I’ve been reading the reviews. On HuffingtonPost, by Roger Ebert, on Twitter and so on. I’ve been watching the previews since December. I’ve read all of the articles about casting and race (see my post “Racebending Avatar: The Last Airbender” from April 2009). As of midnight in New York and L.A., the movie has finally arrived. And for most fans of the greatest animation series ever, The Last Airbender‘s DOA, SOL, and FUBAR, all wrapped into one. M. Night Shyamalan, who hasn’t done a great film since Sixth Sense in ’99, should’ve used all six of his senses before agreeing to wield a cleaver to a show based on multicultural authenticity and a sense of humanity only matched by its revealing humor.
The truth is, this isn’t all Shyamalan’s fault. Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, sold their movie rights and creative direction for this movie so easily and cheaply. They may as well have been the McDonald brothers selling what’s now McDonald’s to Roy Kroc back in 1955. The producers of the film and Paramount Studios should be shot with a turkey for letting a live-action film based on an animated series — which almost never works out — make it to a CGI board, much less a screen.
But even with all of that, the picking of mostly White actors to play multiethnic roles was horrendous. The making up for this by making all of the actors playing Fire Nation characters — the bad guys — Maori and South Asian was another sign. Not at all dissimilar from the constant complaints about Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), the last of that long-running franchise. The special effects of fire and water-bending — not so special, in the words of Beavis and Butthead. And 3D effects? Huh? Really?
This shows how cynical the world that controls what we see and hear is. They think that the consuming public is so stupid, our kids so demanding, that they can serve us slop out of a garbage can with a fungus-covered plastic spoon, and then expect us to like it. It’s still a world in which our heroes and villains must look and act a certain way, our appreciation for anything not overtly American gets thrown out of a window, our need for the bombastic more important than our need for the authentic.
The real jaded-ness here, though, is that The Last Airbender wasn’t made with fans of the animated series in mind, the majority of whom are teenagers and adults. No, this movie was made for the five to ten-year-old set, the ones who may or may not have seen the Nicktoons replays of Avatar: The Last Airbender. But even the kids who have seen the series cannot appreciate the layers of complexity in the show, the richness of the characters, or the overall dialogue of the series. That’s what folks like Shyamalan are counting on.
My son was asking about The Last Airbender this morning, because he thinks that it’ll be like the animated series. Soon to be seven, Noah has a more thorough understanding of the series than most his age. But he doesn’t know how bad this movie is. If I’m pushed to or if he begs, I might take him, if only to show him how a good series can be turned into a horrible film. Then I’ll ask Shyamalan to give back his salary for making such schlock.