Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: The Last Airbender (2010) TH

Four elements, warring tribes and a boy with tattoos

Once upon a time peace resided in a world full of special people called "benders"--someone select among a tribe that has the ability to control either air, water, earth or fire--and then suddenly a god among men that held it all together called the "Avatar" disappeared: the chosen one able to control all four elements and communicate with the spirit world for guidance.

Now, a century later and with strife on the rise, we're introduced to a southern water tribe who dwells in an arctic setting. An early teen named Katara (Nicola Peltz), who bends water and also narrates a portion of the story, and a young man called Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) are out on a hunt when they discover something lurking under the ice. A humongous beast and a bald boy with tattoos named Aang (Noah Ringer) lay there after Katara pops a sphere that enclosed them. Soon enough word spreads that it might be the Avatar reborn again. Great, it's time to rejoice! Nope. This poses a problem for the dominating fire nation in which all inhabitants of the air nation--which the Avatar is supposed to have descended--were thought to be extinct.

The good about "The Last Airbender": excellent stringed orchestras that are well timed over top to lend suspense; the cinematography is often panned to get a full scope of the various and plentiful areas they travel to; and just about every other set piece is splendid and awe-inspiring with nearly flawless transition of CGI and physical objects for the non-3-D version. This film is eye-candy for the person into fantasy landscapes, as well as someone who just likes to explore out of reach locales. Now, all this work was put into the music and visuals, but how the characters interact with each other and how their dialogue comes out makes you wonder if they even went back and watched the dailies as they were filming it. A large portion of the dialogue feels overly simplistic even by kid friendly standards and is often shortened to the point of missing punch and passion to back it up. On one hand it makes the story understandable--sometimes it's even over-explained at random points to an audience that's supposed to be invisible--as it frequently shifts from place to place, person to person, though it takes away from an edge to put a viewer right there in their shoes.

This establishes some brief back-story and explains throughout how the rules work, though as it carries on it feels like a series of aimless mini-missions with a world of connected characters to jump back and forth to. The boy with tattoos named Aang has to train and figure out what he wants to do, where he places himself and how to unlock his bending powers. He travels and meets people, though this loose way of following him around comes off like a haphazard string of events passed off as an actual story. A final battle happens and it shows off impressive special effects and fight scenes between the fire and water tribes, yet prior to that it felt like they were only handing out samples till you got to the entree. "The Last Airbender" mixes martial arts, myths and superpowers together and has an interesting concept as well as the imagery was truly impressive, but even said it still wasn't enough to overlook the mostly wooden and roaming human interaction.

Director: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Happening)
Starring: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Shaun Toub, Cliff Curtis
Website: IMDB