The Last Airbender (Blu-ray)

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Rating: PG

Starring:
Noah Ringer as Aang
Dev Patel as Prince Zuko
Nicola Peltz as Katara
Jackson Rathbone as Sokka
Shaun Toub as Uncle Iroh
Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao
Cliff Curtis as Fire Lord Ozai
Seychelle Gabriel as Princess Yue
Katharine Houghton as Katara’s Grandma
Francis Guinan as Master Pakku
Damon Gupton as Monk Gyatso
Summer Bishil as Azula
Randall Duk Kim as Old Man in Temple
John D’Alonzo as Zhao’s Assistant
Keong Sim as Earthbending Father

Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Special Features:
Discovering The Last Airbender
Siege Of The North
Origins Of The Avatar
Katara For A Day
Deleted Scenes
Outtakes
Select Scene Commentary

Includes DVD Copy Of The Last Airbender

Includes Digital Copy Of The Last Airbender For Portable Media Players

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
DTS-HD MA 5.1 Sound
Portuguese, French and Spanish Languages
Portuguese, French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 103 Minutes

The Details:
The following is the official description of the film:

“Experience the thrilling live-action adventure based on the hit Nickelodeon series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’ Join Aang, an extraordinary boy with incredible ‘bending’ powers, as he journeys through an exotic land filled with magical creatures and powerful friends. As the Avatar, he is the only one who can end the age-old conflict between the four nations, Air, Water, Earth and Fire. An inspirational journey, ‘The Last Airbender’ is exciting entertainment for the entire family!”

“The Last Airbender” is rated PG.

The Movie:
First and foremost, this is a great looking movie. The creatures, costumes, vehicles, and locations are all beautifully done. I loved the mix of machines and technology with the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” type of world. ILM and the other visual effects companies did great work.

I also loved the fact that this movie incorporated a number of different cultures to create this world. You have an Inuit feel to the South Water People. You have a Viking feel with the North Water People. You have cultures that are blends of India, China, Japan, and more. It’s a great mix that gives the production design an interesting feel.

The score by James Newton Howard is also pretty good. The movie has a pulse-pounding theme that helps add to the excitement of the battle scenes. I’m sure you’ll be hearing this music in many movie trailers to come.

On the down side, I was really looking forward to this movie. This summer’s films have been pretty lackluster so far and I was expecting “The Last Airbender” to break that streak. I haven’t watched the cartoon series regularly, but I enjoyed the little bits that I did see and thought it was a great concept. And as a fan of M. Night Shyamalan, I was curious to see what he could do with the story. So I should have been one of the people that enjoyed it most. While it was OK, I have to admit that there was a lot wrong with it.

First of all, it tries to hit us with too much too fast. When introducing an entirely new world, you need to use the fictional names, places, and characters sparingly. In the first 10 minutes we’re blasted with talk of Fire Nations, chi, spirit realms, Avatars, airbenders, and a million other things that mean nothing and make no sense to anyone that hasn’t seen the TV show. Much of the audience is in catch-up mode as the movie starts and you need to let them get immersed in the world and get them to care about it. Throwing out a lot of fantasy jargon tells me you have a big world, but it doesn’t make me care about it.

That leads to the next problem – forced emotional scenes. In an effort to give weight to the characters and situations, we’re subjected to a bunch of scenes that are supposed to be emotional but aren’t because of the rushed running time. We see Aang walk into a prison camp and within 15 seconds he starts delivering a rousing speech that is supposed to spark a rebellion despite the fact that they’ve been oppressed for years. It doesn’t work. In another scene Sokka meets Princess Yue. Fifteen seconds later we’re told that he’s head-over-heels in love with her. What follows are awkward scenes of hand holding, flirtation, and other manufactured emotion. Again, it doesn’t work.

Then there’s the acting. I try to be forgiving because I realize these are young, mostly unknown actors and actresses. But M. Night Shyamalan has always been able to find great young actors. Remember Hayley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense”? Spencer Treat Clark in “Unbreakable”? Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin in “Signs”? They all did great performances and, unfortunately, the cast of “The Last Airbender” doesn’t match up. Noah Ringer looks good as Aang but he feels way too American to be a mystical reincarnated Avatar. Nicola Peltz as Katara and Jackson Rathbone as Sokka have a bit more life in them, but they too have some dialogue delivery issues. Dev Patel fares a little better as Prince Zuko, but he’s got such a big chip on his shoulder (which we’re reminded of again and again) that he’s not a particularly likable character. Overall, the acting is a disappointment.

A lot of people complain that M. Night Shyamalan’s movies are slow and plodding. That has never bothered me… at least until now. While “The Last Airbender” has a generous helping of action scenes and the movie has a tight running time, it still has a number of slow scenes that drag the pacing down. How many scenes do we need to see of Aang doing Tai Chi? Or of characters brooding? It gets old quickly.

“The Last Airbender” also ends on a cliffhanger. The creators were obviously hoping to do a sequel. (The movie even starts out saying ‘Book I: Water.’) Unfortunately, that makes this movie feel quite incomplete. You feel like you’re only getting a small piece of the story and it is ultimately unsatisfying. That’s even more the case since I’m not expecting this movie to perform well enough to justify a “Book II.”

All this being said, my kids really enjoyed “The Last Airbender.” They don’t watch the cartoon, but the movie definitely engaged them. They loved the fight scenes, the creatures, and the kids playing a central role in the story. But as any parent knows, a truly great family film entertains the whole family and, unfortunately, this movie didn’t do it.

Is this movie worth checking out? If you are a fan of the TV show, then I’d say yes. You’ll be more forgiving of the movie’s flaws and you won’t be lagging behind the narrative.

The Extras:
When a lot of movies don’t perform well at the box office, the studios frequently skimp of the DVD and Blu-ray bonus features. That isn’t the case here. There’s actually quite a lot of material to enjoy. The main extra is “Discovering The Last Airbender,” a feature length documentary on the making of the movie. They cover the original inspirations for the movie, the central themes, the production designs, the sets, the effects, and other aspects of movie making. Next up is “Siege Of The North” which covers the grand finale. They discuss the exceptionally large set they built in Philadelphia, the fight choreography, and more. “Origins Of The Avatar” talks about the cartoon, its creators, and their inspirations. “Katara For A Day” follows Nicola Peltz around the set on a typical day of shooting. We see her film scenes, go to school, go through hair and makeup, etc. You’ll also find over 10 minutes of Deleted Scenes and Outtakes. Rounding things out is a Select Scene Commentary.

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