The action-adventure fantasy film The Last Airbender (2010) is M. Night Shyamalan‘s most critizised work. Of course, the movie has flaws, like some bad, statuesque actors (except Noah Ringer, whose performance is decent), wooden, underdeveloped dialogues and a story problem. But I have always thought that the film has never deserved this wave of total criticism from US journalists. Two interesting points first: critics in Europe were much more nuanced and the quality of the film suffered a lot from the forced post-convert of the film to 3D and the forced cut of nearly half an hour of the movie.
Let’s see 4 positive and creative elements from Shyamalan’s adaptation from the Nickelodeon animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender.
1/ Fighting and action sequences
The Last Airbender isn’t a masterpiece as seen above. Nevertheless the action and fight scenes are well staged: many of them have been filmed from a single camera perspective, i.e. without any recognizable cut. The camera floats around the characters (like in earlier Shyamalan films) and creates dynamism during the fighting. Nearly every other Hollywood production would have used massive cuts to create this effect of action. Instead of these hectic, disturbing cuts known from all these other blockbusters, The Last Airbender thus offers well-shot elaborate martial arts performances! Especially the fight in the abandoned temple of Aang’s people as well as the battle towards the end are remembered.
This different way of presenting action on the screen takes getting used to (many viewers are not used to it that’s the problem). But once you get used to it, you see much more than just fighting in these sequences. There is a lot of beauty, lyricism and poetry floating around. It’s almost like a dance. Never before have I seen such sovereign and originally staged fighting scenes in a film. Think about it!
PS: For someone who has seen the series, the fights might not be accurate enough, but for someone who hasn’t, the fights seem really hypnotic und unique.
2/ Most beautiful climax ever
This creative way of directing shows its hole potential in the final of the movie. It’s true that especially the beginning of The Last Airbender is very exposure-heavy and story-weak, but the end of it is the exact opposite. The climax at the end showed what great potential the hole movie had. Some may consider it as one of the worst movies, yet even these people admit that it has one of the most powerful and beautiful ending scenes ever made. The cinematic choreography and special effects (the wave!) are unique and impressive at the end of the film.
3/ An astonishing music
In contrast to the mostly negative reviews of the film, the soundtrack from composer James Newton Howard has received universal critical acclaim and was even nominated for a few awards. The music from The Last Airbender is full of powerful and heroic themes. Especially the piece “Flow Like Water” is one of the most amazing soundtrack segments I have ever heard. Howard showed all his talent during this piece. At the end of this scene, in combination with the images, the music gives you goose bumps!
4/ A rare peaceful message
With this movie and influenced by the animated series Shyamalan conveys a spiritual message of rare peaceful intensity. Finally, a big Hollywood fantasy action blockbuster production is not about a finale in which two armies tear each other apart. Here, on the contrary, it is about pacifism. With its peaceful and harmonious basic message, it is a welcome change from ever larger, ever louder, ever colder and increasingly cynical youth films.
No great bloodshed, only one impressive demonstration of Aang’s powers.
I hope that I could convince you that The Last Airbender, despite its flaws and problems, has some great moments and elements!
Picture: Paramount Pictures