Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Last Airbender

December 4th, 2010

The Last Airbender - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack

The Last Airbender started as a cartoon on Nickelodeon in 2005 and quickly developed a loyal following. When the adaptation was announced, it was greeted with some enthusiasm, but as more details came out, there were more concerns than cheers. When it finally did hit theaters, it earned some of the worst reviews of the year, but managed more than $300 million worldwide, which wasn't terrible. So with expectations on the low side, can the film avoid living down to its reputation?

The Movie

The film starts with a prologue and narration describing the world and how the people are divided into four nations: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. In each of these nations, there are some that can manipulate, or bend, their native elements. And in all of the world, there is one person that can bend all elements and that person is called the Avatar. The four nations were at peace but shortly after the last Avatar went missing, the Fire Nation began a war.

It has been about a hundred years since, and the film begins in the Southern Water Tribe with Katara, the only waterbender of her tribe, and her brother, Sokka, failed hunter / comic relief. While looking for food, they come across Aang, who is trapped in a iceberg along with Appa, his bison / animal protector. However, the forces of the Fire Nation, led by Zuko, the exiled prince, are looking for Aang, as they know the Avatar is the only thing that can stop them from conquering the other nations.

This film is a based on a very popular cartoon and when it was first announced it would get a live action adaptation, a lot of people were excited. At least for a little while. Then it was announced that M. Night Shyamalan was going to write and direct it, and after three films with a serious decline in quality, a lot of people were worried he would screw up this beloved cartoon.

Did he? Yes. How? The first problem is he tried to take an eight-hour first season and cram it into a two-hour movie. This means he wasn't able to take the time to fully develop the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender. There are very specific parts of the movie that are lifted from very specific episodes but they are glued haphazardly together with clumsy narration and lack of a natural flow. I really don't think most people who haven't seen the original cartoon will be able to follow the movie well enough to sympathize with the main characters. (Even if you have seen the cartoon, there are a number of very illogical elements in the movie.) It doesn't help that the dialogue is equally clumsy and the pacing is off. (It takes 30 minutes before we see the first real bender vs. bender fight.) In trying to come up with a word to describe the dialogue, I came across "grandiloquent", which I think is perfect. "Grandiloquent" means pompous or bombastic, and it sounds pompous and bombastic. It perfectly describes the manner of speaking a lot of the characters had. A lot of complaints were leveled at the actors for their delivery, but I am more likely to point a finger at the writing as the cause.

On the other hand, it is not as bad as its Tomatometer Score would otherwise indicate. First of all, the Blu-ray version is not in 3D, which is a major selling point, as the 3-D conversion was particularly poorly done. I'm not one of those people who think 3-D is dead, but there's a huge difference between good 3-D and bad 3-D, as well as movies shot in 3-D, and those that are converted later on. This was a bad 3-D conversion that not only didn't do enough with the format, but also made the movie look ugly and dark. On Blu-ray, it at least looks visually pleasing. The design of the world and the battles do have a great style to them, even if we don't get to see enough of the latter in the early going.

However, most of the other major complaints stand.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include a featurette on the cartoon, deleted scenes, and outtakes. That's pretty weak.

The Blu-ray starts with a Picture-in-Picture track with interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes featurettes, etc. Discovering the Last Airbender is an hour-long, multi-part making of featurette that has the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. Siege of the North is another making of featurette, this time focusing on the climatic battle. Finally, there's Katara for a Day follows Nicola Peltz for a day of filming. It starts with her in the makeup chair, chatting with Aasif Mandvi, getting wardrobe done, filming, doing schoolwork on the set, etc. There are also the extras from above.

The film does look and sound great in High Definition. In fact, it's the only aspect of the film that I don't have any real complaint about. Sharp details, bright colors, deep black level, etc. Additionally, there's good use of the surround sound speakers, including many directional effects, plus the base will get a workout.

The list price for the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is only 33% more than the DVD alone, which is an acceptable price to pay. However...

The Verdict

The Last Airbender simply has too many flaws to be worth buying. If you have never seen the original cartoon, the movie will be a confusing mess and none of the characters will be compelling enough for you to care about their plight. If you have seen the original cartoon, then the adaptation will be a pale imitation, which might in fact be worse. If you are interested in seeing the movie, the DVD is worth no more than a rental, while the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack represents a better deal if you are intent on buying.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review, The Last Airbender