Avatar the Last Airbender the Animation is probably ranks up there as one of the most fun animations I had the pleasure of watching. It had likeable characters that had history and personality, cool martial arts, an imaginative world and really pew pew elemental powers. It was clever and the artwork design was well thought out, really reflecting the different nation’s powers and culture.
The movie on the other hand, isn’t remotely on par with the animation.
First of all, avoid the 3D experience at all costs! The Last Airbender movie was never intended for 3D (it was converted from 2D) and this is shown both with the lack of depth given by the 3D glasses along with several portions of the movie where the glasses made the scene too dark to observe what was going on. Clear rip off here.
Secondly the acting…oh gawd…I wasn’t really expecting any Oscar winning performances here but the stiffness of it was really really unbearable. Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire is probably the only recognizable actor but all sense of depth of Zukko’s character went out of the window. However, perhaps the actors are not solely to blame as the juvenile script was cringe-worthy:
Aang: Earthbenders! Why are you acting this way? You are powerful and amazing people! You don’t need to live like this! There is earth right beneath your feet! The ground is an extension of who you are!
It is amazing to think that the same person who came up with Sixth Sense came up with this drivel…
Aang was also a huge disappointment and seemed to be picked solely because he had the same build and did good martial arts. Although Aang in the animation wasn’t an inspirational character and was more of the “Avatar next door that you grow to like”, you could see how people would rally to his cause. Aang in the movie just seemed like a little bawling kid begging for attention.
General Iroh, one of my favorite characters in the animation is also not the likeable, lazy and jovial Uncle he was in the animation. In the movie, he was merely the fatherly figure and the ‘voice of reason’ which took all the charm out of the amiable fallen general.
Now the main draw of this movie should have been its elemental effects but although they looked decent, they seemed dated and artificial. The elemental powers moved clumsily especially the earth element that looked more like…slowly levitating foam balls rather than rocks. The kungfu forms were cool enough to make me consider doing Tai -chi for fun and to a certain extent true to the animation, they seem contrived as it did not flow with the elemental powers. In the animation, the elements moved in close unity with the kungfu movements with no long ‘power-up katas’, but here it seems like an eternity for any element to be summoned which had more of a Dragonball feel to it. Except…without the awesome fireballs… Element bending was meant to be effortless and an extension of the user, not something to be summoned.
Without spoiling the story, the animation’s ending of Book 1 was also a whole lot more engaging and had a real epic feel to it. There was real tension there. Instead, the movie’s ‘climax’ felt more like a cross between a poor man’s Battle of Helm’s Deep and the ocean effects of the movie “2012”.
For all of Shyamalan’s efforts, the movie seems to have tried to condense what was a rich world into purely a kid’s movie which is a real shame considering the animation’s broad appeal among all age groups.
Would I recommend watching the Last Airbender movie? Hmm…only if you must…otherwise just watch the movie’s trailer which has all the cool effects in it already (really…anything worth seeing in the movie was in the trailer) and then head straight on to the animation!
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that a sequel to the animation Avatar: the Legend of Korra is in the works and set for release in 2011. The screenshots are amazing and the promise of a more mature and a bit darker Avatar universe has us Avatar fans hopeful again.