Posted on 7/04/10 03:34 PM
Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Four nations tied by destiny when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war against the others. A century has passed with no hope in sight to change the path of this destruction. Caught between combat and courage, Aang discovers he is the lone Avatar with the power to manipulate all four elements. Aang teams with Katara, a Waterbender, and her brother, Sokka, to restore balance to their war-torn world. Based on the hugely successful Nickelodeon animated TV series, the live-action feature film The Last Airbender is the opening chapter in Aang's struggle to survive. --© Paramount
I have never seen so much hate unfairly lashed upon a film that didn't deserve it. I have to say this now: Coming from someone who hasn't seen the cartoon series that the film is based on, TLA is not a bad film...at all. I would even bet my life that people who hated M. Night Shyamalan's last two films (which is quite a lot) would enjoy this film a whole lot more because it's his most commercial film to date. For those who are a fan of the show, let's talk about that later.
Let's start off with the things that were bad. Season one of the TV show runs barely under 500 minutes long. The film, on the other hand, runs about 90-95 minutes long without credits, which cuts about 80% from the show. You see the problem already? With such a short running time, especially for an adaptation (which, in my opinion, should be at least two hours), it's only appropriate to expect the dialogue to be filled with exposition. Imagine this: What's the fastest way to present a load of information to an audience in such a short amount of time? Just tell them right up front, of course! It was awkward at first, but I quickly got used to it after the first ten minutes. Sure, while it's a bit "elementary" for a screenwriter to "tell, not show," it's not as problematic as people make it out to be. But, then again, it may be just me.
Because of the explanatory dialogue, the film's characters are developed as much as what they say. They are not as multi-layered and complex as the characters in a Pixar film. They are just presented in the most simplistic way with the most common emotions. It's clear and to the point that you just have to go along with it (if you're willing to). The film also suffers from inconsistent pacing. The film is a bit fast paced AND slow paced in different parts of the film, which is odd, even for an M. Night film. It was fast paced because the film presented a wealth of information in such a short period of time and when the film finally slows down, it meanders.
The characters, on the other hand, I quite enjoyed. This is where the positives come in. Noah Ringer is as good as Daniel Radcliffe in his first Harry Potter film, which isn't saying much but it's good enough for me. His karate moves, however, are very excellent, which makes one wonder he was chosen for that aspect than his acting aspect. I liked Nicola Peltz a lot because she played such a "bad ass" character. I just love her angry face because she looked like she was about to rip out someone's heart! Hey, she's a better role model for teen girls out there than Bella Swan. Jackson Rathbone is, uh, interesting. At times, he's decent, but, at others, he's very awkward when delivering some lines. Dev Patel plays your typical "threatening voice" villain who I hope will be more fleshed out in the sequels. Shaun Toub seems to be the best of the bunch as Zuko's heartfelt uncle.
On a technical level, the film is pretty much perfect. The sets, costume designs, and visual effects are all commendable. I thought it was fascinating to see another mythical world, other than Hogwarts. The action sequences are pretty amazing. Adding on to the fact that most are single shots is pretty fantastic. Say what you want about M. Night but he knows how to orchestrate an action scene. The soundtrack by James Newton Howard is brilliant as always. For those avid soundtrack collectors, try listening to "Flow Like Water."
Overall, while the film is not as good as the HARRY POTTER and the LORD OF THE RINGS films, it's certainly not as bad as other adaptations, including THE GOLDEN COMPASS, INKHEART, ERAGON, and THE SEEKER. For a director who usually makes slow burning small films, I was impressed with what M. Night did here. I was thoroughly engaged and entertained throughout and found the world of TLA to be captivating. I will admit that the film certainly could have been better but it's really not as bad as people and critics make it out to be. I think fans of the show would find the film more problematic than others because I would imagine many changes were made for the film. Otherwise, go see the film.