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Movies Review

The Last Airbender

By
Noah Ringer as Aang in The Last Airbender

© Rex Features

Released on Friday, Aug 13 2010

> Interview: Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz

Has there been a filmmaking fall from grace in recent times quite as abrupt and spectacular as M. Night Shyamalan's? Touted as the next Spielberg after the triple punch of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, he wobbled with The Village before seeing the wheels fall off completely with the much-derided Lady In The Water and The Happening. The similarly-mocked Guy Ritchie got his creative juices flowing again with a big franchise movie and Shyamalan has now joined him in the blockbuster arena with The Last Airbender, a family film inspired by the popular Nickelodeon cartoon series. Unfortunately for Shyamalan, the rip-roaring action-adventure energy that coursed through Sherlock Holmes is nowhere to be seen in Airbender, a derivative and lifeless 'heroes journey' tale layered up with Eastern mysticism.

The central idea is certainly an intriguing one - a 12-year-old 'Avatar' named Aang (Noah Ringer) is capable of controlling four elements, air, water, earth and fire, and must protect various tribes from the evil Fire Nation - yet its storytelling is executed at such a familiar, basic level, the dialogue bad to laughable and the acting not much better, that it's a completely squandered opportunity all round. The narrative engine is assembled from Star Wars, The Matrix and countless other (better) 'chosen one' tales, so even the more original, spiritual aspects of Airbender can't mask the creakingly unoriginal script. It reaches its nadir when Water Tribe warrior Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Aang exchange ropey expository dialogue for what feels like an eternity, explaining where they've been, what they’re doing now and where they're going. It's at this point that you'll feel like leaving the cinema.

Dev Patel, in his first post-Slumdog role, delivers a fairly engaging performance as the Fire Nation's moody Prince Zuko and Nicola Peltz makes for a spirited heroine as waterbender Katara. They are the only characters that are invested with an ounce of depth. Shyamalan, who in the past has cajoled fine turns out of sprogs (Haley Joel Osment and Rory Culkin spring to mind), can't repeat the trick with Ringer, who resembles a little bald pinball - pinging across the screen for the elaborate action scenes at lightspeed but awkwardly stumbling over the rote dialogue when he's stationery. It's the least believable performance in a movie riddled with a lot of unconvincing ones.

In fairness, visually The Last Airbender is often impressive with earth, wind, fire and water colliding in epic battles scenes, but that's more a testament to the ILM pixel bods chained to workstations than Shyamalan's grasp of spectacle cinema. Not helping this imagery, however, is a truly abysmal 3D conversion. It's barely noticeable, and a quick flick up of the glasses shows little contrast between the image. Add to that the murky dark image and the 3D isn't just bad, it's a complete rip-off for cinemagoers.


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