Friday, July 9, 2010

For the Weekend: The Real Avatar

Today's suggestion for the weekend is a little bit different because it's more of a "don't see" than a "do see."  Please, for the love of all that is good in the world, don't go see "The Last Airbender" (2010) this weekend.  Instead, pull up a couch cushion, and watch the wonderful cartoon series it is based on, Nickelodeon's "Avatar: The Last Airbender" (2005-2008).

"Avatar" is the story of a young 12-year-old, airbending monk named Aang who wakes up in a war-torn world after being frozen in an iceberg for 100 years.  You see, he is the avatar, the only person in his entire element-bending world that can control all four elements.  The avatar is the ultimate peace-keeper of that world, reborn over and over again.  Yet, when Aang found out about his awesome, impending responsibility, he freaked out, ran away, and got trapped in a horrible storm (thus leading to his iceberg home for the next century).  And while he was away, the Fire Nation got greedy and started a war.  They eliminated the Air Nomads (in search of the avatar), divided the Water Tribes, and have almost taken the Earth Kingdom completely.  So, with the help of Katara and Sokka, the two water tribe kids who found him, he must finally take over the role he was supposed to do 100 years ago, and bring peace to the world again.

Now, you're probably saying "Wait?  Isn't that the same as the movie?"  NO!  Yeah, same premise, but the movie (or should I say M. Night Shyamalan) misses out on one very specific quality about the cartoon series that made it so great - this is a story ABOUT kids.  Kids are not serious creatures.  They may know their responsibilities and step up the maturity level when needed, but only as long as they need to.  The rest of the time kids are playing and laughing and joking.  The creators of "Avatar," Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, mixed the serious and the lighthearted beautifully together in the series.  Even when the dialogue is a bit corny, like "being part of the group means being part of group hugs," they still would laugh about the corniness.  There is not a stitch of comedy in Shyamalan's entire script.  Oh wait, I did laugh when "The Daily Show"'s Aasif Mandvi showed up playing the evilest villain of the film, Commander Zhao, but I don't think I was supposed to.

And the second most important characteristic of the series that the movie misses out on?  It was written FOR kids.  That's right!  The cartoon series was written for kids about kids, and not a single bit of history or rules of the world was ever confusing.  Yet, Shyamalan's script is such a mess of narrated exposition and ridiculous dialogue that I don't know how anyone who hasn't seen the series could make sense of what is going on, child or adult.  Not to mention the horrible, static acting by all involved.  It doesn't help us understand them any better when we can't see any emotion in their eyes.  The series cast wonderful actors, like Mae Whitman (currently on "Parenthood") as Katara, Dante Basco ("Ru-fee-ooooooooo") as Zuko, even the late great Mako as Uncle Iroh, and Jason Isaacs as Zhao.  All had more emotion in just their voices than the entire onscreen cast of "The Last Airbender" put together.

And then there's Shyamalan, who decided to change races of the cartoon characters and "correct" the pronunciation of some character names, like changing Aang (pronounced "Ay-ng" in the series) to "Ah-ng" because that is how it would be correctly pronounced in Chinese.  I'm sorry, but to me, that's just thumbing your nose at the creators.  Yes, it may have been the correct way to pronounce it, but the fans already love the wrong way.  When you have something that already has such a loyal fan base, it's smart to stick to familiar as much as possible.  And, Shyamalan, how can you correct the Asian pronunciations, yet eliminate all the Asian cultures already represented in the show?  DiMartino and Konietzko purposely pulled much from the Asian cultures because of their love of it and anime.  Yet you kept some and ignored the rest?  Did we watch the same cartoon?

I know this is more of a bashing of a film, which is not my usual style, but "The Last Airbender" just baffles me.  All week long I've been reading more and more reviews of the film and most everyone agrees that it's horrid.  It has an 8% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, for crying out loud.  Yet it still came in #2 at the box office last weekend.  And I'm finding lots of comments on the reviews from people stating that if you are a true fan of the series, you'll love the film.  Excuse me?!  I cannot state how much I love the series!  It is one of the best cartoons to come out in a long time.  And I can't believe how someone can take something already so good and produce something so bad.  I saw the film with seven other people, half fans of the series and half never having watched a single episode.  None of us liked it.  I don't think there was a single person in the entire theater that night that liked it.  Everyone was dead silent in disbelief when the credits rolled.

So I have three pleas for the world today.  To all audience members out there - skip the theater this weekend and watch the true story of Aang and his friends with "Avatar: The Last Airbender."  You currently can watch the entire series instantly on Netflix.  Don't keep "The Last Airbender" up at the box office.  To Nickelodeon Studios, if you still want to make the two other films in the trilogy, please find another director for them, or you'll have a lot of people not going to see them.  And three, to M. Night Shyamalan, get over yourself and stop torturing us.  Until Monday, everyone.  Have a great weekend!

(Post-tidbit:  "The Last Airbender" was originally titled the full name of the series, "Avatar: The Last Airbender."  But shortly after Nickelodeon's announcement, James Cameron announced the name of his next film "Avatar." Nickelodeon sued Cameron over the title, but obviously lost.)


  1. "Yet it still came in #2 at the box office last weekend."

    marketing > film quality

  2. Fingers are crossed it won't happen again this weekend.