written by an eight-year-old who really, really loves Avatar: The Last Airbender, the pseudo-anime American cartoon series this is based upon [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]. Because it’s full of people saying to one another “As you know…” and then explaining stuff that, indeed, the other character does already know. And exchanges like this:

“Do you have a spiritual place I can meditate?”

“Yes, we have a very spiritual place.”

“Stilted” and “hamfisted” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s all about, apparently, a little boy, Aang (Noah Ringer), who was frozen in ice for a century, but now he gets defrosted and he’s just fine and he’s gonna be the savior of this alternate world, where some people can magically control the elements — earth, water, fire, and air — and the Fire Nation are all evil and bent on world domination. You can tell the Fire Nation people are evil, because they’re brown (played by actors that make me weep with pity for them, like Dev Patel [Slumdog Millionaire, Skins] and Cliff Curtis [Push, 10,000 B.C.], and also by The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi, whom I kept expecting to be identified as “Senior Fire Nation Correspondent” and whom I kept expecting to end his every line of dialogue with “Jon…”) The good people, like Aang and the deeply annoying and pointless Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), who are helping Aang save the world or something, are white. Later, Sokka will spend about two minutes with Princess Yue (Seychelle Gabriel: The Spirit), who is also white, and then be in love with her, and we’re supposed to care about that, I think. Oh, and Aang can control all of the elements, which makes him the Avatar and hence a kind of demigod, except he can’t control all the elements yet, just air and water (and the latter only a little bit). It’s basically how like the Force is with Luke in Star Wars but he still gets zapped in the butt by the training droid and totally needs to go visit Yoda and get himself tutored.

Except not. Because Shyamalan — I can’t believe he’s not embarrassed to reveal that he wrote this script as well as directed — has no idea how to immerse us into the multiple alien cultures and religions he is allegedly introducing us to here. At least with Clash of the Titans, to return to that previous low-water mark for the year, we understand the world we’re visiting and what’s at stake — we just don’t care about any of it. Here, it’s just people in vaguely exotic costumes telling one another about “the spirits” in the same way that we don’t ever walk up to random strangers and say, “As you know, Bob, Jesus died on the cross for our sins and for our free-market capitalism, and the nation of Whateveristan brings war upon us because of that.” These characters don’t live in their world — perhaps because their world isn’t in the least bit real.

The nauseating fake 3D is the least of it, as moments that are meant to be solemn do nothing but induce laughter pile up and blank-slate characters become increasingly unlikeable. The stench of a major stinker starts wafting from the screen pretty early on, and it just keeps getting worse… or better, if you’re looking for an opportunity to lob snarky remarks at the screen. Those opportunities are many. In fact, be sure to bring a Riff Bender of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Nation with you for maximum enjoyment. For the only enjoyment to be had from this shockingly amateurish movie.

MPAA: rated PG for fantasy action violence

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • JoshDM

    From the reviews I have read, this film is apparently as terrible as the source material it is based on is amazing.

    Much like the much maligned LXG made people repelled to the idea of reading the comic book it is based on BY NAME ALONE, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the reviews pouring in indicate film will keep anyone who hasn’t yet seen it from watching the original cartoon series.

    The cartoon, The Last Airbender, is the animated equivalent to watching Firefly, and if you have never watched this cartoon, you are missing out in the exact same vein as if you never saw Mal and Jayne do their respective things.

  • Magess

    Have you seen M. Night’s response to his lambasting?

    http://www.sliceofscifi.com/2010/07/01/shyamalan-welcomes-airbender-criticism/

  • JoshDM

    Have you seen the reactions of the fans who saw the movie?

    http://thedailywh.at/post/758724921/no-duh-of-the-day-i-am-mostly-posting-this-video

  • misterb

    MAJ,
    With the sad state of moviedom these days , your tripartite icon set seems obsolete. Below “Skip it”,
    you need “Go with Robot” or “Attend with Flamethrower”.
    For some of these awful movies, skipping them just seems too passive.

  • allochthon

    Best quotes!

    “Senior Fire Nation Correspondent”

    Riff Bender of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Nation…

    I was feeling vaguely guilty about this movie, because despite the whitewashing bruhaha, I still wanted to see it. But then I read Ebert’s review. Then I read Charlie Jane’s on Io9 (which may be the BEST review of a movie I’ve EVER seen, no offense, MaryAnn) and then this makes the trifecta! Thank you so much!

    Also, an interesting theory from the blogosphere:

    “It made me start wondering if someone had sabotaged the thing. And I was thinking, maybe the editor. …
    This guy knows how to edit and knows how to work with special effect heavy stuff. So yeah. This is my theory. The Last Airbender was deliberately sabotaged by its editor, Conrad Buff. Possibly by just by letting M. Night Shyamalan have whatever he asked for.
    - jmtorres

  • http://www.radiofreebongwater.com Bongwater

    Can’t wait for Armond White’s glowing rave. ;)

  • Sarah

    I am sad about this. The cartoon was awesomesauce.

  • spaghetteve

    “Astonishing!” –MaryAnn Johanson, FlickFilosopher.com

    Ha!

  • Dymphna

    Too bad that whoever adapted this didn’t pick up on the series’ frequent self-deprecating humor and humility.

  • Chuck

    I promised that I would take my nephews to see this abomination on Sunday. I can only hope that even their over-sugared pre-pubescent minds will give up on this movie somewhere before the half way mark so I can keep some of my sanity. Though, considering that the younger one can watch an episode of Scooby-doo (and I mean just one episode on repeat) for literally hours on end I proactively weep for my neurons that will inevitably be sacrificed to this steaming pile.

  • Newbia

    I second what other people have said — the original series is amazing, and it is just awful that this movie will turn people off of it.

  • Martin Sane

    At least it seems like the movie wasn’t misogynistic…
    Ok, who am I kidding? I’m sure it was, only not to the same degree all other aspects of the movie sucked. Otherwise we would have heard about it in detail…:-p

  • George

    I was really looking forward to seeing this and all of the glory the story contains.

    Now, I have to see it just to see how bad M.Night mucked it up.

    I’m starting to lose my faith in movies.

  • MaryAnn

    Then I read Charlie Jane’s on Io9 (which may be the BEST review of a movie I’ve EVER seen, no offense, MaryAnn)

    It’s a great review. In my defense, I’ve never had an Asiadilla.

  • Ide Cyan

    Aasif Mandvi, whom I kept expecting to be identified as “Senior Fire Nation Correspondent”

    I too love that bit. They should use it on TDS (and credit you for it!).

  • Teeny Gozer

    I’m guessing the white kid who got replaced by Dev Patel is feeling mighty grateful for his luck about now.

    I initially thought it was great that MKS was directing, because he was a director-of-color making the film for his daughters. Imagine my surprise when first he cast white kids as the Inuit/Himalayan/Japanese leads, then he seemed to be leaching the feminism out of it. When the movie’s PR team released the actors’ names with a little bio of each character, Sokka was referred to as a young warrior who will one day valiantly fight the Fire Nation, and Katara is referred to as “Sokka’s sister” and Aang’s love interest — defined entirely by her relationships to male characters. As a fan of the original animated show, I had a serious moment of disconnect there.

    And it only gets worse with every review I read. If I had daughters, this is the last movie I’d want them to see.

  • Catherine Cantieri

    Wow. MaryAnn, you know me and my taste in movies. Will I have to see this one just to marvel at it and giggle uncontrollably?

    … or should I wait until it’s on DVD when I can watch it at home, safely drunk?

  • aquila6

    So: M. Night Shyamalan… or Uwe Boll?

  • MaryAnn

    … or should I wait until it’s on DVD when I can watch it at home, safely drunk?

    Oh, I cannot wait for this to be released on DVD and I can host a BYOB MST3K party for this movie. My brother Ken — who is much of a mind with me — came to the screening with me, and we were riffing through the whole thing. It was painful having to keep our voices down so as not to disturb other people.

    So: M. Night Shyamalan… or Uwe Boll?

    How about “vs.”? As in one of Boll’s boxing matches? That would be awesome.

  • aquila6

    “Vs.” sounds good. (Wish I’d thought of that.)

    The main difference between them is that Boll knows he’s a hack. Shyamalan still thinks he’s Hitchcock reincarnated or something.

  • doa766

    what the hell happenned to this guy?

    he became famous for his stories and twist endings but it’s worth remembering how well directed The Six Sense and, especcially, Unbreakable were

    he shot those movies like a master director with beautiful long shoots, great, menacing atmosphere and he was able to get amazing performaces from his actors (Bruce Willis on both, Sam Jackson on Unbreakeable) and all that just went away

    one thing is that his stories are no longer interesting, that happens to many writters, but what about the other stuff, did he just forget how to direct a scene or to guide his actors?

  • iakobos

    “Astonishing!” –MaryAnn Johanson, FlickFilosopher.com LOL

  • Katie

    Thank goodness.

    I’m glad this film is so awful- it doesn’t deserve to be good, especially how Shyamalan completely whitewashed the cast (except the bad guys, of course) and sucked the soul out of the show.

    The “pseudo-anime” cartoon ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ was pretty darn good, if cheesy at times. Don’t let this movie serve as its ambassador.

  • sarah

    honestly it wasnt a good movie but had its moments. personally i liked the movie becuz it gave out a message in the end nd the visuals were badass.

  • JoshDM

    [blockquote]Oh, I cannot wait for this to be released on DVD and I can host a BYOB MST3K party for this movie. My brother Ken — who is much of a mind with me — came to the screening with me, and we were riffing through the whole thing. It was painful having to keep our voices down so as not to disturb other people.[/blockquote]

    I would love for you and your brother to sit down in front of your Wii, pop your Netflix Streaming disc in and sit through a few episodes of the series. I want your reactions to that.

  • Maxwell Llorente

    In my opinion M. Knight hasn’t seen the original cartoon series, because if he had then he would have left the original story line the way it was. In the cartoon they compact a very well written story in several half hour episodes. Granted there were thirteen episodes to wrap up the first book labeled WATER, but the way that M. Knight cut out major plot points and changed the story line in such a way that the true Last Air Bender fans would be very upset and disapproving is truly unforgivable. I for one will not go and see the second and third books, EARTH and FIRE, unless they keep the story line and true avatar idea. Because if I waste more money on another crappy, badly made off chute of a truly great story idea I will seriously be pissed off. I know that there are more last air bender fans like me that noticed major and damaging changes to the story of the book of WATER that deteriorated the genius and original idea of avatar. I would really like to hear from true fans to see if you share my opinion of this horrible live action movie.

  • John

    First off, the Author of the review is a complete joke and a racist. They lost ALL credibility on any part of the review as soon as the racial issue was approached. Are they professional? Why would they not know that they lose any credibility to non wack jobs who want to believe racial overtures, when they play a race card?

    Come on, this movie wasn’t that horrible. Well wait……yes it was….if you went expecting a possible oscar award winning movie, or a Matrix type martial arts flick.

    If you had seen even one episode of the franchise you would have known exactly what to expect, nothing more and nothing less. It was true to the franchise and that was more than enough for myself and my kids.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d be steaming mad right now if I thought I was going to see a movie that possibly be on the level of the “other” avatar.

  • HipHop Mama

    I am a 33 yr old black woman with 2 kids(10 &11) who fell in love with the entire Nickelodeon cartoon series, so when my kids and I found out that MKS was making it into a movie, I became like one of those geeky trekkie fans. Just excited, more than most of my peers. BUT to my dismay, this movie sucked with a capitol SUCKED! Now going into this I knew that a few unnoticed changes would be made and a number of episodes had to be condensed into movie form, but dude….really?! I’m very disappointed and I want back my $45 I spent for my family to watch it. My 10yr old daughter said, and these are her words, “It was rushed”. It was too serious, Sokka’s corky humor was not there, Momo’s dramatic entrance was watered down and not only were lots of changes made but they were confusing. Am I going to buy the DVD….NO! Am I going to pay money to see Water: Book 2….NO! Again, disappointed and out of $45 bucks(not including concession!).

  • John

    That’s fine, but neither your color, or the color of the actors has anything to do with anything, especially the movie. Nor am I saying that I necessarily disagree with the review. I’m just saying that once the ignorant race card is played, all credibility is gone no matter how right you are with the rest.

    I’ve watched the series more times than I care to count. It has made me believe that DVR’s were a horrible creation.

    That being said, I and my kids got exactly what we expected out of this movie. I felt it was on par with the story line. Furthermore, I don’t really believe that all those “Harry Potter” flicks that make millions (Love those btw) are very much better and at times just as campy. Guess it comes to perception.

    Anyone that expects a TON of action, or much resolution in the first movie of a triology is going to be disappointed, that’s the nature of a trilogy, the story is set up, builds up, and resolved.

  • aquila6

    First off, the Author of the review is a complete joke and a racist.

    This should be good…

  • John

    First off, the Author of the review is a complete joke and a racist.

    I hope not but it is what it is. It absolutely sickens me that this is what it has come to here. Seriously, looking for social commentary in what amounts to a kids movie? Are you kidding me? I feel very bad for the author if this how they perceive the world.

  • MaryAnn

    First off, the Author of the review is a complete joke and a racist.

    The Author of this review has a name. And the Author of this review would appreciate an explanation of how they are racist and a joke.

  • Joe

    &

    It wasn’t that horrible for a kids movie.

  • Nate

    Despicable Me can’t get here fast enough

  • Al
    First off, the Author of the review is a complete joke and a racist.

    The Author of this review has a name. And the Author of this review would appreciate an explanation of how they are racist and a joke.

    Seconded.

  • John

    The Author of this review has a name. how they are racist and a joke.

    Apologies on the name, Mary Ann.

    And the Author of this review would appreciate an explanation of how they are racist and a joke.

    “You can tell the Fire Nation people are evil, because they’re brown”

    “The good people, like Aang and the deeply annoying and pointless Katara ……. who are helping Aang save the world or something, are white.

    The ‘joke’ part was uncalled for and unqualified. I apologize. What bearing does the color of either race have on anything in the movie? None so why bring it up at all? Unless, of course, you believe that this was purposely done. And then I ask, “Why? Why would someone do that?”. With the only possible response being once concerning racial aspects and implications. I find it saddening that someone would look for, let alone believe to have found, racial overtones in what amounts to a film geared towards children. Especially one made (But not created) by someone of color! Perhaps ‘racist’ was not the correct word. Maybe ‘alarmist’ or something else? I can’t say for certain but I just don’t get what the heroes being white, black, red, orange or the bad guy brown, black, purple, green has to do with anything. Unless that is somehow perceived to be “unfair and labeling”. And please do not attempt to say that the heroes are Asian in the animated version. If so, I would like to see their interpretation of a white person.

    I apologize if I over reacted and the color of the villain and hero does not matter in the slightest to you and that in fact it was mentioned accidentally or for no particular reason (Word count quota? :O ).

  • Chris

    MKS used white actors to play definitively non-white characters. But he left the bad guys brown. Simple as that.

  • Shadowen

    I think you would have loved the show, MaryAnn. Perhaps if I get a steady source of income I’ll get you a copy of the DVDs. Best kids’ show in the past decade, at least, and it had a large swath of viewers outside of its demographic, too.

    As for the race of the characters…this is not a post-racial society. So yes, it matters. Main characters go from 1 racially ambiguous person and 2 people with strong Inuit/Native American appearances as the protagonists, and 1 probably-Asian person as the antagonist, to 3 pasty white people and 1 brown person, respectively.

    Now, granted, Aang was racially ambiguous to me–you could easily see him as either East Asian or European ethnically–so casting him for a live action film was going to be problematic if you nailed down his ethnic background. But everything else? Changing the feel of the antagonists from Imperial Japan to South Asian?

    In the words of the Internet: FAIL.

  • John

    http://www.amira-productions.com/images/aang-colored_small.jpg

    http://drmikessteakdinner.com/uploads/avatar-the-last-airbender.jpg

    You’re kidding right? Some of these Katara and Sokka appear to darker but it is not standard and they often look as white as they do in the other pictures. Aang…has always appeared to be nothing but 100% white.

    Guess I need my vision tested if people are seriously going to suggest otherwise. Either way it’s a silly thing to bring up about a kids movie. And I’m Italian!

  • John

    I’ve always Zuko and most Fire nation to be white, as with Aang, and a mix with Katara, Sakka. With that just being the color and a mixture of nationalities as influences. Including U.S./Western Civilization along with Imperialist Japan for the Fire Nation.

    BUT the really important thing to remember here is that kids DO NOT see in color or nationality, which at its most simple form is exactly what the movie is, A kids movie. And most assuredly what the cartoon is. These things play no important role, or should not for the kids if their parents are doing what they are suppose to be doing.

  • John

    I’m sorry I ever commented here. This debate doesn’t belong here. I apologize for that MaryAnn, I just could not believe it. I started reading the review got to that part and completely ignored the rest and dismissed what I had already read as someone I perceived to have some sort of agenda concerning race. I also apologize for that if it is not the case. I am usually much better at ignoring things I do not agree with or find to be outrageous.

    Perhaps you can just delete the discussion and continue bashing the kids film.

  • amanohyo

    John, as you seem to have finally realized, you’re dismissing an entire review based on like two or three lines that simply point out the fact that in the movie, the good characters are white and the evil characters are non-white. Who is the one who is overreacting here? Who is the one who is oversensitive about race and racism?

    MA mentioned race (briefly) in the review because racism exists and it still matters. The significant progress we have made in race relations in this country did not come about because people suddenly decided to pretend that race was a complete non-issue. Attempting to silence or discredit anyone who dares to talk about race is not going to move us any closer to a world free of racism.

    As a non-white person in America, I do not “deal the race card.” Society has held the race card in front of my face every single day and told me in ways both subtle and straightforward, “this is your card – it is not as valuable as ours.” Some people give in and accept it (I like to think I never fully did), but those that don’t are not “dealing” anything. They are just trying to live the best life they can with what life has dealt them. Every time I try to burn my race card, someone (or some movie or some comment) pops up and deals me another.

    Also, some of the best movies I have watched have been kids’ movies: The Wizard of Oz, The Neverending Story, Spirited Away, Monster’s Inc., Dumbo, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, etc. Just because kids like soda and candy bars doesn’t mean we can’t say the calories are empty and unhealthy and try to give them something better. Children deserve the best we have to offer.

  • JoshDM

    I think you would have loved the show, MaryAnn. Perhaps if I get a steady source of income I’ll get you a copy of the DVDs.

    Don’t sweat it too much; as I stated earlier, we know she has both a Wii and a Netflix subscription. Which means she has Netflix Streaming to Wii (it is a free service – goto Netflix and get your free Wii disc). All three seasons of Airbender are available in instant mode to Netflix subscribers. Heck, you don’t even need a Wii to just watch them online. If she chooses to, she’ll watch them.

  • NB

    Ugh, longtime reader pushed to comment at last because of irate person mad at mention of racism.

    Kids DO see race. Maybe white kids don’t see race as much because white is the default, but you better believe Asian kids and black kids and Middle Eastern kids and First Nations kids see race. And it’s ridiculous the number of reports that have come out about Asian or First Nations kids feeling represented AT LAST in the cartoon. How do you suppose they feel when the few characters of their color are cast with white kids?

    Shyamalan first got into the series because his own daughter liked Katara and dressed like her. I wonder how she feels about the film.

    Anyway, great review as usual, MaryAnn. I’m glad that there’s at least one reviewer who’s ready to call out racism/misogyny in films, as well as approach them from a geeky perspective!

  • RMH

    First of all, I thought the animated series was amazing and I was well out of “childhood” when I began watching the series. I actually feel like the series was even geared towards older kids who definitely do grasp the concept of racial and cultural differences. I think one of the important points that the series provides, without being disgustingly outward about it, is that valuable lessons, events, and stories can and should breach all nationalities and cultures.
    It’s important for our children and young adults to be able to relate to characters of other nationalities versus only relating to half of the pointless animated television shows about talking animals, aliens, or dumb pre-teens worried about their social life.
    Think about it, would you rather have your child watch a show that teaches them about another culture while also providing a great plot, humor, and ORIGINAL story or a show has no educational value and is 100% completely mindless entertainment like sponge bob. I mean don’t get me wrong I do indulge in some sponge bob now and then but I always feel the slightest bit less intelligent after a few hours of the show.

    Second of all, the movie adaptation completely failed in damn near every way possible and killed any chance of a sequel/wrapping up of the series. I feel like MKS completely disrespected the original writers of the series. I mean for christ sake, three of the main characters didn’t even have the correct pronunciation of their names. I also feel like he completely missed the mark on the target audience. In the theater I was in the youngest person i saw in couldn’t have been any younger than 15 and most were in their late teens to early twenties. In numerous instances, had I not been so disappointed, I found it almost insulting how dumb he found his audience to be. An audience should be able to figure out what’s going on. Unless the director isn’t doing his/her job, the audience doesn’t need to have a character out and out tell you “oh my, this is what’s happening.”

    And lastly, regardless of how you perceived the race of the characters in the series, it is made very clear as to the intended race (whether the skin color looks white or not) of each nation based on the huge cultural clues and architecture as well as the dialogue content and style in several cases.

    I have never once imagined any of the animated characters to be caucasian in descent simply because how oriental the settings of the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom are, and I have always viewed the Water Tribes to be of some sort of inuit/Himalayan culture based on the little knowledge I was taught about the culture in late elementary/early middle school!
    The only characters that might possibly be perceived as caucasian would be the Air Nomads, but again I feel that the architecture and culture that is used to represent them correlates strongly to a tibetan influence.

  • http://antisocialjournal.wordpress.com/ Jon

    This film looks terrible.Animation shouldn’t be converted to live-action. A Last Airbender movie might’ve worked if it was animated, but live-action? That’s like live-action Pokemon. It would just look bad.

    By the way, I need a bigger version of that “absolutely nothing” pictre (from bias metere).

  • zids

    Is the movie SERIOUSLY that bad? Like Batman & Robin, Battlefield Earth bad? Like this-is-so-bad-it’s-good-to-make-fun-of bad?

    Because if that’s the case, MaryAnn, I suggest you change your recommendation to at least “Wait for DVD”.

  • MaryAnn

    It is seriously that bad.

    someone I perceived to have some sort of agenda concerning race.

    Yes, I have an agenda concerning race. I’m tired of Hollywood whitewashing the stories it tells.

    I think you would have loved the show, MaryAnn. Perhaps if I get a steady source of income I’ll get you a copy of the DVDs.

    It’s not a lack of the DVDs that prevents me from watching it. A lack of time and interest is what prevents me from watching it.

  • Zoogz

    I’m glad to see that this movie will likely be made into a Rifftrax before the end of the year. This isn’t the first M. Night movie that Rifftrax has done, either… and both previous movies (Sixth Sense, The Happening) were very ably riffed by Mike Nelson and the crew.

  • Lucy Gillam

    If race is important for no other reason in discussion of this movie,* it’s because the common rallying cry in defense of the casting has been, “best actors for the parts!” How can anyone possibly defend that when the reviews of the acting** have been uniformly dreadful?

    * I actually think it’s important for many, many reasons, but to say it’s irrelevant to the quality discussions is silly.

    ** I should add that I don’t necessarily blame the actual actors for this. They were given a crap script and crap directing, and let’s face it: we can’t all be Ewan McGregor.

  • http://reformamendment.blogspot.com/ PaulW

    This is not a half-hearted defense of Last Airbender. I know the movie was terrible, but I sympathize in some degree and believe there was a good-faith effort on Night’s part to make a summer fantasy/action movie.

    Part of the problem was the casting. No, I didn’t have any problems with the racial issue: M. Night attempted to sidestep that altogether by mixing the races entirely – Asians, Blacks and Caucasians among Earth Nation and Air Nomads; Indian, Indonesian, Asian and Caucasians among Fire Nation; Caucasian, Inuit and South American by the looks of it for Water Tribes – to cover having white kids for Katara and Sokka (I’m not sure about Noah Ringer playing Aang: is he mixed race White/Asian? None of the bio sources online say…). No, the problem was with Senior Fire Nation Correspondent Zhao. I’m sorry, but… dude, he’s a Daily Show prankster and you’ve got him as a serious villain role? If you already went out of your way to cast white kids as Katara and Sokka, why not score Fandom Rejoiced bonus points by casting ADMIRAL Zhao with Jason “Pimp Wizard” Isaacs who did the voice gig for the cartoon?

    The other part of the problem was uneven narrative choices. Sometimes, to speed up the storyline we’d get Katara doing a voiceover narration, but then other times the narrative perspective would switch away from her completely. You’d expect that in a 24-episode series where an episode would focus more on one character than another: in a condensed abridged movie rehash like this, it gets jarring. Going with the decision to cram 12 hours worth of a season into a 2-hour movie was a bad idea: A Missing Episode plot to fill a gap in Season One would have made better sense.

    The third problem is M. Night’s personal preferences that his heroes NOT be too vicious or dark, or even kill their enemies. You can see that in his previous films: while the villains are perfectly capable of piling up a body count, the hero won’t even get close to the Line I Dare Not Cross. Perfect example SPOILER COMING…

    …is when Aang finally summons his Avatar state to threaten the Fire Navy to retreat from the Water Tribe’s walls with a gigantic tsunami that… just hovers overhead. My friends were miffed: it made better sense to them for Aang to use that wave to physically wash the ships away. I pointed out that would have meant tipping over the ships, drowning the crews, etc. In the original episode, Aang ended up possessed by the vengeful Ocean Spirit who rose up as a giant monster and washed the Fire invaders out to sea. That was when I pointed out M. Night’s use of having villains killed by A) other non-heroic secondary characters, B) self-defeating traps, or C) Hand of God/Glass of Water. There was no way he was going to turn Aang into a possessed God of Water Wrath. The only time the Hero was particularly vicious to a bad guy was Unbreakable. And even then I don’t think Bruce Willis killed that guy (I may have to rewatch the DVD). But as you can see, it limits the amount of tension in the movie – just how far can his power go – and doesn’t satisfy the fans.

    Last problem with the film: obvious points of CGI Fail. During their uprising of an Earthbender prison camp the Earthbending did not match the kung fu moves associated with the effects. And during the final battle you can see in the background the fighting extras waving their arms and legs about like they were Bending without the effects. Ah, there’s the nitpick out of the way.

    Also, no Zutara ‘Shipping. Barely even a tease. My heart, ’tis broken.

    If there was anything I liked about the movie, it was the underlying plotline of Aang’s fearful reaction to being the Chosen One. The final shot of him accepting the bows of Water Tribe and Fire Nation soldiers with an anguished expression was heartfelt and meaningful.

    Personally, I think M. Night has a good visual style. It’s his writing and story ideas: he needs a story editor about as badly as George Lucas does.

  • Moe.

    If these films were all colossal failures at the box office, I’d rejoice in the ever-flowing fountain of tripe that is this year’s parade of summer blockbusters. Failure leads to reflection, and reflection often leads one to re-evaluate one’s choices and make better decisions down the road.

    What I’m seeing instead, is that bad art is making millions of dollars, and as a result, people everywhere are lowering their standards.

    While I long for a story that is essential and human, Hollywood continues to operate like a mad butcher churning the dreams of brilliant storytellers into so many pounds of rancid ground round only to pick his nose and press it into patties without even bothering to wash his hands.

    I suddenly want to watch Idiocracy again.

  • allochthon

    John, if you’re still reading these comments…

    You’ve stumbled upon a long-going conversation in fandom, race studies, and in Hollywood. The context of MaryAnn’s review (and Ebert’s, for that matter) include a long string of movies that have been ‘white-washed’ just like this one. MaryAnn isn’t playing the race-card. It’s been in play for years.

    Read this essay by Ursula K. Le Guin at Slate.com, about how the SciFi channel ran rampant over her much-beloved series Earthsea.

    One of the big reasons EarthSea is beloved and long-lasting is that none of the characters are white. Not even close. And thousands (if not more) of children of color *finally* saw a coming of age story that they could relate to. Many spectacular authors of color specifically cite Earthsea as their inspiration to become writers themselves.

    Airbender is the same way.

    Your comment about not caring about race is a classic example of a concept called White Privilege. Please read this essay (PDF) by Peggy McIntosh. It will open your eyes to a problem you didn’t know you didn’t know about.

  • allochthon

    The essay linked is “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh

  • Knightgee

    What I’m seeing instead, is that bad art is making millions of dollars, and as a result, people everywhere are lowering their standards.

    It’s much worse than that. Because the studio heads routinely underestimate the intelligence and openness of the average movie-goer, they refuse to greenlight movies that might actually be unconventional or challenging for fear of no returns, thus forcing dreck onto the public, who simply accepts this dreck because they think it’s all that there is out there. This leads movie-goers to see crap movies not because they aren’t capable of enjoying more, but because this is all the studios are willing to give them. If you refuse to cook the steak because you think their pallets aren’t refined enough to enjoy it and just serve your patrons burgers, then yeah they will get used to burgers, but it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love to try that steak too.

  • stchivo

    I never did quite understand why anybody would want the live action version of the show when it is already a visual experience.
    I also don’t understand why Nickelodeon let M Night take so much control over one of their most successful shows ever.
    I think the script really was written by an eight year old. Why did we have to be told that Aang, Katara, and Sokka presented themselves to the northern water tribe as we can obviously see exactly what is happening! M Night really, really, really should have hired a writer. And I think I could have directed those kids better and I’ve never made a movie. At least I would have told Noah to not let his bottom lip hang around so much.
    Its like the whole movie was made up of deleted scenes, the kind you watch as an extra on a dvd and it was dreadful and you know why it was deleted but wonder why they wanted to share it as an extra because it was so bad.

  • john

    I’m not going to respond with an essay on this garbage of racism. Because that is exactly what it is garbage. People who want to create controversy where none exists to push personal agendas.

    I feel quite confident these are the same people that would have issue with “Star Wars” because the “good guy” was white, and was dressed in white, while the “bad guy” was dressed in black and voiced by a black actor and feel it is somehow a statement of the world or the director, producer or Hollywood trying to state something. Rather than a sci-fi movie based in galaxy far far away where white= light and dark = evil.

    If Hollywood were take the hero of some franchise that was of color and make him white, while taking a white villain and making him black, that would be concerning. Not the case here~ Stupid to suggest otherwise.

  • Lucy Gillam

    1. Well, yes, actually people did have a problem with Star Wars for having all white heroes while the villain was not only metaphorically black but voiced by a black actor. This was one reason for the creation and casting of Lando Calrissian.

    2. And this movie did take heroes of color and cast them as white while still changing the ethnicity of the villain while not only keeping him and his people the only POC with major roles, but making them darker-skinned than in the source.

    Next question?

  • Lucy Gillam

    Also, I have to ask: how does mentioning that there is controversy amount to “creating it where none exists”? There is controversy about the casting, has been since it was announced. People have been upset by it, discussed it, argued about it, are boycotting the film over it. That’s what controversy is.

  • Accounting Ninja

    The Star Wars comparison is moot, anyway. Start Wars was not a movie created from a pre-existing series in which Luke was a brown boy. Earthsea was a much better example. Did you even bother to read LeGuin’s essay?

    You know what? Japanese people see anime characters as Asian. American fans see them as white. Each group says it’s “obvious” what the intended race is. I think people’s visions are informed by their own racial preferences. However, I am more inclined to believe the Japanese because, oh, I don’t know, they created the anime? It doesn’t matter if anime characters look white to me, a white person.

    John, have you ever SEEN Avatar: The Last Airbender? The series? There were so many cultural cues. Katara and Sokka had noticeably browner skin than Aang and Zuko (their father Hadoka is even darker). They came from an Eskimo-esque village complete with igloos and parkas, for cripes sake. Aang, though visually ambigous, grew up in what is, for all intents and purposes, a Tibetan temple. And Zuko’s slanted eyes and light skin/dark hair recall a Japanese emperor.

    M Night’s sorry excuse is that since they were ambigious, visually, they could be anything that anyone interpreted them to be. So, if it was so open, WHY WHITE BY DEFAULT?? If they were so open to interpretation, why is the first race anyone thinks of white? They could have just as easily cast a multi-racial bunch of kids.

    But the bigger question is why are you getting so defensive and angry about this? Pointing this out is not a personal insult to you, me, or any other white person.

  • http://bluejaysway.wordpress.com/ Bluejay

    Japanese people see anime characters as Asian. American fans see them as white. Each group says it’s “obvious” what the intended race is. I think people’s visions are informed by their own racial preferences. However, I am more inclined to believe the Japanese because, oh, I don’t know, they created the anime?

    I was recently thinking about this when I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie version of Space Battleship Yamato (a.k.a. Star Blazers). I realized that I’d always unconsciously thought of the characters on that show as white–despite the fact that, in the context of the story, they were clearly Japanese–so when I saw the trailer I went, “Oh! Of course this is what they look like.”

    I wonder if this issue will come up again with the casting of Cowboy Bebop (does Keanu Reeves pass the whitewashing test?) if they ever get around to making that movie.

  • Candace

    If Hollywood were take the hero of some franchise that was of color and make him white, while taking a white villain and making him black, that would be concerning. Not the case here~ Stupid to suggest otherwise.

    But this is what happened. Sokka and Katara are clearly POC(people of colour) from an inuit influenced culture and Zuko is lighter than them. You really don’t find it odd that they can only find an Asian actor to play the antagonist?

    I don’t see why white gets to be the default in this case…in a world that is quite obviously influeced by non-white cultures.

  • MaryAnn

    Katara and Sokka had noticeably browner skin than Aang and Zuko (their father Hadoka is even darker). They came from an Eskimo-esque village complete with igloos and parkas, for cripes sake.

    And Shyamalan clearly knows this, because some of the people in the background of Katara and Sokka’s village are obviously Inuit or Native.

    But the bigger question is why are you getting so defensive and angry about this? Pointing this out is not a personal insult to you, me, or any other white person.

    Oh, but it can be a kind of insult to some people, to be told that the way they see the world is not necessarily the way everyone sees the world. It can be very discomforting to be knocked out of the center of the universe.

    I wonder if this issue will come up again with the casting of Cowboy Bebop (does Keanu Reeves pass the whitewashing test?) if they ever get around to making that movie.

    Reeves is at least partly Asian, ethnically. Though it just struck me that I bet lots of people don’t know that.

  • DaveTM

    I don’t think Keanu would be that big an issue since he is part or even if you don’t know that if you put a picture of the character next to him it’s about the same look. If Faye is cast as Megan Fox then I might cry foul (for a number of reasons truthfully but the look is just all wrong)

  • JoshDM

    OK, so MAJ’s best pal Harry Knowles has posted his anti-Airbender movie thing on AICN and according to the talkbacks, Harry also has not watched the cartoon series and apparently does not intend to do so.

    This is like if someone saw the recent Hitchhiker’s Guide movie and determined (rightly) that it was terrible and therefore should not invest any time reading the book.

  • CB

    Makes sense to me, JoshDM. If I hadn’t thought it was worth my time to read the Hitchiker’s books or to watch the Airbender series already (implied by my not having already done so), why would watching the associated movies change my mind in favor of doing so? “Gee, I didn’t have time for that before, but now that I’ve seen this craptacular movie, I’m sure it must be worth it!”

    On the other hand, you might be able to convince someone to give Hitchiker’s Guide a try if you maybe explain that it’s more like the witty Guide segments, and not like the pointless crap that comprised the rest of the movie. :)

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    This is like if someone saw the recent Hitchhiker’s Guide movie and determined (rightly) that it was terrible and therefore should not invest any time reading the book.

    Well, there’s also the reverse: that hearing about a movie coming out gets people to view the related material before-hand. Avatar is still in the top-100 shows on iTunes at the moment, so I think it’s possible that a lot of folks peeked in on the series and got caught on that first, as opposed to being permanently tuend off by the film.

  • Matt C

    Not one of the worse films I’ve seen. The story holds promise, the kid actors aren’t bad — but you are on the money about the screenplay. Why Shylamalan doesn’t have a co-writer to really challenge him is beyond me, because I think he could have a better screenplay because of that. Or have someone polish up the dialogue before shooting.

    And the film plays much better in 2D. If one has to see “Airbender” in theaters, see it in a digital 2D matinee showing. Don’t bother with the 3D.

  • jolena

    The racism angle is just ridiculous to level at Shyamalan, especially from a caucasian. And, you also know that Shyamalan is Indian so he made his own race the evil one – so he is being racist against himself – hmm that makes sense!

    Also, I think that the way the media has rounded on him is absolutely disgraceful. It shows you that America is still racist, picking on the one successful Asian director out there and actually taking delight in ruining his career. Just because he dared to make a movie with an asian cast and an Asian biased storyline – how dare that “foreigner” have so much power!

    The film is absolutely brilliant in all respects. Don’t listen to these critics – go and see and judge for yourself. You will be glad you did.

  • Orangutan

    Left_Wing_Fox said:

    I think it’s possible that a lot of folks peeked in on the series and got caught on that first, as opposed to being permanently tuend off by the film.

    This is, thankfully, what happened to me. I’ve seen the show hyped by so many people, I finally took the plunge last week. Now I’m almost halfway through season 2. I’m hooked. I will never see the movie.

    jolena said:

    picking on the one successful Asian director out there

    Ang Lee would like to object to that.

    and actually taking delight in ruining his career

    I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but personally I’m enjoying seeing his career take a header because HE MAKES BAD MOVIES.

    The film is absolutely brilliant in all respects. Don’t listen to these critics – go and see and judge for yourself. You will be glad you did.

    If this doesn’t just SCREAM ‘studio shill’, then I don’t know what does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/englerp EnglerP

    zids said

    Is the movie SERIOUSLY that bad? Like Batman & Robin, Battlefield Earth bad? Like this-is-so-bad-it’s-good-to-make-fun-of bad?

    At least according to the Cinema Snob, it’s more so-bad-it’s-horrible-bad and not even riffable.

    http://thecinemasnob.com/2010/07/03/the-last-airbender-review.aspx

  • Kat

    @jolena: Are you a troll or are you seriously unaware of what the problem with this movie is?

    /The racism angle is just ridiculous to level at Shyamalan, especially from a caucasian. And, you also know that Shyamalan is Indian so he made his own race the evil one – so he is being racist against himself – hmm that makes sense!/

    You’re right; it doesn’t make sense. Hence why people are calling him out on it. And just in case you’re wondering, people *can* be racist against people of their own race. Have you ever heard of the term “Uncle Tom?” Furthermore, there was no need for him to make the Fire Nation Indian/Middle-Eastern in the first place. In the show, the Fire Nation is clearly shown (through their clothing, architecture, beliefs, martial arts styles, names, etc.) to be East Asian, with a strong influence from Japan. Also, they’re the palest people on the show. When you see Zuko interact with the other members of the Gaang, you notice that he’s the palest one out of all of them. There was *no* reason for M. Night to make people of the Fire Nation Indian.

    /Also, I think that the way the media has rounded on him is absolutely disgraceful. It shows you that America is still racist, picking on the one successful Asian director out there and actually taking delight in ruining his career./

    Uh, have you ever heard of a little-known director named ANG LEE? You know, the one who won an Oscar? Or Justin Lin, who directed the “Fast and Furious” films as well as “Better Luck Tomorrow?” M. Night is *not* the only Asian director out there. *We* are not ruining his career; he already shot himself in the foot with his clueless and narrow-minded remarks, as well as his tasteless and disgraceful adaptation of a well-done animated series.

    /Just because he dared to make a movie with an asian cast and an Asian biased storyline – how dare that “foreigner” have so much power!/

    Oh, please. Did you see anybody complain when Ang Lee directed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” Or “Lust, Caution?” Both of those films not only received rave reviews, but did well at the box office. And neither of them contained a single white character. What does that tell you?

    /The film is absolutely brilliant in all respects. Don’t listen to these critics – go and see and judge for yourself. You will be glad you did./

    I don’t need to go and see it. By insultingly whitewashing its characters and disresepecting the source material and culture on which it was based, “The Last Airbender” already proved to me how terrible it is.

  • Lucy Gillam

    Just because he dared to make a movie with an asian cast and an Asian biased storyline – how dare that “foreigner” have so much power!

    The whole problem is that he didn’t make a movie with an Asian cast. He took an Asian-inspired fantasy world and relegated Asians to villains and scenery and cast white people as the heroes. If you’re to criticize our comments on race, at least criticize what we’re actually SAYING.

  • harumi

    I am so tired of people saying, “Anime is ambiguous. All of them look white.” This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    To the Japanese, and to Asians who watch anime, the characters are Asian to them. This is because to them, the default is Asian, as it should be, since the creators of anime are Japanese. When a Euro-American character appears in anime, it is THEY who have the exaggerations: small, blocky eyes, big noses, sharp facial lines, and square, often clefted chins.

    I’m tired of the white default and the over exaggerated Asian-OTHER characteristic seen in so many American cartoons. My eyes are not squinty. They are in fact larger than all of my Caucasian friends’. And this is not unusual. My skin is not dark. My family originated from northeast Asia, which is, last I checked, a place with a climate similar to that of most of northern Europe. Which means there’s less sun. Which means I’m pale, and am in fact paler than many Caucasians. Asia is a continent, not a country. They no more look the same than an Englishman looks the same as someone from Greece. Or Italy.

    I’m also sick of the stereotype that Asians have black, straight hair and dark brown eyes. This is untrue. On my aunt’s side of the family, all of her sisters were born with a recessive gene that makes them blonde haired and blue eyed. I’m teaching in Japan right now and a lot of my students have natural curls or positively frizzy hair. Since unlike America, hair dyes, perms, and makeup is forbidden in school, there is no doubt that this is natural. I also have students with pale blue eyes or extremely light brown hair. This is also natural, and no, they are not mixed race. I even have students who lack the epicanthic fold.

    I teach the most rural part of Japan and less than 5% of my students and their families have ever left their prefecture, never mind their country, so this is not a giant metropolis like Tokyo where people can easily come into contact with foreigners. Asia is more than one uniform mass. Stop assuming that a certain skin/hair/eye color OBVIOUSLY means they are/are not white. Especially in anime.

    Here are other sources if you are interested:

    http://www.matt-thorn.com/mangagaku/faceoftheother.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKTvFhRbBt8&playnext_from=TL&videos=cb8bhnHceOQ

  • MaryAnn

    OK, so MAJ’s best pal Harry Knowles has posted his anti-Airbender movie thing on AICN and according to the talkbacks, Harry also has not watched the cartoon series and apparently does not intend to do so.

    This is like if someone saw the recent Hitchhiker’s Guide movie and determined (rightly) that it was terrible and therefore should not invest any time reading the book.

    I don’t see how the one follows from the other. Did I — or Harry Knowles — say anything to imply that I was *totally* planning to watch the *Last Airbender* cartoon series, but now that the movie sucks I won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole?

    It could also be that your hypothetical someone who saw the *Hitchhiker’s* movie was never ever going to have any interest in the reading the book in the first place.

    JoshDM, do you own stock in the company that produced *Avatar: The Last Airbender*?

  • Nate

    To the Japanese, and to Asians who watch anime, the characters are Asian to them. This is because to them, the default is Asian, as it should be, since the creators of anime are Japanese. When a Euro-American character appears in anime, it is THEY who have the exaggerations: small, blocky eyes, big noses, sharp facial lines, and square, often clefted chins.

    I’m tired of the white default and the over exaggerated Asian-OTHER characteristic seen in so many American cartoons.

    Wait, so it’s ok for Asians to exaggerate us but not the other way around?

  • http://macgamer.com Corey Tamas

    It’s not a lack of the DVDs that prevents me from watching it. A lack of time and interest is what prevents me from watching it.

    If we were friends in our personal lives, I’d hope we’d be the kind of friends who do lunch in interesting places. This is because I’d like to sit somewhere with you while enjoying the kind of defenses-down mood and conversation that comes only after eating something tasty in a charming and quaint establishment. And as that mood settled in and the coffee was served and I picked up the tab (cause I totally would), I’d say “Hey, I’ve been meaning to tell you: You really need to see the Last Airbender series from Nickeloden. I know you weren’t planning to, but do it as a favor to me. Trust another Who fan.” And then I’d hand you my DVDs so you could borrow them.

    Months later, at our next lunch, you’d thank me for insisting.

    So, seeing as we’ll never have that lunch and I’ll never pick up that check and you’ll never borrow my DVDs, you’re going to have to just imagine someone you would have that lunch with insisting you give The Last Airbender a try. Cause a friend would do that.

  • amanohyo

    Nate, when making comparisons, please keep in mind that Japan is an extremely racially homogenous country. I’m not saying that makes their racism okay, but most manga and anime artists in Japan can be confident that over 99% of their audience is asian. Creators living in American cities have less of an excuse. There are asian americans who walk among them, who went to school with them, who work alongside them, who sit next to them in the theater.

    To be fair, asian americans are still only around 5% of the population, and like most minorities we are concentrated near large cities. However, in a country built by immigrants. it’s reasonable to expect a depth of understanding that rejects easy racial stereotypes. Just as no one can reasonably compare the same standards for progress in the realm of sexism in say… Saudi Arabia and America, we can’t really make easy comparisons between Japan and America when it comes to racism. We’re at different stages in the process is what I’m saying.

    Corey, here is how the restaurant conversation might go:

    “By the way, I heard you’ve never seen Avatar: The Last Airbender. You have to watch it!”

    *pulls out the DVD*

    “You actually brought the DVD with you?”
    “I carry a copy with me at all times. Watch it. You’ll love it.”
    “Sorry, I ‘m super busy and I have a stack of DVDs on my must watch list.”
    “You will love it, if you don’t I’ll buy you another dinner.”
    “I’m afraid my time is worth more than a free meal right now.”
    “Please watch it, as a favor to me, as a friend.”
    “Why is this so important to you?”
    “Because sharing positive experiences is how I bond with others.”

    *pretends to read back cover*

    “Sorry, I’m really not that interested.”
    “If you don’t stick that DVD in your purse right now, I’m going to start yodeling.”
    “Well now I definitely won’t take it.”
    “Damn, you called my bluff. I can’t yodel.”
    “Are you a marketing robot? What have you done with my friend?”
    “Please just watch one episode, I desperately want to talk about it with you.”
    “Aren’t there fans online you can chat with?”
    “It’s not the saaaaaaaame!”

    *throws a tantrum on the restaurant floor*

    “Okay, okay, geez, give me the stupid DVD.”

    Once a day for the next eleven months:
    “Have you watched it yet?”
    “Nope, been too busy.”

    Finally, the close personal friend snaps:
    “If you don’t watch that episode right now, I’m going to drown myself in a bathtub full of peanut butter.”
    “But you’re allergic to peanuts!”
    “I know.”
    “Fine, I didn’t want to tell you this, but I watched the first episode on Youtube a couple weeks ago.”
    “And… wasn’t it awesome?”
    “Didn’t really care for it.”
    “Nooooooooooo!”

    *runs to the kitchen and grabs a jar of peanut butter*

    “Say you loved it or I’ll eat the entire jar.”
    “The plastic too?”
    “You never even gave it a chance, it starts getting good later on…promise me you’ll watch the next episode.”
    “Why are we close personal friends again?”

  • Kate

    I’m one of those who started watching the animated series recently, after all the hype about the movie was circulating. While I doubt I would have watched it without that prompting, I do find it to be a funny and interesting kid’s show. My grown sons (ages 25 and 29) both love it, so I know it has a wider appeal.

    I haven’t seen the movie (and probably won’t), but what seems to be lacking (just from what I’ve seen in the trailers and read in the reviews) is the light-hearted humor of the series. These characters are almost all children and teens, and that spirit permeates the episodes. Aang wants to have fun — that’s sort of his mantra. He and Katara kid around together, and it drives Sokka (who is trying SO hard to be a man) crazy! These are children left behind when the adults went off to fight a 100-year-old war. Sokka tries to train the little ones to be warriors (and they just want constant bathroom breaks!). Even the fight scenes seem taken with a grain of salt — there’s absolutely none of the thundering seriousness I see in the trailers of the movie. I’m sure by the end of the series (I’m only mid-way through the first season) things will get darker, but if M. Night really wanted to capture this series in film, he needed to start the way the series did — it should be fun!

    Hey, those of you who’ve seen it — am I off track on this? Is the humor present? Is the first half of the movie playful and irreverent? Because that’s what it should have been.

  • CB

    Wait, so it’s ok for Asians to exaggerate us but not the other way around?

    Of course not. The point is that it’s stupid to say “Oh well these characters look white, so it’s only natural to cast white characters”. Because no they don’t, and not it isn’t.

    There’s racism all over the world. You could easily call a lot of portrayals of caucasians in Japanese media racist. That doesn’t make racism in American media not-racist.

    And hey, isn’t a big part of the reason people are so vociferously defending the “not racist” angle that we as Americans take pride in being more multi-cultural than other parts of the world? Of being less racist? Well guess what, that’s not something you can just declare to be true and thus anything that looks like racism can’t be. It’s a state of mind, and part of it means calling out whitewashes like this one. That’s the only way you achieve the actual state of not being racist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/englerp EnglerP

    Japanese people see anime characters as Asian. American fans see them as white

    Depends on the setting and where the characters are stated to come from imho. If the anime is set in feudal Japan (or a fantasy setting inspired by it), then most or all of the characters will be Japanese. Otoh if it is Scifi and the setting is worldwide (I.e. most Gundam shows) or simply not Japan (Monster) then probably not every character will be Asian.

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    Corey, here is how the restaurant conversation might go:

    “By the way, I heard you’ve never seen Avatar: The Last Airbender. You have to watch it!”

    *pulls out the DVD*

    “You actually brought the DVD with you?”
    “I carry a copy with me at all times. Watch it. You’ll love it.”
    “Sorry, I ‘m super busy and I have a stack of DVDs on my must watch list.”
    “You will love it, if you don’t I’ll buy you another dinner.”
    “I’m afraid my time is worth more than a free meal right now.”
    “Please watch it, as a favor to me, as a friend.”
    “Why is this so important to you?”
    “Because sharing positive experiences is how I bond with others.”

    *pretends to read back cover*

    “Sorry, I’m really not that interested.”
    “If you don’t stick that DVD in your purse right now, I’m going to start yodeling.”
    “Well now I definitely won’t take it.”
    “Damn, you called my bluff. I can’t yodel.”
    “Are you a marketing robot? What have you done with my friend?”
    “Please just watch one episode, I desperately want to talk about it with you.”
    “Aren’t there fans online you can chat with?”
    “It’s not the saaaaaaaame!”

    *throws a tantrum on the restaurant floor*

    “Okay, okay, geez, give me the stupid DVD.”

    Once a day for the next eleven months:
    “Have you watched it yet?”
    “Nope, been too busy.”

    Finally, the close personal friend snaps:
    “If you don’t watch that episode right now, I’m going to drown myself in a bathtub full of peanut butter.”
    “But you’re allergic to peanuts!”
    “I know.”
    “Fine, I didn’t want to tell you this, but I watched the first episode on Youtube a couple weeks ago.”
    “And… wasn’t it awesome?”
    “Didn’t really care for it.”
    “Nooooooooooo!”

    *runs to the kitchen and grabs a jar of peanut butter*

    “Say you loved it or I’ll eat the entire jar.”
    “The plastic too?”
    “You never even gave it a chance, it starts getting good later on…promise me you’ll watch the next episode.”
    “Why are we close personal friends again?”

    Heh. The Flick Chick Chronicles…I love it.

    Perhaps this can become an ongoing series…

  • http://macgamer.com Corey

    Corey, here is how the restaurant conversation might go…

    Not bad, though my version was a tiny bit less scary. :)

  • JoshDM

    JoshDM, do you own stock in the company that produced *Avatar: The Last Airbender*?

    As much as I own stock in Firefly or Jericho.

  • Accounting Ninja

    LOL “The plastic too?”

    Hahaha priceless… :D

  • http://www.anthonyamodeo.net Anthony

    I’ve only seen one episode from the original series, but I think the whitewashing is disgusting. However, I’m wondering if the casting wasn’t really Shyamalan’s call, ultimately? I wouldn’t be surprised if (in fact, I expect it) the studio stepped in and told Shyamalan how to cast. It seems to me as if this was Shyamalan’s last chance: his three films prior to this were rubbished by critics – “The Happening,” “Lady in the Water,” and “The Village,” – and they were all relatively original ideas from him. So the studio let’s him write and direct “Airbender” because it’s based on already-successful material. I’m thinking the studio thought, “Surely he can’t screw up something that’s already successful? But just in case, let’s make sure he casts ‘appealing’ actors for the leads. Audiences don’t want to see characters who are different from them.”

    It’s an idea that I’ve debated with a friend of mine: is Hollywood really racist, or does it just cater to the sentiments of the general American audience? Now, you might say that American audiences have embraced films whose stories are, for example, Asian in nature, like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” as someone proposed in a previous post. But does the general American audience see that film as a universal story to which they can relate? Or a story that could relate to American society and culture? I would say, rather, that the general audience sees that film as simply an Asian martial arts film set in Asia; so, naturally, the cast would be Asian. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in its entirety. However, I’d like to think that I am speaking from knowledge derived from my studies of film and genre theory, and personal observations. Forgive me if I am, in actuality, talking out of my ass.)

    The depiction and representation of race in Hollywood films is a really tricky subject. It’s like I said: Is Hollywood really racist, or is it responding to what it thinks the audience wants to see? It’s hard to say. However, the one thing you can bet is true: Hollywood only cares about making money, and they will make choices that are intended to achieve that goal. I think the whitewashing here was one of those choices. The question is whether Shyamalan explicitly consented to it, or if he just let it go because this was his last chance to make a commercially successful film. We still have this mistaken auteur idea that the director makes all the decisions for the film, but the reality is much different.

  • Lucy Gillam

    Anthony,

    You know, I’ve had the conversation about, “well, who’s at fault here, creators or audiences” when it comes to gender in kids’ movies, and I’ve come to two conclusions:

    1. The question of whether the problem lies in creators’ unwillingness to make films about protagonists who are not white, able-bodied (and a whole host of “other”) males or in audiences’ unwillingness to watch those movies is thorny and complicated, and ultimately cannot be answered in the abstract. We can’t answer if boys would go see a movie like Toy Story about a little girl’s mixed-gender toys when the lead was a Latina action figure, because no one is making that movie. We can speculate and theorize (we can certainly point out, for example, that plenty of white kids watched the cartoon for TLA), but we can’t answer it in any real fashion until those movies exist. Which brings me to:

    2. Whoever created this cycle, the only people who have the power to take the first step to break it are the creators. Audiences can write letters and blog and boycott, but they can’t go see movies that don’t exist. If we agree lack of diversity in movies is a problem, the people who HAVE to take the first step are creators.

    Shyamalan may well have had to make some compromises in casting, but he is certainly very busily taking full credit/blame for it. He has said from the beginning that he wanted Nicole Peltz and no one else as Katara. He has accused the anti-racebending movement of being racist for criticizing “the only Asian director” (his words, not mine) with enough power to cast whomever he wants. Now, maybe he’s blowing smoke. But I suspect he COULD have fought harder for representative casting had he wanted to.

  • MaryAnn

    As much as I own stock in Firefly or Jericho.

    I find it almost impossible to believe that a cartoon could possibly have the same dramatic power as a live action series. Plastic toys and fluffy monsters *can* work as powerful characters onscreen if they’re animated right. But people… I want to see human actors playing people.

    I’m wondering if the casting wasn’t really Shyamalan’s call, ultimately?

    In my piece on Shyamalan’s “defense” of the whitewashing, I talk a bit about this. He could well have made the decisions himself well aware that he’d have had a hard time selling a major studio on the idea of nonwhite protagonists in so expensive a movie. And with his last two movies flopping, he wouldn’t have had a lot of leeway to argue for something so “radical.”

  • JoshDM

    I find it almost impossible to believe that a cartoon could possibly have the same dramatic power as a live action series.

    And yet, what appears to be an increasing number of you commenters are vocally disagreeing with you, constantly requesting you to share in our experience.

  • Nate

    I find it almost impossible to believe that a cartoon could possibly have the same dramatic power as a live action series. Plastic toys and fluffy monsters *can* work as powerful characters onscreen if they’re animated right. But people… I want to see human actors playing people.

    You sound really ignorant here, MAJ. Have you already forgotten about The Incredibles, Coraline, all of Miyazaki’s films, and even Up?

  • doa766

    if you “find it almost impossible to believe that a cartoon could possibly have the same dramatic power as a live action series” then clearly you haven’t seen “Grave of the Fireflies”

  • Boingo

    MJ as racist-ho ho (quite the contrary). Poster has
    already apologized,so end of story.
    Re: “Grave of the Fireflies.” I never saw it-took a
    look. I had an aversion to the plastic Anime faces
    and eyes, but in this 1988 interview with Ebert, he
    explains it in excellent fashion:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRXg_ovaE94&feature=related

  • mark

    This review is NEAT! There were about three parts where I belly laughed for at least a minute before being able to continue. Probably because I was thinking the exact same thing.

    favorite quotes:

    You can tell the Fire Nation people are evil, because they’re brown

    “Do you have a spiritual place I can meditate?”
    “Yes, we have a VERY spiritual place.”

    As for the guy that thinks the reviewer is racist… you’re just plain stupid. You’re the kind of person that would hear something like “a bird in the hand is better than 2 in the bush” and say, “I don’t want ANY birds, why’re you trying to give me birds, grandpa?”. this is because you’re stupid.

  • Rusty Broomhandle

    I find it almost impossible to believe that a cartoon could possibly have the same dramatic power as a live action series.

    Eeeep, never say that. This sort of comment speaks of a closed-mindedness that you don’t generally seem to have. I think of a film like Grave of the Fireflies – one would have to be a brick not to get choked up at it.

    Oh, just noticed that someone else mentioned the same film. So, uhm, yeah!

  • amanohyo

    On the topic of animation vs. live actors, it’s easy to “prove” that one is better or as good as the other by cherry picking examples – that says very little about the maximum potential of each method. I’ve also seen Grave of the Fireflies and teared up a little, but if I imagine pitting the highest quality live actor performance against the highest quality animator and voice actor performance, they live actor is clearly much better – a mediocre actor can get me to tear up like Grave of the Fireflies. When it comes to subtle emotion, animation can approach but never quite reach the level of an actual human face in my opinion. Obviously, many people feel differently.

    What I strongly disagree with is the idea that an animated toy or monster has a greater capacity for dramatic power than an animated human being. I understand the logic behind the statement, the idea that we would somehow not be troubled by comparisons to real humans, but in practice it hasn’t been the case for me. The Toys of Toy Story (and indeed most of Pixar’s characters) are actually some of the least sympathetic animated characters I’ve seen.

    The reason Pixar chooses primarily non human characters is not because they have more dramatic potential (imaginative maybe), but because the best CG animators have not even surpassed the best animators in anime when it comes to subtle expressions (although they’ve come a long way since the hilariously awful Final Fantasy:TSW movie). I’m sure CG will eventually overtake anime, but I suspect that even decades from now the best computer animators can hope for is to equal the best human performances. Our brains are programmed to recognize and respond to the faces of other human beings.

    It would be an interesting experiment to compare the brain wave patterns of people who were exposed to faces depicted in varying levels of abstraction displaying a certain emotion. Maybe they would differ from person to person? Maybe some brains are better “primed” for the abstraction of an anime face? Maybe young children are less discriminating because they haven’t been exposed to enough human examples? I seem to recall a study that showed that when it comes to fight or flight expressions like fear, an abstract face and a real face produced an identical response. I’ll have to dig around for some more research.

  • allochthon

    Anthony,

    You know, I’ve had the conversation about, “well, who’s at fault here, creators or audiences” when it comes to gender in kids’ movies, and I’ve come to two conclusions: …

    Very well said, Lucy Gillam.

    My response to Anthony was going to be “Hence the term ‘Institutional Racism.’”

  • Laurel

    I find it almost impossible to believe that a cartoon could possibly have the same dramatic power as a live action series. Plastic toys and fluffy monsters *can* work as powerful characters onscreen if they’re animated right. But people… I want to see human actors playing people.

    Why not see for yourself instead of just assuming that animated people can’t create the same intense emotional reaction as a live action drama? The medium itself shouldn’t matter if the depth and characterization are as good as the above posters have claimed again and again, which, it is.

    It’s similar to the argument people use against science-fiction: they can’t “get in to it” because the situations are so fantastical and can’t possibly happen in real life.

  • Boingo

    Some are tuned in to “real person” acting as some
    appreciate the “art of acting.”Some come from a
    background of being exposed to live stage performance,
    so may be aware of it as an “art form” in itself .Subtlety in Anime or cell animation in general re: facial expression was
    always a difficult task (cell drawings were done
    one at a time)- economy/simplification of form in production still took a good measure of
    priority. Cut to the advent of the computer.
    It’s still advancing, so who knows where that’s going?
    I doubt Anime will not progress in it’s visual
    appearance and sophistication.

    At the risk of over simplifying the discussion-
    very difficult comparing different styles,modes of
    expression,etc.and coming to any conclusion on which has more power and impact over an audience’s emotional
    reaction. Too many variables.

  • http://facebook.com/togstadlives Jeremiah Togstad

    This review actually makes me want to see the movie – but it will have to wait till DVD so my friends and I can drink, smoke, and let the jokes fly.

    Great review Mary!

  • Boingo

    drink, smoke, and let the jokes fly.

    Good idea-’cept don’t order
    fake Panda-type Chinese food to go.

  • http://www.anthonyamodeo.net Anthony

    Lucy Gillam,

    I totally agree. Only the creators can produce films that push the boundaries of social conventions and bring issues such as race and gender to the forefront. I’m not nearly involved enough in independent cinema as I’d like to be, but I’m sure there are indy filmmakers out there doing exactly what we’re talking about. Unfortunately, they don’t get the distribution they deserve, so the mainstream audience doesn’t have a clue, which perpetuates the cycle.

    As for the idea of animation vs. live-action, I’m with MA. I agree with amanohyo about each format having its own potential effectiveness, but for any high-drama, real actors win out. For example, I take virtually no animated film seriously, but I thought The Dark Knight was a profoundly disturbing film about the psychology of “heroes” and some criminals – even though Batman and The Joker are comic book characters. I agree with amanohyo about the perils of cherry-picking examples, but Heath Ledger gave such a fantastic performance that there’s no way an animated version would have come close to eliciting same reaction. An animated villain is much less terrifying than a human one. I’d guess it’s because of prolonged exposure to television cartoons that lack any real conflict. (Haven’t seen Grave of the Fireflies, so I’m afraid I cannot comment.)

  • AsimovLives

    [deleted by maj]

  • DaveTM

    Wow who’d have thought this would be more contentious than Eclipse?

    Firstly to all the people saying the anime is better and that MaryAnn should watch it. While that might be the case if it’s not on her (or anyone elses) lists of things to watch that’s ok and constantly hitting them with the fact that they should watch it isn’t going to do anything. I have watched alot of anime and honestly will never watch Avatar simply because the concept doesn’t interest me. Also the relative quality of another way of telling the story is irrelevant to the quality of the movie. How many books are there that are better than the movie? Almost all of them.

    And to AsimovLives. How long you been holding that in? or did you just read that review and figure this was the only way she would read your thoughts, because it has even less to do with her critique of this movie than the anime does.

    I also tend to agree with her on the animation vs live action thing. That’s not that animation can’t have an effect just that if you can have the same story with live action actors then the effect can be greater.

  • http://www.facebook.com/englerp EnglerP

    I’d guess it’s because of prolonged exposure to television cartoons that lack any real conflict.

    Probably. But one shouldn’t forget that due to it’s target audience, the typical saturday morning cartoon is not really a good representation for the whole medium of Animation as a whole just as tripe like Micheal Bayfilms doesn’t really Movies as a whole.

    Firstly to all the people saying the anime is better and that MaryAnn should watch it. While that might be the case if it’s not on her (or anyone elses) lists of things to watch that’s ok and constantly hitting them with the fact that they should watch it isn’t going to do anything

    Indeed. Personally i’m rather fond of Animation in most forms (if not all genres), but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Yes, everybody, let’s stop haranguing MaryAnn about watching Avatar. I’m sure she’s got the point. And it’s getting a little embarrassing.

    But just to clarify, Avatar isn’t high drama. It’s mainly an action show, with healthy portions of humor and yes, some drama. But I wouldn’t call it primarily a “drama”. I, personally, think the medium is perfect for what it is.

    AsimovLives, you know, she liked the first Transformers movie too, but I didn’t hold it against her. ;) Asking her to be more coy? OY, no! If you lose your snark, MAJ, I’d be a very sad panda.

  • CB

    AsimovLives, you know, she liked the first Transformers movie too, but I didn’t hold it against her. ;) Asking her to be more coy? OY, no! If you lose your snark, MAJ, I’d be a very sad panda.

    I think he is just fine with MAJ being snarky, so long as she always agrees with him on everything. Or at least the only thing that seems to matter to him. ;)

  • Alex

    I find it almost impossible to believe that a cartoon could possibly have the same dramatic power as a live action series. Plastic toys and fluffy monsters *can* work as powerful characters onscreen if they’re animated right. But people… I want to see human actors playing people.

    It’s perfectly within your right to feel this way about animation, even though I significantly disagree. But I still recommend giving yourself the opportunity and/or time to view all or some of the series, if only as a study in storytelling talent. Your review (which was quite good, BTW) of the film “The Last Airbender” focuses rightly on many of the egregious storytelling sins that Shyamalan commits, with “showing, not telling” and a resolute resistance to character-development moments amongst them. These are sins that are quite gloriously averted in the series; in fact, the show’s writers and crewpeople have surprising subtlety and skill in what they do. Ergo, I highly recommend you seek the show out, so you may see how the folks behind an animated series can massively outdo a whole host of Hollywood big-studio filmmakers.

  • Kevin

    Why are you being so judgemental in your review?

  • Lucy Gillam

    Oh, Kevin, please tell me you’re joking. Or better yet, don’t, because that is the best laugh I’ve had all day, and I really needed that.

  • Cyblade Silver

    I find it almost impossible to believe that a cartoon could possibly have the same dramatic power as a live action series. Plastic toys and fluffy monsters *can* work as powerful characters onscreen if they’re animated right. But people… I want to see human actors playing people.

    Are you forgetting the great time you had watching Spirited Away? The real Avatar: The Last Airbender is miles better than that drek calling itself an adaptation. Now, I’m not normally one for jumping on bandwagons, but I really think you should give the series a chance. Given your taste, I’m sure you’ll like it.

  • JoshDM

    @Cyblade – Accounting Ninja said to keep down the noise level on the insisting, so let’s just wait patiently a few years for her inevitable “OK, SO I WATCHED IT” blog post.

  • PillowCaseLaw

    Just because the question was brought up here and I didn’t see an answer, M. Night has actually taken credit for the primary casting decisions.

    “I had complete say in casting. So if you need to point the racist finger, point it at me, and if it doesn’t stick, then be quiet.”

    Of course, he’s assuming that “the racist finger” can’t “stick” because he’s Indian. I’m not making this up.

    “You’re coming at me, the one Asian filmmaker who has the right to cast anybody I want, and I’m casting this entire movie in this color blind way where everyone is represented.”

    So putting out the call as “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” is “color blind” casting now, and anyone who says M. Night is lying is racist. Beautiful purple sky outside, nice red grass in your world, Shyamalan?

  • art

    Coming in to this waaay too late.

    The movie was a horrible disappointment.

    That is all.

  • http://jangjangmovies.blogspot.com Latest Movies Online

    Its to far for the anime series I didn’t like the way they act. The characters are very serious. I miss the personality of the real Anime Aang.

  • JoshDM

    AIRBENDER TELEVISION SERIES SEQUEL

    HOLY CRAP, PEOPLE!

  • Orangutan

    Josh! I saw that, too! :D

    Here’s another more detailed press release! Only not formatted all neatly like yours because I still haven’t figured out that code!

    http://www.superherohype.com/news/articles/104425-nickelodeon-greenlights-the-legend-of-korra

    CANNOT WAIT.

  • AG

    Mary Ann,

    Did you enjoy the cartoon series?

  • JoshDM

    @AG, I don’t think she has plans to watch it or has done so.

    @Orangutan, it’s basic HTML tagging and pretty simple once you get used to it. The HTML tag in question is the “anchor tag” and here is how you use it.

    You start an anchor html tag sequence by opening a tag with “A”, you add an attribute in the tag called HREF=”value” (HREF is specific to the anchor tags) where value is your internet URL, follow with the value of your tag (the text you want to highlight) and add a closing A tag.

    Replace { with “less than” and } with “greater than” in the following:

    {a href=”put your URL inside these required quotes”}This is the text that gets linked{/a}

    which will result in

    This is the text that gets linked, which, when clicked, links back to this page.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Jjust noticed the “Legend of Korra” post here. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over in the corner bouncing up and down going “OMGOMGOMG” until I pass out. Thanks!

  • MaryAnn

    Did you enjoy the cartoon series?

    I really wish people would read the existing comments before posting their own…

  • diva

    the casting director needs to change the casts if he want to make second series better.originally, the character are Chinese so Indian fire station king and prince do not suit the characters,similarly other castings are also disappointments.

  • anonymous

    I really don’t understand what’s wrong with the Last Airbender movie. It was just a great, wait… the best movie ever made!!! I made posters from the movie, just printing them online and gluing them together. I watched the animated series ever since the movie came into a trailer. I stopped at the last two episodes in the last season because I wont even watch them until they make the third movie! So the people who were leaving these awful and unreasonable messages, guess what? I will never learn what happened to Aang if they don’t make the movie. Plus, Noah Ringer said that “if we followed the animated series, what would be exciting about that? It makes it more fun if we changed some things to make it exciting.”
    And guess what Noah Ringer I agree. You may be saying these things online which I searched and answered.

    Why did they say the names wrong?—– Because the director thought it would be best to say the names the way the Asians say it, it would be like saying it was honor or making the names more realistic. Saying that the animated series was related to Chinese people.

    What about the kyoshi warriors?——— the director thought the kyoshi warriors took most of the film when he was making it. He is planning to put them in the second movie. If you would give him a chance.

    “Why is the film messed up? ————-for me it would be pretty much stupid if they made fun of farts or anything else animated series made up. I mean if they made Noah scream PENGUIN! That would be just funny but also a little weird. The director changed some parts because he wants to make it more realistic instead of animated.

    Why isn’t Katara or Sokka black?———-seriously? Did they have to be black? The director chose the best actors for Katara and Sokka. I’m sure he was looking for someone resembling them but there was just no one that looked like them.

    Is the director making another movie?—– the question is still not answered but there is a slight chance they might make it. M. Night Shyamalan is already working on it and is planning to make it darker. I seriously cant wait to see it, if they make it. He hopes Paramount Pictures will let him make the other movie and so do I.

    Any other questions???

  • Jurgan

    Any other questions???

    Are you a troll?

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