Avatar: The Last Airbender

A New Review of ‘The Last Airbender’

TLA_ang_teaser_online-simpI’ve been a fan of the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, as well as most of its’ sequel, The Legend of Korra.  The last episode of book one the latter should have been a two or three part story.  When I saw The Last Airbender on the big screen, I did so in 3D, which was the only mistake I made when buying tickets… I should have gone to see it in 2D.  I also should not have had a moron of a kid sitting next to that freaked out every single time someone pronounced “Aang” with the correct Asian pronunciation of the name, rather than the show’s own pronunciation based on the Western mispronunciation.

All that said, I will make this very clear… my first screening of the movie wasn’t very fun, but after 3 years, I found that to be the fault (entirely) of those two experiences: the bad 3D and the audience.

Watching the movie this past spring, having watched neither Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra since at least 2009 (and since the season finale of Korra for that one), I didn’t have the show’s characters, storyline, or intricate details in mind.  Here’s what I found:

The Last Airbender stands on its’ own.  It’s a fun movie that at times moves too quickly.  I really wish the extended cut that played on the Paramount Lot months before the movie was released would come out.

The visuals are incredible and stunning, the acting is appropriate for a children’s movie, and the martial arts are what they would have been on the show if the cost of animation and time constraints of TV weren’t an issue, i.e. performed correctly.

I loved the looks of Appa and Momo on the big screen, and wish that there were more scenes with them.

Personally, I give the film a 4/5.  I loved it.  It wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, and I was expecting something like The Lord of the Rings in scope and size, which this could easily have been, and it wasn’t, and that’s unfortunate.

Anyway, there have been many things said about this movie, and an awful lot of hatred for it, but when I’ve had conversations with friends about it, we’ve all got varying opinions.  Some friends hate it, and others will watch it simply for the visuals.  One of my friends pointed out that even the word “Avatar” is incorrectly used and pronounced.  If this film was supposed to be any actual place on our planet, then the very concept was from a different culture than the martial arts.  For that reason, among many others, the entire story must take place in a fantasy world, or alternate dimension.

Avatar’s pronunciation in the film, and the TV show, are both actually incorrect, in the same way that most people pronounce the word “Tao.”  A friend mentioned that he was having a conversation and said “Tao” with a T sound, and someone corrected him, saying it’s “Dao” with a “D” sound.  He then corrected that person, using the actual pronunciation, which is somewhere between a T and a D sound, and he was just using the common Western pronunciation so that his point would be understood.

It seems like every day or two, I get an e-mail from someone saying how much they loved the first one, and they’re hoping for a second film to be released.  Every day people search for The Last Airbender 2, and land on this website.  Every few days I get e-mails from people that want to play the role of Toph in the sequel.

There’s good reason for that: people do like this movie.  I know that there aren’t many of us that do, but we’re out there.  I don’t feel I should apologize to anyone for that, as it’s an opinion that I have.  If you don’t share that opinion, that’s your choice.

One last note: Bryan Konietzko wrote this, recently: “I prefer to stay out of this type of discourse on Tumblr and let the large body of work Mike and I have put out there over the years speak for itself (which obviously DOES NOT include the gross misinterpretations and misrepresentations of our work in this guy’s work).”

People are reading an awful lot INTO this sentence.  Some are even saying that he’s claiming that M. Night Shyamalan’s casting choices are what he’s talking about.  People are looking at what he said through whatever lens that they look at the movie through.  To do this is rather foolish.  Unless Bryan clarifies exactly what he means by this, here’s how it should be understood based on the context of it:

He’s saying that people should look at the cartoons that they’ve made as their body of work.  He’s saying that the movie that was made isn’t included in their body of work because they didn’t create the movie.  He’s also saying that the movie misrepresented and misinterpreted the cartoon.  Until he says otherwise, I believe he’s talking about plot points and personalities, and nothing of the casting.  Sokka is a goofball on the show, in the movie he’s a serious character that wants nothing but to protect his family.  Aang is both child-like and serious on the show, and in the film he has kind of left the child-like attitude behind.  In the film, he also doesn’t defeat the Fire Nation at the end in the same way that he does at the end of Book 1 of the show, leaving himself broken for doing to them what they did to his people.

Here’s the thing: in Animation, you can get away with that stuff pretty easily without many people batting an eye.  When Superman battles Doomsday on the comics, they’re both going through buildings and taking things out and many many people are likely dying.  In Man of Steel, when Superman battles Zod, the same thing is happening.  The difference is that it’s live action.  The amount of death and destruction that Aang would have caused, I imagine would have come to the same point that Superman gets to with Zod.  And for a movie for kids, that would have been too heavy, lest we forget who the target audience is.

M. Night Shyamalan is a convenient target for these words because Nickelodeon’s parent company is Paramount, and they’re not going to jeopardize the future of The Legend of Korra by pointing out anyone else that may still work at Paramount.

So the question of the day:

Would you rather have a perfect tv to film translation of the cartoon, or would you rather had the movie focus on a different story in the Avatar timeline?  If you would have rather had a different story, what would you rather have had a story about?  A different Avatar?  A bridge between The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra?

3 Responses to “A New Review of ‘The Last Airbender’”

  1. Lee Anderson says:

    You know, after having an interview with M Night, and having him write the introduction to their art book in 2009, having Bryan casually say that about M Night is kind of a douchy move.

  2. Maggie says:

    I liked this review, thanks for posting. He makes some very valid points, especially with regards to what you can get away with in a cartoon in comparison to a live action film. I believe M. night is criticized for the sake of being criticized, like with After Earth (which I loved). Being part of the Game of Thrones internet fan base, I can assure you that even if the show is highly prized, the book reading core still find fault with the show. It will never stop. For instance, my favourite character is Jon Snow. He’s wildy popular with casual viewers, but Kit Harington’s performance and the writing for the character is criticized quite a lot by book readers. Seen in context, the show has many characters and sometimes character development is sacrificed in favour of easier adaptation (the dynamics of screen characters are different from book ones). Sometimes this is successful, other times not. I really felt for Jackson Rathbone (being a fan) when he was so severely criticized for his interpretation of Sokka (which is also due to the writing of the character and yes, I’m aware he was the wrong skin colour). Now that I’m more objective about the film (and cartoon), I would also want to watch the film again :)

  3. Johnny says:

    It is sad that TLA movie has not got a sequel. Yet the irony is that Percy Jackson a movie which hard core fans hate it for not be loyal to the book is getting a sequel. That movie did less money both domestically and oversees and Fox still gave the greenlight anyway. About the comment that Bryan did, he should be a shame of himself for not supporting the movie. Before M. Night and at the high of the original shows popularity nobody in Hollywood gave a shit about doing a movie of their beloved cartoon. M. Night gave it a shoot because he believe the original show had a good storyline for young children. Unlike Legend of Korra to me the ending of that show was horrible garbage that in my opinion nearly kill the majestic of the franchise. Nick would rather protect Korra than give another shoot on this live action franchise. If there is going to be a sequel or reboot is going to be really low budget since this summer has been a flops of blockbusters.

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