Armed with only a slight awareness of the premise, but accompanied by a pretty hard-core fan, I fought my way through the hordes of Twihards to be in a very different fan-base room for this screening. The film starts with a basic premise of the universe the story takes place in — four nations formerly at peace, now under siege by one, and an Avatar, reborn in turn to each nation, who can balance the peace. Some people can bend their nation’s element, and all four nations’ magic is contained within one Avatar, who was lost a hundred years ago. It’s chock full of lovely eastern philosophy, spirits, and flavors, and various graceful martial arts moves. The cast is pan-ethnic (with a distinct dearth of what Americans would consider Asian), which has raised some ire with some fans.
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, this movie feels definitely and solidly meant for kids. Whether the source material book and cartoon is as simplistic as the script for this movie, I cannot say, but I for one, coming in cold, felt like it was talking down to me and over-explaining a lot. A whole lot. And poor southern Asians (you might think of them as Indians and Arabs)! Even in a Shyamalan movie they are all relegated to playing the patently baddie Fire Nation, getting their Sarumon groove on with their smoking ships of evil looking nastiness. More than a few moments remind one of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and not necessarily in a complimentary way. The visuals are very cool — the element bending of fire, water, air, and earth is gorgeous and feels really real. The balletic moves, each based in a different discipline, are very faithful to the animated ones fans are used to.
I have no quibble with the cast everyone appeared to deliver their wooden lines with the best conviction they could, except perhaps one white-haired princess. The only recognizable faces to me were in the Fire Nation (including almost distractingly the Daily Show’s Aasif Maanvi), but the newcomers struggled valiantly with a clumsy script that made me sigh multiple times. The fans were glowing all around me, though, so hopefully the whitewashing of the cast was forgiven in bringing their beloved world to live-action life. The locations are amazing, all over the globe and full of beautifully rendered graphics.
Noah Ringer as Aang— an actor apparently actually of Asian descent, more evident in his photos on IMDb.com than in the film — has to do most of the heavy lifting in this film, and he carries the film on his sincere, athletic 13 year-old shoulders. His performance is all in his body and face, and thankfully the words sound less…awkard coming out of the mouth of the child who was frozen and lost, unaware of all that has happened in the intervening century. This is not the same as Jackson Rathbone, who is not only subjected to having to be the elder of a band of adventurous children, he also has to endure being in a pointless semi-romance with the aforementioned princess (Seychelle Gabriel).
I trust my companion’s assertion that he was not disappointed, as a fan, but I stand by my experience which was that I was pretty annoyed by the dialogue and impatient with the over-explanation. The film covers all of Book One: Water, or season 1 of the cartoon, and it did make me want to know more about the source material, but boy, I am glad I did not pay full price for the movie.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 7/1/10
Time in minutes 103
Director M. Night Shyamalan