When I found out M Night Shyamalan was going to be directing “The Last Airbender” I immediately had mixed feelings. His best film, “The Sixth Sense”, came out in the 20th century. Here Shyamalan introduced us to his formula for movies: 1) get a talented actor to play the lead, 2) create a plot that centers around the mystical/inconceivable/incredibly gorgeous (ok, maybe that was just “The Happening”),and 3) end with a twist. Unfortunately this formula does not work like a Dan Brown novel- those remain entertaining despite predictable, leaving M Night releasing some truly incomprehensible stuff.

He followed “The Sixth Sense” with “Unbreakable”, a movie that I have yet to see, received favorable reviews and has Samuel L Jackson in it (needless to say, if he says any variation of the word fuck, I’ll enjoy the movie. See: “Snakes on a Plane”, “Lakeview Terrace”). This movie was most likely a success because it paired Jackson with Bruce Willis, meaning that any movie which stars anybody from “Pulp Fiction” together will be entertaining.

M Night combined with Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson to produce “Signs”. Out of all of his movies, this is the one I enjoyed the most. The camerawork was superb and the plot had an excellent pacing. For a movie that contains very little action, the buildup was anything but boring. It never felt like M Night was holding too many details away from the audience, while at the same time keeping certain important ones. For me, this is where M Night set the bar way too high for himself. Roger Ebert put it best, writing “M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Signs’ is the work of a born filmmaker, able to summon apprehension out of thin air. When it is over, we think not how little has been decided, but how much has been experienced.”

The rest of M Night’s recent history has been well played upon. He came out with “The Village” which was bad but not altogether terrible. If it was released after “The Happening” people would have appreciated it a lot more, but it had to follow “Signs”. He then released one of the worst movies I have ever seen (definite top 5) with “Lady In The Water”. I would try and describe it but you would be better off youtubing an interview with the director/writer/producer (as he loves to remind us) himself.

Then perhaps the biggest joke of his career was “The Happening”. After this movie released M Night’s career, much like the movie itself was a walking joke. Mark Walhberg was never the greatest actor, though he does deliver some of the more hilarious lines in the movie.

Plastic. I’m talking to a plastic plant. I’m still doing it.

So when M Night signed on to take “The Last Airbender” I was more than skeptical. I reasoned his movies always looked good; it was just the plots that recently drove his movies off cliffs. How can we expect the actors to work with terrible scripts? With “The Last Airbender”, M Night couldn’t possibly screw up the story of Aang, could he?


The first real controversy was over M Night’s casting decisions. The Last Airbender consists of 4 nations- Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. The Fire nation draws massive parallels to the Japanese Empire, Air Nomads to Tibetan Monks, Earth Kingdoms to Korea, and Water Tribes to Inuit/Native Americans. Rather than embrace these obvious parallels, M Night first choose to cast Jesse McCartney as Fire Nation’s Prince Zuko, with three Caucasians playing the other leads, Aang, Katara and Sokka. The McCartney controversy made the Jake Gyllenhaal/”Prince of Persia” story look like a small dispute. After intense pressure, M Night opted to replace McCartney with Dev Patel, the Slumdog. Perhaps after this decision he choose to make the entire Fire Nation resemble a Bollywood film.

Not even a comparison

The truth is that the script ultimately undermined whatever chances the actors had of delivering. Sokka and Katara were criminally underdeveloped. As an avid fan, I can only imagine what someone who knew nothing about the characters reaction would be to the movie. M Night never gives the audience any reason to care about the siblings. They are simply placed into these static roles—Katara cares a lot, and Sokka is one serious dude. There is no element of comedy throughout the whole film, which was one of the things that made the cartoon awesome. It is literally the only PG film I have ever seen without a second of comedic value. M Night pretty much planned this as he didn’t even give Momo his name, flying Lemur.

Despite M Night casting Iroh a little too skinny for my liking, you have to give credit where it is due. Shaun Toab gives a great performance and was one of the few characters who lived up the show. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his nephew, Prince Zuko. Again, I blame M Night. The director spends too much time trying to make Zuko likeable. In truth, Zuko needs to be a bad guy here and it never feels like M Night tries to make us hate Zuko. M Night was obviously trying to set up Zuko’s character development over the course of three movies, but he fails to see how he robs the audience of Zuko’s story. In the show we begin to feel sorry for Zuko as more details come up about his family life—his attachment to his mother, his deadly sister, and his quest to be validated in his father’s eyes. In the mov-

ie, Zuko is relegated to being a spoiled brat who wants his entitlement back, a narrow distinction between trying to live up to your father, but one that changes the character.

Slumdog Prince?

He instead focuses on making Commander/Admiral Zhao the film’s bad guy. Unfortunately, he appears to be nothing more than a lackey to the Fire Lord. This is from the character (Zhao) who was directly based off of Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese Admiral who planned a little thing called Pearl Harbor. A live-action film needs a true villain, and Shaymalon never delivers one.

The character development was always going to be a struggle as Shyamalan had to take nearly 10 hours of material and condense it into 2. The result is a disjointed journey that includes certain characters (Haru) at the expense of seemingly more important ones (notably the previous Avatar Roku, King Bumi). Appah is non-existent, because once again, the Director/Writer/Producer opts to make the movie a miserable affair.

Beyond the poor character development and mazy plot there is the action itself. I really did enjoy the CGI bending and thought it looked as realistic as one could expect. It is to be noted M Night probably had little to do with this part of the movie. I did enjoy M Night making the adoption that Firebenders usually require a source of fire from which to bend. It always seemed unfair in the TV series that all of the other benders needed their element to physically be there. They are called benders and not creators after all. The sets were well done though there just seemed to be something missing.

The final issue I have with the film is the pronunciation of the names. Shyamalan changed the way Iroh, Aang, and Sokka because they were “pronounced wrong” in the show. I did my best to find out whether those three names were traditional Indian names as M Night claimed and failed to find any proof of that statement. It is ironic that M Night chose to change the pronunciations—something that inevitably confused and upset fans, yet he was willing to cast three Caucasians as leads in a film based off a show that is clearly Asian influenced. Shyamalon clearly misses the point of the universe he is trying to show you—Avatar preaches the message that despite our differences (in the show, literally the four nations), we are fundamentally the same. Culture is to be respected but not to be placed above others. In this case, Shyamalan imports his own culture and considers it superior to the culture of the show.

If you had to sum up M Night’s flaws in this movie they would be 1) maintaining no element of comedy, 2) focusing on character development in Zuko over telling a compelling story, and 3) not developing the context of the war and supporting characters—he basically expects the audience to just get it. This movie was never going to be like “Signs” where you can hold details from the audience. It was hilarious how similar the build-up of the battle was to the large battle in “The Two Towers”. Master Pakku even resembled King Theoden.

Conclusion: If you are a fan of the show I would still recommend that you see it because while mediocre at best, it is entertaining at times. It was not unwatchable, as the adaptation of Eragon was. To all you non-fans, do yourself a favor and avoid it. Go watch the television show instead, it would be a much better use of your time. Also of note is that the film was shot using 2-D cameras. After the success of the other Avatar, they hastily converted it to 3-D. AT NO POINT in the movie besides the beginning does it feel like a 3-D movie. It was a cash grab by Nickelodeon trying to bank off of the success of 3-D entertainment. While it has been fun watching M Night Shyamalon’s career fall below Joaquin Pheonix’s rap endeavors, I am upset that this time he chose to bring his excessive hubris to a project that I love. The creators of the show, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, were not a part of the creative process at all. Instead of choosing a faithful reinterpretation he chooses one that reflects his view of himself—altogether too serious.