With modern animation technology so advanced it is sometimes difficult to tell if you are watching a production of pure imagination brought to life through a computer or if you are witnessing a human actor his performance digitally enhanced by similar computerized magic. Ultimately from the vantage point of the audience all that matters comes down to one criteria; is there a story that is entertaining, worth telling. There is such a wide variety of methods now available to the modern film maker that the selection of the right way to present a story is now one of the most important decisions that have to be made in pre-production. This is now on the level of selecting the right lens or film stock settling on the extent that computers would be utilized. In the case of the film under consideration here: ‘The Last Airbender’ film maker M. Night Shyamalan had to consider the source, an animated television series and choose between live action or ramp up the established style of the TV presentation. Many feel that the wrong choice was made going with live action but there is plenty of precedence in going down this path. This was a daring move since this is a story that was perfectly suited for an anime treatment. Between the mythos heavy plot and decidedly Japanese stylistic influences a full on animation would have been a much better way to go. With that said the choice of presentation was not the only misstep made. Despite good intentions and a liberal budget the film fails to gel properly. It’s a shame since this is yet another instance of unfulfilled potential. As the initial installment of a planned trilogy I anticipated watching this film. It had the prospect of creating a fully formed universe with magic abounding and characters that contribute to a rich back story. A film like that would stir up debate and conversation for a long time as it provided increasing details throughout the series. Instead too much was given to projecting sizzle with far less afforded to the actual steak.
M. Night Shyamalan literally burst on the scene in 1999 with his extremely well crafted supernatural mystery, ‘The Sixth Sense’. After a couple of other well received films this Philadelphia born auteur hit a critical and box office slump with a few movies that left much to be desired. ‘Last Airbender’ represents a major change in direction for Shyamalan. First of all it is the first time he aimed for something other than an ‘R’ rating garnering the very family friendly ‘PG’ for this outing. Next this story was conceived as the opening act of a trilogy making it the most ambitious project yet for Shyamalan. Finally the setting of the movie is in a universe founded on magic requiring the most special effects intensive and subsequently the most expensive film yet for the writer /Director. There are reports that the production budget for the movie of $150 coughed up by kid friendly Nickelodeon studios with about an equal amount put into promoting it. I always have to wonder when the studio puts aside as much money to advertise a film as they did to make it, especially when the film in question used a lot of expensive special effects. The studio also decided to use this film to jump on the current cinematic trend of 3D. The problem many have noted is the film was shot with more traditional 2D equipment and converted to 3D as an afterthought.
Katara (Nicola Peltz) is a young teen born into a world controlled by four kingdoms each one controlled by a different elemental force; air, earth, water and fire. The film opens with her and her older brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), already a warrior as the travel a desolate river near the south pole of the world. They come across a sphere made of ice, trapped inside is Aang (Noah Ringer) who is one of the Avatars charged with keeping the forces of the world in balance between the four major factions; Air Nomads, the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation. His absence disrupted this delicate balance permitting the Fire Nation to openly declare war against the others. In this universe there are special individuals able to control an elemental force called benders. Some can become powerful enough to master more than one element although their control of one typically is dominant. The story is more complex than most targeted for kids still there is a central core to the story that is classic; the hero’s Journey. In typical fashion a young person has to travel far from home down an arduous road to gain the necessary enlightenment; frequently to the point of possessing supernatural powers. Along the way this story does hit all the mandatory elements ranging from the more powerful adversary to the venerable, wise mentor who takes the apprentice under his sage wing. Populating this world are numerous teen characters exuding power and belonging to ancient royal lines. This reflects the format often used in mythologies found in almost every culture around the world. It also allows the young members of the audience to readily identify with bringing them directly into the story.
Although released in theaters as a 3D feature, the Blu-ray release the film was limited to spend the 2D. The one exception was a special release deal with Best Buy that offered a special 3D version. It is becoming increasingly popular for studios to revisit movies that had a 3D theatrical release but only a 2D Blu-ray release. This fall has been added to the growing list with the subsequent Real 3D addition. In this movie illusion of depth is better utilized than the majority of action oriented films. Rather than solely depending upon special effects to drive the need for 3D technology, depth was utilized as part of the storytelling. The distinction between foreground backgrounds in the middle of the frame is pronounced and adds to an overall sense of realism. This is critical in a movie based on fantasy, in order to give the audience something tangible to hold onto baking it easier to suspend belief and accept the fantastic aspects of the premise. The Commack a battle scene is an especially good example of this but to its credit the film does not rely on this action oriented scenes as a reason for 3D usage. The real measure of how effectively 3D is used is not in the special effects heavy scenes but how well integrated they are to the majority of the movie. With this film the 3D effect made a pronounced difference in virtually every scene of the film. You can see how characters move in front of each other all behind objects; the nuances of reality present throughout the film. If you’re a fan of this film and now have a 3D setup at home it would be worth repurchasing this title.
Discovering The Last Airbender
Posted 11/11/2010 06012014