Dir/scr: M. Night Shyamalan. US. 2010. 103mins
Despite their shortcomings, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s films have always wielded an adventurous showmanship, a quality that’s dispiritingly lacking from The Last Airbender. This live-action adaptation of an animated children’s fantasy series is a leaden, joyless ride that represents another major misfire from the once-promising filmmaker.
The filmmaker’s style smothers this ostensibly lighter kids’ film, resulting in a CG-heavy fantasy-adventure that’s more dreary than exciting.
Opening domestically July 1 before expanding across the globe, The Last Airbender will cater to younger audiences familiar with the original Nickelodeon television series. Shyamalan’s diminished (but still considerable) commercial potency may lure the curious, as will the film’s use of 3-D. But in a crowded marketplace that will soon contain Despicable Me and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Airbender may struggle for breathing room.
During an ancient time in which the evil Fire Nation rules over humanity, a boy named Aang (Noah Ringer) is freed from an icy tomb to discover that he can control the power of the air. Prophesised to be the one who can bring peace to the world, he must face off against the Fire Nation’s arrogant Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi).
Taking its cues from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord Of The Rings, The Last Airbender concerns itself with an uncertain young boy on a quest to realise his heroic destiny. In films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Shyamalan has shown a talent for guiding strong child performances, but Ringer fails to reveal much inner spark. Adopting the same overly serious tone he’s incorporated for his adult thrillers, the filmmaker’s style smothers this ostensibly lighter kids’ film, resulting in a CG-heavy fantasy-adventure that’s more dreary than exciting.
Additionally, the world of The Last Airbender proves maddeningly complex as the action is divided across different lands and even includes two separate villains, Zhao and another adversary (played by Dev Patel), who are both trying to track down Aang. Rather than giving the film an epic grandeur, the myriad characters and subplots further dilute viewer interest. As for the 3-D technology, it does little to enhance an overly busy yet drab visual design.
Production companies Nickelodeon Movies, Blinding Edge Pictures, The Kennedy/Marshall Company
International distribution: Paramount Pictures
Executive producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Scott Aversano, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Producers: Sam Mercer, Frank Marshall. M. Night Shyamalan
Co-producer: Jose L. Rodriguez
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan, based on the series Avatar: The Last Airbender created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Production designer: Philip Messina
Editor: Conrad Buff
Music: James Newton Howard
Main cast: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis