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Review: The Last Airbender

After watching the Avatar cartoon series, I was curious about the live action movie made from it. For those that are unfamiliar with the plotline I gave some of it in my post a while back, and Keven also did a post about it a long while back.

The augmented reality and element bending was really quite impressive. Ah, the things they can do these days with modern special effects! All in all, it was a good show and worth seeing, even if you don’t watch the series. The creators tried hard to stay true to how things happened in the series. I say that acknowledging the need for massive condensing and adaptation.

Making cartoon characters come to life can’t be an easy task. Fans have spent years and lots of money trying to do it in cosplay, often with what I deem rather comical results from what I’ve seen online.

Hollywood has done a fair job of it for many series, especially the recent comicbook heroes. However, the Last Airbender had different challenges. Partly because it’s Japanese anime.

For those who aren’t used to Anime, let me explain that generally speaking, Anime (especially with any degree of comedy) is the ultimate Drama Queens – sometimes stuck in perpetual PMS.

Realism has nothing to do with it. We are talking about hyper-emotional states that deform the character and drive it to extremes. Sometimes characters cry torrents of tears that spray out like high pressured geysers. Sometimes when they’re angry, their hair stands up on end or may even change color (lol). Tense glares can literally spark lightning. If a character yells loud enough, the volume creates a big gust of wind to blast out the ears of listeners. Another curious element is that they get the whole “beware the woman scorned”. Warrior or not, if a heroine is embarrassed, angry or startled, they can beat a seasoned fighter to a pulp.

The emotions and personalities are larger than life. Some might deem it odd since from what I’ve seen in real live, their culture is rather reserve compared to American culture.

But translating that realistically into live action has got to be tough (spoken from someone who admits to never having tried to actually do so). And yet after the series, the real life actors seemed very toned down.

Anng of the movie is a slightly hesitant but thoughtful young boy. The cartoon version is high energy, impulsive, fun loving and very resourceful. He make heavy use of his air glider (which can make live action tricky) and as an airbender often uses amazingly strong sneezing.

I missed Sokka’s sarcasm and cheesy jokes. With the characters so toned down the comedy near non-existent. Stripped down and it totally changes their personalities.

My biggest real let down was probably Commander/Admiral Zhao. In the cartoon series he had been a big guy, low voice and mastermind behind the devious plot the heroes much overcome. In the movie, he was a shorter guy with a higher voice and just following orders.

The movie is only condensing one third of the series thus the real big bad villain of the series is actually Zhao’s superior. However, in the movie’s immediate plot Zhao is the only villain that the heroes face.

I felt that too much attention was given to tomorrow’s villain that today’s enemy at hand was undermined. Plus, I don’t think tomorrow’s villain benefited enough to merit it. In the series we don’t even see the end villain’s face until two thirds the way through the series. The mystery helped give him an ethereal evil.

For what it’s worth, the cartoon was actually more “violent”. The live action movie was kept as strongly “family friendly” as they could. Cartoon violence is easier to swallow by the masses and frankly easier to afford.

My Husband saw the movie first, before he saw any of the series and thought it was enjoyable. Sections that I deemed rather downloadish and/or repetitive, he tagged as just trying to keep the general audience that come in unaware like him. I still think some trimming could have happened in dialogue but it wasn’t bad.

So, as I said, all in all, good movie and definitely gets high marks for sincerely trying to follow the series. It’s a good adventure, fantasy and action story. However, if you love comedy and have the time you might find the cartoon worth exploring.

Just for laughs, enjoy some of the humor I so missed.

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About Ren Black

Part-time novelist. Weekend artist. Full-time Mother. Ex-poet. Perfectionist by training. Compulsive researcher sporadically. Prone to fits of linguistic commentary Unorthodox Renegade occasionally. Sarcastic by habit... Dreamer Always... Consider Yourself Warned

5 comments on “Review: The Last Airbender

  1. You’re the first person to say anything nice about this movie. Everybody I know panned it hardcore. I tend to like Shymalan movies, as long as they’re below an R rating, and I liked Lady in the Water, so I was saddened. But your review makes me want to give it a shot.

    • While looking for images for my post I did actually read that the movie was pretty shredded by critics. I’m certainly not going to rave about it, but I’ve seen worse. I’m not aware of too many Japanese Anime series actually making it to the big screen in live action so I do respect that. Though I guess even there I might be wrong since I haven’t done research. If they did Pokemon in live action I’m sure that would look pretty odd. lol. I can only imagine something like like the popular Fruits Basket where people actually change into animals.

      When you cross mediums you often cross target market and that can be really tricky with an established story. They could have had a very fast action thriller with a lot of damage but they opted for a family type film. My personal opinion is that they lost some of the power and appeal to the cartoon fans because they altered the sub genres. Sure, I could have redlined it more, but I know it’s easier to critique than create.

      And realistically speaking, finding a real life kid to act convincingly like the original Anng on camera … well, …

  2. I saw it and didn’t like it. I never saw any of the anime so may have played into my opinion. However, I have decided that grad school made me not like movies. I have a hard time sitting for two hours. But, my husband and the kids loved the movie. .

  3. […] something I had to deal with myself, to create a worthy adversary in Book I. Plus, having watched The Last Airbender and the recent Hobbit, which both dealt with this issue, it’s been on my mind. I’ll be […]

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