When I think M. Night Shyamalan, I think about dark stories, full of heavy, oft ridiculous twists and deus ex machina twists that sometimes render the entire film up to that point negated. I think of unimaginable talent, that somehow went awry, unchecked, possibly due to his own success, it's as if no one ever stood up and told the man that a decision (or fifty such decisions) might have been a mistake. I think of Bruce Willis, Shyamalan's random casting of himself in increasingly more important (and yes, Christ-like) roles, and the fact that after years of working under the numerous Disney labels, he's lately been bouncing from studio to studio with each new misfire, as if he's being considered a gamble.
Never, ever, would I have imagined Shyamalan to jump from his suspense thriller typecasting to directing an adaptation of a successful Nickelodeon cartoon, 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.' There was no sign whatsoever in his filmography that he'd latch on to such a commercial property that wasn't of his own creation, even if he had a hand in penning the script, or producing the film. It seemed about as awkward and desperate as Kevin Smith being brought in to direct a film he didn't write (the strike out known as 'Cop Out').
'The Last Airbender' begins with a whiny text crawl that screams of immaturity and poor thoughts. There are four elements in the world, which some special humans can "bend" to their wills, though they are born into learning only one of these talents. The Avatar, a single person in the world, can master all four, but the last Avatar disappeared one hundred years ago. Sorry, scratch that. To match the text crawl, he just disappeared, leaving a twenty on the nightstand and a phone call three weeks later advising a doctor's visit.
When Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) discover Aang (Noah Ringer) buried beneath their icy homeland, they unearth the world's savior, only they don't quite know it yet. The Fire Nation has ravaged the world, decimating the Wind Benders, enslaving the Earth Benders. Their sights are now set on those who control water, their last foe, as they continue their search for the Avatar and world domination. Aang and his new friends must train their otherworldly powers as they prepare to defend one of the last bastions in the world against those who seek to destroy it.
I'm sorry, but it's hard to take a film like this seriously. Even Paramount gave up on trying to sell this movie. When trailers played in theaters, it was reported that audiences were often heard laughing at the screen. The following is the excerpt found on the back cover of this release:
"Experience the thrilling live-action adventure based on the hit Nickelodeon series 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.' Join Aang, and 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!"
So...what exactly is the conflict? That sounds somewhat like a pleasure cruise. It sounds desperate to remind us that the cartoon is a hit. It even reminds us that James Cameron now gets three bucks every time someone even thinks the word 'Avatar,' let alone says it in a movie title. I am told this film is inspirational, but for the life of me, I can't quite figure out what I was inspired to do, other than be a bald pre-teen black belt super ninja. Sadly, I've been told that no matter how inspired by the film I may be, I can't go back in time and be anything of the sort.
The film just falls flat on nearly every level. Dialogue is stunted and sharp, pointless, and just a hair short of nonsensical. Character development doesn't exist. Action sequences are horribly tame, despite constantly containing sharp, pointy swords, and the ability to singe or drown opponents (there is one choice drowning, but even it is covered in a layer of shoddy effects so thick we can't even see if the victim dies). The plot is incredibly scattershot, seemingly appealing only to those well versed in the cartoon series to forgive its shortcomings and gaps.
Acting? It's awful. Artificially-flavored vanilla awful, with no additional adjectives needed. Even 'Slumdog' himself, Dev Patel, is horrifically awful. I really didn't expect much from Ringer, considering his background is a black belt in Taekwondo and a well tanned scalp area, but every single other actor mails it in like they were afraid to show up any of their fellow thespians by, you know, not sucking. The real fault with this film lies solely with its helmer and writer, the egomaniacal, seemingly oblivious Shyamalan. When I read he actually wrote a script that included the entire first season of the cartoon, suddenly the failure that is 'The Last Airbender' made sense. I just wonder why Paramount would put a fairly beleaguered director in charge of a potential blockbuster series, almost as if they, much like Aang, were trapped in an air bubble beneath ice ever since 'The Sixth Sense.'
I take offense to a film this poor having parallels to the Dalai Lama, though I do find it intriguing imagining him kicking serious ass. I take umbrage to the fact that this film parallels the atrocity known as 'Eragon' far too closely. I despise films that have characters that spout exposition brainlessly, completely out of conventional conversation, and 'The Last Airbender' has this in spades. I loathe films that have me looking to see "how much more pain" I have to endure before its runtime ends. I simply hated 'The Last Airbender,' and I know I'm not alone in this. This is one of those times where hate may not be a sharp enough word for such wasted potential. In the right hands, this could have been something special. Instead, it was in Shyamalan's hands, and if this film is any indication, he didn't wash them after using the restroom.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Paramount released three different versions of 'The Last Airbender' on Blu-ray: a single disc edition, a combo pack, and, exclusively to Best Buy, a 3D/2D combo pack, housed with a lenticular slipcover (that, much like all of Paramount's slips, is too short). This single disc release contains both editions of the film on a BD50 Dual Layer disc. The menu operates in 2D, and selecting the play option will prompt the user if they want to see the film in 2D or 3D.
There has not been any announcement as to how long Best Buy will have the exclusive rights to this disc.
Please note, the video presentation portion of this review is focusing solely on the 3D version of the film, which is what anyone buying this version of 'The Last Airbender' paid the extra money for.
'The Last Airbender' wasn't filmed in 3D. It was made in 2D, and later converted to 3D, much like 'Clash of the TItans (2010)' or 'Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore' Watching this Blu-ray, there are far too many times where you'll wonder if you accidentally selected the wrong version of the film. The use of 3D is almost minimal, to the point where the use of the term 3D is debatable. 2.5D just doesn't have that same ring to it.
If this were the first Blu-ray 3D release, perhaps viewers wouldn't have had much to complain about, what with the lack of titles to compare with, or the expected growing pains. But it wasn't. Instead, it was one of the many titles released on Blu-ray 3D Day, alongside numerous other titles, to win the coveted "worst looking 3D* release on the market" award. (*Stereoscopic releases only)
Alright, enough stalling, what exactly makes this one so bad? Textures, an all-too-important part of how a film looks, are an absolute disaster. Facial features sometimes appear like a total blur, devoid of any character or definition, while sets look bland and cardboardy, despite being nothing of the sort. The picture is about as deep as a kiddie pool, and have about as much substance as the pool would if it were to have a bowling ball sized hole in the bottom. The picture is often muddy, particularly in black levels, a real problem considering what should be bright and vibrant colors in this "special" effects laden feature. Pans bring out some terrible jutters and choppiness, while even a few static shots suffer from the lack of clean, straight lines. Banding is minor, but present every so often. Ghosting? It's honestly not so bad in this release, as there are no major misfires (possibly due to the sheer lack of 3D), only the occasional random 3D miss.
The real problem with this release is the 3D itself. It feels just like what it is: a cut out version of the film, that was done sparingly, poorly, and cheaply (read up on IMDb how the film itself was cut to facilitate the 3D conversion for less money!). The majority of 3D moments feel completely out of place, with characters standing out in their elements for no real reason, just lassoed and brought forward. Some moments even feel like there was some negative space lassoed in along with the characters (pay attention early to the water tribe duo of supporting characters for the most strikingly awful uses of 3D, seemingly done solely to inform fans early what they paid extra money for in theaters). Some of the worst bits of special effects are highlighted in the wrong way, brought to our attention when they should have been buried, or even covered up, replaced with a giant floating 40 ouncer of King Cobra malt liquor. I'd like to take this moment to remind studios that lens flares really don't belong in 3D films, especially ad nauseam as found here.
Is the transfer for 'The Last Airbender' to blame for all of this? No. But no matter how "accurately" this abomination to 3D is portrayed, it doesn't deserve any respect or leniency.
If you were beginning to wonder if anything on this release would earn any kudos, you finally get to read some compliments. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provided 'The Last Airbender' is stupendous, a borderline demo disc.
Dialogue is always crisp and clear, even if it doesn't venture too far through the room. To be fair, the rears have more than their hands full, as the room is almost constantly engaged through every speaker (even if it is just ambience for the sake of), showing off the solid sound design. Range is amazing, with some thunderous lows, and very solid high end shrieks. Movement effects are used frequently, and accurately, with great localization effects keeping you focused in on the boredom on screen. The highlight of the track has to be the bass levels, which go, metaphorically, from zero to one hundred in split seconds, including some great thump. A track whose depth outdoes the depth in the 3D picture, which, by itself, makes this disc a rental at the very least, just for the experience.
Sorry for the positive interruption, now back to the trashing of this release. The combo 3D/2D release of 'The Last Airbender' doesn't have a single extra, whatsoever. Which means...
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
The following titles are included in certain other releases of 'The Last Airbender,' but not here: Avatar Annotations PiP track, Discovering 'The Last Airbender,' Siege of the North, Katara for a Day, Deleted Scenes, and a Gag Reel. Additionally, there is no DVD copy of the film, which the premium 2D release of the film includes.
Let's just be honest: the only Bender we ever need to see on screen has a shiny metal ass. This mess of a film features characters who give us no reason to care for them, poor effects, a horrid pace, cold, cold scenes that don't really seem all that cold (not too much foggy breath, and a complete lack of shivering, even from outsiders), and some of the worst supporting actors/characters in the fantasy genre. It's utterly sterile and lifeless. This Blu-ray 3D release of 'The Last Airbender' is readily the worst looking title put out so far, though it does sound amazing. The exclusion of each and every extra from the numerous other home video releases may just be the final stake in this coffin. There are many better Blu-ray 3D titles out there, and countless better films. The prototypical Shyamalan stinker, 'The Last Airbender' had better, in fact, be the last.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.