How on Earth, Air, Fire and Water is M Night Shyamalan still making Hollywood films?
Having inflicted the appalling Lady in the Water and equally dismal The Happening upon us, you’d have thought he had finally used up the credit he’d earned from the phenomenal success of The Sixth Sense way back in 1999.
Yet here is at the helm of The Last Airbender, a would-be epic fantasy adventure that proves an almost unrelieved ordeal for the poor viewer.
The film is based on the animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender. That was a big hit in the US on Nickelodeon between 2005 & 2008 and fans apparently raved about how complex and involving the series was. You’d be hard pressed, though, to find these qualities in Shyamalan’s movie.
The film’s problems start with the script, adapted from the TV original by Shyamalan himself. There’s a lot of backstory to deliver, but Shyamalan quickly gets bogged down.
The story is set in an imaginary world inhabited by four nations, each of which has its own natural element: Air, Water, Earth or Fire. Rare individuals within the separate nations have the ability to manipulate or ‘bend’ their element, but only one person, the legendary Avatar, has the power to bend them all.
The latest reincarnation of the Avatar – a 12-year-old boy named Aang – has been missing for 100 years and in his absence the Fire Nation has waged a devastating war against the other nations. Sought by the Fire Nation, he is found first by a brother and sister from the Northern Water tribe, who strive to protect him while he learns to master the elements and restore balance to the world.
The constant references to ‘benders’ can’t help but elicit sniggers from British audiences (Grow up!), but that’s the least of the film’s problems: the plotting is stodgy, the dialogue stinks and the acting is wooden. To which you can add underwhelming special effects and dull 3D.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, The Last Airbender is supposed to be the first in a trilogy of films. Could anyone sit through them? Will Shyamalan even get to make them?
He’s already come under fire in the States and elsewhere for his choice of actors. The TV series, though created by a pair of Americans, is steeped in Asian mythology and martial arts, and many people are furious that Shyamalan has cast white actors in several prominent roles.
There’s one casting decision, however, that he has got spot on. For the first time in any of his movies, he hasn’t found a role for himself. For that small mercy, we must be thankful.
On general release from 13th August. Read about another trilogy ‘from the mind’ of M Night Shyamalan.