Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Geek Rant Topic 09: The Last Airbender

When All Else Fails, you call Mousa the 14, that one ranting geek.

The jokes could go on and on. And on. And on. And on. And on.

Avatar, The Last Airbender was an insanely popular animated series on Nickelodeon and their last hurrah before they would descend into mediocrity and Spongebob Squarepants again. The characters were interesting, complex, and funny; the plot was involving and mature, especially for a kid's show; it took it's audience seriously without doing too much or doing too little. Avatar was good. Insanely Good. In my cynical tweens I thought Nick was attempting to cash in on the anime boom by trying to release a series with a poor story and poor characters and try to draw people in based on Asian references and anime-type art style alone. I was wrong on more levels than I can even comprehend.

However, it was LONG. Or Long-ish. It had three seasons with 20 episodes in each season (except the last which had 21.). That's approximately 25 minutes an episode multiplied by 20... That's 500 minutes a season, That's 8 hours and 20 minutes per season give or take. aka A whole school/work day and we all know how long those feel.

So when it was announced to be a movie we all know it would be poor. You can't compress 8 hours of subtext, filler, and foreshadowing into 1.5-2.5 hours. Especially when a lot of that filler was dedicated to building the world, the characters, and not actually filler but more foreshadowing or filled with characters who will recur later on and be important to movie the story along (Yeah, the writers cared that much, for a kid's show mind you.). You'd have to cut a butt load out, make the plot more straight foreword, utilize Characterization Marches On (An odd but common of concept involving using the developed versions of a character's personality, or the most well know aspects, in an adaptation rather than starting from how they were in the beginning and letting them develop as such. It's sort of how like caricatures are made.) in order to keep the characters consistent and skip using movie time to develop them properly, but remove some of the foreshadowing and world building, you know, that sort of thing. Could've been a mediocre or average movie series.

But you can't trust anything in the hands of M. Night Shyamalan, can you? I have not seen his movies, I was a kid and didn't care about anything that was released. I hear The Sixth Sense was good and the one or two that came after were adequate or great, and everything following was worse than poor. M. Night Shamland is apparently a good director and technician but can't write anything worth crap has been flanderized as the "twist ending" guy. And he has arrogance too. I mean who stars themselves as the misunderstood hero of a movie you're directing? Anyhow, he's possibly so arrogant he finds only what he himself writes is worth directing. And that's when Last Airbender starts coming apart at the roots.

Now, I'm going to sound silly since I myself have not seen the movie. However I have good reason for this. I have heard from friends, trusted acquaintances, internet reviewers, official reviewers, and Roger Ebert that either this movie is poor and/or it does not do it's source material justice. The only guy I know who is contrary to this fact is.... well... My supposedly beloved Game Overthinker a.k.a. MovieBob is trying to desperately to give M. Night a chance. Poor deluded fool. Or perhaps I'm wrong. I don't study film, I'm going to be an engineer with an art and writing background. Perhaps technically it is good and the plot is poor due to compression. It's so hard to judge such things sometimes. Perhaps I'll rent the movie on a future date, but giving it money is the last thing I want to do right now.

So without further do, using the internet and half-baked research, I'm going to enumerate the changes M. Night made to the Last Airbender and why they're a problem...

1) The Bending.

If you watch the series it's difficult to see how in the lord's prayer he screwed that up. Bending is a lot like martial arts in the show, heck, let's not use technicalities here, it is martial arts, based off of real fighting styles. How it differs from martial arts is basically proximity to your opponent. With real martial arts you're going up and actually hitting your opponent. With bending you're making similar movements, to move your respective element. You're not going up to hit a guy, you're making the motions to hit a guy and then the element does the hitting for you. It's supposed to make sort of flowing motions, conforming to how you're moving. Sounds like a simple enough concept to grasp: Hire some real martial artists in those particular styles or styles similar, train your actors, make sure your choreography looks good and make your CGI flow with the moves.

No, instead we get spell casting. And by that I mean you stand around and to some cool movements and then your desired effect will occur after the fact, so basically like casting a spell. Heck, it doesn't even look like fighting in the movie, they're basically doing an interpretative dance and then BOOM, element moves!

Wow, all that dancing to move a single solitary rock? Apparently this is called Flynning. Aang almost had the right idea, though the entire "arm wiggling" thing looked a little silly and but with air bending it's meant to be more flow-y with the whole body. In this final battle scene it seems they finally got bending to look right, but why all the slo-mo?

Now real earthbending looks a lot like this:

You can really see the flow and if you watch other compilations you'll see just how this works and how M. Night Shy ruined it.

And the firebenders were just poor looking, I mean it makes you wonder how some silly looking and incompetent guys almost took over the world. I mean seriously, how did they when their bending takes so freaking long to perform? In fact, let's talk about the fire nation

2) The Fire Nation and the Firebenders.

In light of my previous "Interpretive dance" statements, I want to note how strange it seems that the fire people were able to conquer the world with such slow moving techniques. I mean when you think about it, fire is one of the least substantial elements, a wall of water, earth, or Air would've taken them down. The fire nation must have had some sort of edge, and i would predict those would be 1) The element of surprise (Who else was preparing for war, eh?), 2) superior battle tactics, 3) numbers, 4) something their element has the others don't. Number three is unlikely because the fire nation is a small mountain/volcano area, dwarfed by the sheer size of the other nations, separated or combined. It was obviously better battle tactics like kidnapping all the water benders, putting earthbenders in places like metal cells or rigs in the middle of the ocean so they have nothing to bend, and killing all the airbenders. I mean, you would need to have better tactics to take on the earth nation, they're flipping huge. The earth kingdom is like Russia, hampered only by the fact that it's cities are far few in between for them to be a singular coherent unit. The firebenders had strategic edge and military might.

But they had something else too. They didn't need a source for their fire, they were the source. At a first glance, M. Night Shanghai's decision for them to have a specific source was reasonable. all the other benders needed a source, naturally, so would the firebenders. Unfortunately this meant they carried around lanterns. Never mind this looked silly, it took away a bit of plausibility for what made the fire benders so fearsome. You could take earthbenders away from their earth by surrounding them in iron or taking them to sea and land-bound waterbenders need to take water with them at all times or they're pretty much screwed. The airbenders were monks, 'nuff said. The firebenders make their fire from their life, their chi, it's literally the heat of their energy is burning form. These guys had some sort of edge. and when Sozin's comet comes in their power is amplified greatly. In the movie it just gave them the same abilities they had in the TV show. Laaaaaaaaame. Compounded by how long it takes to bend anything in this movie, these guys shouldn't have been able to take over diddlysquat.

3) Race.

I shouldn't have to talk about this, but I want to talk about this. I realize everybody has talked this topic to death but I have an op non too. And yes, I am fully aware of the purity camp and the anti common courtesy-, er, "Anti-Political correctness" camp. And I say, I am not a centrist who thinks this is all silly and yet, I kind of am. When I first saw the announced cast all I could think was "They better damned good actors for M. Night Shyamalan to change their ethnicities or skin colors as it were." I was wrong. I have read enough reviews, talked to enough people, and seen enough clips to know that these kids cannot act. Or if they can, they were given too much exposition to express genuine emotion. either way, M. Night Sham screwed up with his casting choice. Except apparently, the actors for Iroh and Zuko. Strange the best actors in the movie are the bad guys. Even stranger that they're Indian. Like M. Night.


Anyway, jokes aside, Why would M. Night distract from the fans by doing something silly like change the characters ethnicities? To what end? All it did was invoke unfortunate implications since the bad guys are all dark skinned and the good guys are all white. I mean, if he really couldn't find enough Inuits or Native Americans to be Sokka, Katara, or the rest of the water tribes, he could've have at least used Indians; he's clearly in no short supply of them and I'd bet Dev Patel could be a far better Sokka, I can totally imagine it. At least Dev can act.

Why are the Fire Nation Indian anyway? Is it the Indian people's penchant for spicy food? Why not Latinos then if we're going to go with completely arbitrary choices based solely on how spicy the food is? I mean, judging by their architecture and clothing/armor style it's pretty clear that the Fire Nation are based off of Japanese people and I doubt it would have hurt them to use their East Asian surplus from the Earth Nation to make up the Fire Nation.

Speaking of Earth Kingdom, that big ol' conglomerate of Korean/Chinese outfits, is big enough and varied enough that frankly, I don't care what M. Night or anyone does with them. The Earth Kingdom is large enough and wide enough that you could use a plethora of actors to represent them; black, Indian, east Asian, Arab, it would all fit depending on the area you're in the Earth Kingdom, and that place is huge.

Aang I can understand, the kid is rather pale. The Air Nomads are equivalent to Tibetans, but I think he could be white or east Asian. But they picked poorly. You know how M. Night chose the actor for Aang? The kid sent in a Tae Kwan Do video of himself. M. Night picked the kid because he could look good bald, he was young, and he could do Tae Kwan Do.

4) Characters.

So how did M. Night Shame screw up the characterization? Well let's start with Prince Zuko. Oh no, apparently his character is fine, but the hair. You see, Zuko's hair was a symbol of his development. One can note how angry and villainous he was when he was bald and had that tiny topknot. As he starts growing out of his "shame" and starting to see the error of his ways, he grows his hair out. Was Dev Patel too afraid to ruin his precious hair? They have make-up techniques for that sort of thing.

Katara, our faithful narrator didn't do anything. I mean, why follow the trend of women that are too good at everything or don't do anything. Why can't she be a competent team Mom like she was intended to be? Instead you give her prominent and important moments to Aang (like the liberation of the Earth Benders) and you even make Aang a better bender than her, even though he's new at this. Have you no Logic? I mean, apparently Sokka did more in combat than Katara did. Sokka!

And now for our Aang. Want to know the real reason for him leaving the monks? Let me give you a hint, it has nothing to do with usual Monk traditions like not having a family. He left because he was a scared little kid who didn't want to be the Avatar and didn't want to be a responsible adult so early. Certainly not a silly thing like "can't have a family". And Also, Aang? Serious? seriously, M. Night? that's the approach you take with the optimistic, happy go-lucky protagonist? Did you "forgot" your Prozac every-time you write Aang's part? I mean, i get it, kid running away form responsibility, weight of the world on his shoulders, his entire people has been eradicated; But did you really have to take away from his core personality? You can make Aang sad and angry, but remember, he's also a pretty fun kid!

Sokka was supposed to be the smart guy. He's funny and incompetent for the first season but there's an allusion to it in the first season: The Southern Air temple where people had colonized the temple and were using technology to emulate flight. The top Engineer there needed some help with some ideas and Sokka was the guy who helped the Engineer progress with his ideas. This was the first seeds of Sokka's "idea man" status. Also, Sokka's silliness was one of the few things great about him. Before Toph came along, he was the main deadpan snarker. He was clumsy, irritable, sarcastic, annoyed by the supernatural, and consistently overcompensated for his "useless" status as a non-bender. Sokka is funny!!! Which reminds me...

5) Darker and Edgier.

Why? just Why, M. Night. What possessed you to turn a light-hearted war story into something darker and edgier? IT'S A KID'S SHOW! it may be an intelligent show that takes it's audience seriously, but it's still a kid's show with loads of laughs, fun, and a whimsical and cheery protagonist. I can understand the need to make Aang's reactions more real or serious, but to take away from his personality? And Sokka? make him serious, will ya? How dare you! He's the heart of the show's comedy!

Perhaps he was looking for an Oscar or something and the only way he thought he could be taken seriously wa if he made the movie serious. I think he just really wanted to make the show's fans really really angry. Darker and Edgier is not a bad concept. Unfortunately people have this horrible tendency of abusing the concept and suing it incorrectly, over-exaggerating how dark and edgy something is and losing sight of the core of what they're doing. That's what happened with this movie.

6) Length.

So about how long is this movie anyway?

103 Minutes. That's an hour and 43 minutes.


Where da heck did the other 17 minutes go? Or 47 minutes if M. Night Shade wanted to make this a longer movie (which he should have by the way.)? He had 8+ hours he had to force into feature length film, what was stopping him from using as much time he was allowed to use? I mean, I'm pretty sure an 2 hours and like 5-20 minutes is like the maximum anybody has a movie out in theaters be. I mean Watchmen was 162 minutes, a whopping 2 hours and 42 effing minutes and it was still a decent adaptation of the graphic novel. He should have been maximizing every second, if not for fitting in the filler and Chekhov's guns (stuff brought up earlier in a narrative of no real significance and then crucial much later), to at least make the characters actual characters. Perhaps there's something I'm missing or don't know about. I mean, I'm not going to film school here, I'm a commentator pointing out flaws. If you film buffs can come up a plausible reason for this time issue then by all means please, let me know, because I'm a little confused about why M. Night Shaman wouldn't use more time when movies have gone on longer. It's like he was actively trying to make this as bad as putting a big middle finger on the screen for an hour and a half.

Now, there are like, a bazillion other things wrong with this movie that I cannot even begin enumerate. I wanted to go over the moon spirit thing and how General Zhao was killed, but I'm getting tired of dwelling on this subject. I need to see the movie to know all the other problems, many other websites have brought them up, and honestly, I am too lazy to do any more research. This took far longer than I had planned because I have other geek rant ideas lined up I want to get started on and this way overdue and probably no longer relevant. I'm simply here to note the things about the movie's changes that annoyed me the most.

I'm tired of this, next time it's gonna be...

Wait, Namco isn't sending us Tales games anymore? What gives?

-Good Bye, Good Luck, and Imagination Is Your Greatest Power
Mousa the 14

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