Friday 13 August 2010

The Last Airbender review

The Last Airbender (PG, 103 mins)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

For a director who was once heralded as the new Hitchcock and the new Spielberg following the stunning success of The Sixth Sense, the rollercoaster career of M. Night Shyamalan has seen an awful lot more downs than ups lately.

The misbegotten Lady in the Water was followed by the somehow even worse The Happening, but it was hoped that his first foray into a big budget, special effects driven summer blockbuster could reverse the slide.

Sadly, the simple fact is The Last Airbender is an unwatchable fiasco, a hokey mishmash of incomprehensible exposition and lame fights lacking in a single moment of entertainment. It’s based on an animated TV series called Avatar: The Last Airbender, but obviously a certain big blue cat opus already had dibs on the first part of that title.

It takes place in a world where each of the four elements (Air, Fire, Earth and Water) can be controlled by gifted individuals known as Benders and legend tells that the Avatar could control all four. Peace and harmony had broken out across the land, but then the Avatar disappeared when the Fire nation destroyed all the Airbenders.

A century later, a brother and sister from the Water nation find a young boy frozen in ice called Aang, an Airbender who may be the Avatar, and Aang must learn to bend not just air but the other elements in order to restore peace.

The ensuing result of all this gobbledegook is gibberish of the highest order that makes the old Japanese TV show Monkey look sensible by comparison. But far worse than simply being irredeemably daft, The Last Airbender fails fundamentally on a filmmaking level.

Nothing about it works, first and foremost the atrocious acting of all involved, with line readings that sound like they’re being read off the page for the first time with no director present. Risible dialogue that may well have been written by a ten year old introduces so many random elements that most of the sequences could play in any order, giving no clue at any moment who is doing what to whom and why.

Lethargic action scenes consist almost entirely of Aang kicking up some wind to knock someone over or someone pitching a fireball.

But most heinously, after filming was completed, someone’s realisation that a few extra bucks could be squeezed from unsuspecting punters means that the movie has undergone an 11th hour conversion into 3D. It’s a hastily cobbled disaster so badly executed that if you take the 3D glasses off, it will make no difference whatsoever to what you’re looking at 90% of the time. Don’t waste your money.

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