Forgotten Classics: The Last Airbender

Words cannot describe how serious I’m being right now. There’s a lot of other wonderful movies out there: Batman and Robin, Alien Resurrection, Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li. All of these films are perfect ways to spend an evening. Have a significant other you’re trying to impress? Can’t go wrong with those. M. Night Shyamalan, the incredibly talented director of the movie I’m about to describe, has directed other such films of this quality as well. I’m of course talking about the heartfelt tale of Lady in the Water and the wonderfully atmospheric The Happening. Yet in 2010, M. Night eclipsed his other work with an adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Right away there is an improvement in the title. Avatar, you mean that riveting character-driven drama by James Cameron? Nay, this is simply The Last Airbender. I wish more movie titles would follow the brilliant marketing strategy used by this movie. I don’t know about the rest of you but I am already horribly confused over Legendary’s upcoming remake of Godzilla. I would like to think it’s a monster movie but with the word “God” in the title, how can I be sure? Maybe director Gareth Edwards is filming a religious drama on the god, Zilla? I don’t know: it’s too complicated for me. Anyway, forget that movie. We’re here to talk genius – The Last Airbender genius.

There is a great challenge in adapting any television show into a movie. Right away the question is raised: what makes the cut? TV shows have time to develop characters, pursue side plots and stage dramatic confrontations. They have significant hours, a movie only has between two and three hours to tell the same story. Similar challenges are raised with book adaptations as well. Anyway, anyone who has seen Avatar: the Last Airbender knows the quality of the show. The first season alone introduces the major characters of Aang, Sokka, Katara, Zuko, Iroh, Roku and Suki. Don’t worry, they’re are all there in the Shyamalan cut… well except Roku and Suki. Who needed them anyway?

So, perfect so far. What about the other side of adaptation, the oh-so-important plot points of the story? Once again, Avatar: the Last Airbender is a complex show. In addition to the character stories, there are several other thematic structures at work. The struggle to restore balance, the invasive nature of the Industrial Revolution, the monomythical philosophy of Joseph Campbell, the Shakespearean struggle of self-worth – point is shit goes down in twenty episodes a season. The Last Airbender may not have time for all these subtleties but it does a competent job. There’s… scenes of fighting and implied journeying. I think Aang and Katara hug at one point and Zuko mentions honor so, there you go! It’s all there.

Let’s actually talk about the fighting for a bit. Avatar: the Last Airbender has some of the most fluidly animated fighting of any series. The feeling of connectivity between movement and bending allow the viewer to believe the battle in front of their eyes. Again it is a tough challenge to meet. Did M. Night Shyamalan accomplish it? You better believe it. Just look at this:

Let the awesomeness of this scene sink in. Don’t worry, the rest of the film is just as well executed.

I don’t feel the need to say anymore on that subject.

The Last Airbender is an exceptional achievement of storytelling and direction. Now the question comes: why isn’t it more popular. Short answer: people can’t handle it. They start watching this masterpiece and freak out, usually being like: “can’t handle this, I’m going to just watch the show or a bad movie like the Lord of the Rings instead.” It’s a usual reaction. Don’t be ashamed if you’ve felt something similar watching this movie, it just means your mind is too small for the genius of M. Night Shyamalan.

There is good news. Most stores are practically giving this movie away at no cost so you can very easily make it the crown jewel of your video library. Most likely this is one of the latest forms of public service, similar to the creation of the library. Everyone deserves to benefit from a creative genius like M. Night Shyamalan so he has made his movie cheaply affordable for us. Not to be easily likened to the divinity of Christ but yeah, it’s pretty much on the same level.

Hundreds are films are made every year but there are few diamonds in the ruff. And there is only one The Last Airbender.

Seriously thank Christ for that. April Fools of course. Although I feel I must make one thing clear: do not see this movie. If you feel you must, DO NOT GIVE MONEY TO IT. This is a violation of great art that should not be condoned. I, as a fan of the show, gave money to this in theaters and I feel I am a worse person for doing so. How bad is The Last Airbender? If I were given the choice between seeing it again and being castrated, I would see it again… but I would have to think about it. Anytime a person considers castration: you know you might be dealing with one of the most offensively bad movies in existence. Oh well, at least it’s not the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Happy April Fools!

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