Thursday, July 21, 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender, the live action movie.

I was disappointed in this movie. Very disappointed, and this after you consider that I went in with low expectations. There was a lot of potential in the movie, but it simply didn't live up to it. This movie's biggest problem was summed up at the beginning of the credits. Written, directed, and produced by M. Night Shamaylan. He made this movie all about himself. That was his biggest sin in the movie. It was so obviously a vanity piece. If he had made making the movie about making an awesome movie, it could have been great. But instead he made it to show everyone how awesome Shamaylan is, and that didn't work so well.

Now, having said that, I'm going to disagree with a lot of what's I've heard against the movie. In fact, despite all of the many, MANY problems with the movie, I still think that it contained the seeds of a much better movie.

First off. Most people hated the changes Shamaylan made to the movie. I actually liked most of the changes. In fact, the parts of the movie I liked the most were the parts that were fundamentally changed from the series. (Except for the pronunciation of the names. I'm sorry, but it is ridiculous to give "correct" pronunciations to made-up, fictional names. First off because even if they were real, it's not that big of a deal to anglicize them. To insist otherwise is either ignorance or snobbery. Ever hear of the Great Vowel Shift? Second because the names are MADE UP! They're made to try and sound "authentic" to varying degrees of success. For example, the water tribe names are just 100% baloney. No Inuits, Aleuts, Athabascans, Tlingit, Haida, or other "eskimos" have names even remotely resembling "sokka", "katara", or "yue". None I've ever met at least, and I live in Alaska.)

Anyway. Like I was saying before I derailed myself: I liked a lot of the changes that were made. I wasn't expecting a scene-for-scene remake of the cartoon, and the parts of the movie that tried to do a scene-for-scene remake were just terrible. Those parts felt like I was watching the cartoon with someone who kept hitting the fast forward button and stopping at random intervals. It practically gave me whiplash. Now, I was expecting certain things to be the same, mostly the general overall plot, such as finding Aang in the ice, going to the norther water tribe, fighting with earthbenders against firebenders along the way, etc. But other than that, I kind of wanted something completely different. It's like with Battlestar Galactica. I love the original series, but I'm glad the new series did something completely different, while hitting some (but not all) of the same plot points. You don't need to repeat the exact same thing the original did, because it's already been done.

For example, changing the mythos of the world: I like this. Having the spirits be more involved, or at least more interested, in the world is an interesting change, and I'd like to see how that gets explored. Also, showing that there are a lot more people who actually think about the spirits and reverence them, as with the archer who hesitates to shoot Zuko since he thinks that it's a spirit, gives the idea a more religious feel and it works. The biggest problem was that it wasn't explored enough. Really, there was no practical difference in the change except for a throwaway line or two, when it could have been a huge difference. This was Shamaylan's second biggest sin in the movie: he made changes, but them implemented them half-heartedly.

Then, there was the exposition. OH HEAVENS the exposition. I have never. I repeat: NEVER seen such ham-fisted exposition in my entire life. It was terrible. I cringed every time. That was his third biggest sin in the movie. There are good ways of condensing a storyline and ways to make exposition feel natural. He opted to ignore all of them.

As for the actors...
Sokka: I thought he looked the part really well, but he was a pretty bad actor.
Uncle Iroh: I liked him. I thought he worked. He was easily the best actor in the entire movie. It didn't bother me so much that he was skinny. I heard a lot of people say that it was like making Santa Claus skinny, but the thing is that the original Santa Claus was skinny. It was a series of political cartoons in America that gave us the idea of a fat Santa. Besides, he really captured the gentle, caring, and fatherly part of Iroh rather well. Sure, there were parts that didn't seem that great, but I honestly chalk that up to poor direction.
Katara: I'm ambivalent. I thought she did an okay job. Not bad, not great. Just okay.
Aang: I actually thought he did really well. Same problem as Iroh, though: poor direction. But he did well with what he was given.
Zuko: I think he did a good job. Not a great job, but again, probably the direction is why he didn't do better.

That's about it. I really could go on for quite a while about this movie.

Bottom Line: This movie, while it had some good ideas, is just terrible. It's basically a primer on how NOT to adapt a TV show into a movie. Which is a shame, because I really do feel that M. Night Shamaylan is a great director. he just got too caught up in himself to see where he was taking the movie.

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