M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender does not live up to any hype. Not for fans of Shyamalan or for fans of the series. Unlike M. Night Shyamalan’s other films this is an adapted concept and thus not his usual cup of tea.
It shocked me to learn how short the film was but watching the film it is obvious how an approximate twenty-hour season fit into a less than two-hour film. For those of you that do not know the story it is about Aang, played by Noah Ringer, and his journey of becoming the Avatar. The first season or Book One is about Aang taking the first step of understanding his destiny and learning the second of four elements as the Avatar: Water. The film does not cover the intricacies of the characters involved in his journey or build narrative comparatively. It seems that as a writer Shyamalan failed to capture The Last Airbender.
Some of the blame of the writing process is shared with the editing process. Whether it be editing within the screenwriting process or in post too much of the crux of the film is cut or altered making it hard to follow or enjoy. The reprise here is in M. Night Shyamalan’s direction. As the screenwriter, Shyamalan was able to control much more of his characterization and his directorial touch shines through Dev Patel, as Prince Zuko. Zuko is Aang’s antithesis and without him Aang’s destiny is not complete. M. Night Shyamalan centers a great amount of this film on establishing the base for that relationship.
Dev Patel and Noah Ringer both play their parts very well. Ringer is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. As Aang he does not share the same carefree attitude characteristic of his television counterpart; but he excels as Shyamalan’s troubled Aang. Patel as Prince Zuko brings the spirit of the television series with him. He is the perfect balance of the powerful, troubled, confused, but fair Prince looking for his destiny. Patel outshines the others who seem to still be finding the right niche in comparison.
With the exception of the opening credits the role that 3D plays in the film is lost on me; it is not required for a film that never develops beyond its narration. The cinematography is best on location, from there it starts to become apparent that the remainder of the film is shot on sets and the production value starts to dwindle. To much of the film relies on the authenticity of production but the audience looses that to the concept of 3D and the editing too often.
Unfortunately expectations of M. Night Shyamalan films are always high and The Last Airbender just does not live of to his other body of work. Shyamalan has a great story here and his vision is clear within his direction, but the production does not make the same impact. He clearly needed to work on the editing process of the film and focus on his storytelling strength more than the high-end production value. This does not exemplify M. Night Shyamalan’s potential but more over seems to be crushing him.