The Last Airbender

Looking at The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender
Note: No real spoilers contained

As a person of mixed racial descent, I have this to say:  Don’t let ignorant race baiting prevent you from going to see The Last Airbender or overshadow your enjoyment of the film.  It’s a magical fable of balance and imbalance, harmony and disharmony, action and consequence, power and loss, innocence and character growth.  It transcends racial and gender stereotypes, but only if you let it.  If you can’t recapture your youth and suspend your disbelief, borrow a kid and see it through new eyes.

Opening Day

I recently did a review of the soundtrack for The Last Airbender.   I was inspired by it to attend the first opening day showing in my area on July 1st.  It was even too early to buy popcorn.  Our local multiplex was packed with little kids, parents, tweens and teens.

We were one almost 8 year-old boy, one each – middle aged man & woman, and one 20-something young woman.  I was concerned with how M. Knight Shyamalan would handle the transition from our beloved Nickelodeon animated series (Avatar, the Last Airbender) to live action.  Hands down, we all loved The Last Airbender film.  Theatergoers seemed happy as well.

The soundtrack did not disappoint.  It complemented the film’s evocative style.

There were movie moments where the dialogue felt stiff, and/or didn’t translate well from the cartoon.  Notably, “Is there a spiritual place where I can mediate?”  I’ve rolled that line around repeatedly since opening day, and eventually concluded that, considering the target audience of kids of all religious and ethnic persuasions, there weren’t many substitute lines that wouldn’t either a) assume knowledge of certain religious disciplines or b) require education in same.

It sometimes seemed they could have shown a little more and told a little less.  In fairness, the animated series does a lot of telling as well.  There were series characters missing from the film.  Some will make their appearance in subsequent trilogy film chapters.  Sadly, others may forever remain on the cutting room floor.  Aapa and Momo lacked some warmth, but were strikingly translated into the physical.

The film world was very blue in color, but beautiful; as seemed fitting with Book 1 in the series titled, “Water.”

Next: It’s a kid’s movie.  Let’s say that together.  It’s a kid’s movie.  This film is NOT for you if:

  1. You want gratuitous gore; i.e., decapitating, blood spurting, disemboweling action.
  2. You can’t be a kid again.
  3. You are too cool (see 2.)
  4. You are a reviewer who has never seen the original animated series, and thus are ignorant of the premise/storyline.
  5. You go to films searching for racism, thus always finding it.
  6. You want sex, drugs, and rock and roll on the screen.

We saw Airbender in 2-D, not 3-D. I’ve read that the 3-D appears darker and murkier than the 2-D, but then I’ve read a lot about The Last Airbender.  It’s not my normal practice when reviewing anything, but I was warned about the firestorm, so to speak.

Some reviews remind me of the old restaurant joke: “Waiter, the food is terrible, and there’s not enough of it.”

It’s Not Easy Being Green

This Avatar (The Last Airbender) has one thing in common with the OTHER Avatar, which commandeered the extant animated series name (legally, as there are no copyrights for titles that aren’t trademarked/brands).  There were accusations of racism.

Aang animated

The primary gripe in The Last Airbender is that Noah RingAang Real Lifeer, Caucasian twelve year-old, plays Aang.  Ringer has a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo.  He heard about Airbender auditions through his Taekwondo club and sent the casting folks a video.  It’s fortunate that the casting call sheet apparently welcomed “Caucasians and all other races” to apply.  Otherwise, we might have missed the debut of a most promising performer, as white actors would have been reluctant to try.  He does a great job.  I believe him as Aang.  More importantly, kids believe him as Aang.

Katara animated

Katara Real Life Nicola Peltz plays Katara. She is apparently whitey whitersons as well.  She exuded Katara. Her performance was outstanding.


Sokka Animated
Sokka Real Life
Monroe Jackson Rathbone, of Twilight fame, plays Sokka.  And yes (ba-da-dum), he’s Caucasian, and he’s reportedly not related to Basil Rathbone, but descended from a Standard Oil magnate.  I particularly liked his assumption of animated Sokka’s  crooked smile.  Well done.

The other principal in this film is not Caucasian, and is arguably the most important, pivotal character of the entire series.

Zuko Real Life
Zuko Animated
Zuko:  Dev Patel, best known for Slumdog Millionaire, plays Zuko; Patel is also an amateur martial artist, with a black belt in Taekwondo, and a 2004 AIMAA World Champion bronze medalist.

Zuko’s plight with his father, Ozai is not so dissimilar from Arthur’s with (an albeit kinder) Uther in the SyFy channel series, Merlin.    This is where ignorance and willfully determined pissivity come into play.  To all of you who think that Zuko and the Fire Nation are cast as dark, swarthy skinned people because they are the villains: Hello, your own racial prejudices are showing.  Guess why?

Little bitty spoiler for one of the later series films, but only if you never watched the animated series:

Because ZUKO is not only a reluctant villain early on in the series, but becomes a big HERO in the series storyline.  In fact, he could arguably be the biggest actual hero in the story, leaving all the white folks in his dust!  This is where many reviewers ignorance shows.  Patel does a fine job as the (ahem) fiery  Zuko.

Shaun Toub, an Iranian-American actor, best known for his roles in Crash, and Iron Man, plays a svelte  Uncle Iroh.   He is the voice of reason, the traveling Wiseman.

Cliff Curtis, Ozai, Zuko’s dad, is of Maori descent, and best known for Whale Rider.

Aasif Mandvi, an Indian-born actor and comedian seen on the Daily Show, plays Commander Zhao.

Suzanne Gabriel, who is of Mexican descent, plays Princess Yue.

Keong Sim, the Earthbender Father, is Korean American (signaling the Earthbending Tribe will be Asian people. Damon Gupton, who is African American, plays Monk Gyatso, Aang’s mentor and father figure.

One last thought on race:  The Waterbenders could just as easily be based on Sami people as Inuit people.  Their physical appearances are quite diverse.  Just sayin’…

Dam*ed if you Do, So to Speak

Some of the Airbender backlash is obviously personal, and it’s perceived as a great time to sharpen your knives for Shyamalan:

There also seem to be a few who haven’t forgiven Shyamalan for not being the “next Spielberg,” as declared on the cover of Newsweek in 2000.

Click here for Shyamalan’s interview regarding of the cast of characters and The Last Airbender world.

Finally, let’s have a word from our target audience:   7-¾ year old boy quote: “My favorite part was when Aang told the Earthbenders to have courage.  I’ts awesome. It’s a great movie, and everyone in the world should go to see it.  I would give it 5 stars.”

Notable:

USA Today reviewer who may be a lone voice crying in the proverbial wilderness:

What explains the ticket sales? from the Washington Post

(Answer?  It’s a good family movie. )

4 thoughts on “Looking at The Last Airbender

  1. M.Night Uses Reverse Psychology

    The actual genders and races of what the elements represent are in Rodney St.Michael’s book, Sync My World: Thief’s Honor GA SK. (myconnected.webs.com)

    Air = Yellow “race” = Males = Scholars.

    Water = Small Browns = Females = Shamans.

    Earth = Blacks = Lesbian = Social Ubuntu Business Class.

    Fire = Whites = Gays = Military, Militant Business Class.

    Ether or Metal = Big Browns = Bisexuals = Working Class, Bi-military
    (females & bis go together like Katara & Sokka or brown females and males).

    Therefore Aang should be Chinese.

    Katara should be a Malay like a Filipina.

    The Earth Kingdom should be African.

    Zuko should be White like Hitler, Alexander the Gay or Gen. Arthur McArthur.

    The Fire Nation’s army should be like the fiery Sacred Band of Thebes (an ancient elite gay army that Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell troops would be envious of) or the Sturmabteilung, the much-feared homosexual stormtroopers of Hitler.

    And the Slumdog Millionaire (casted as Zuko) should be Sokka.

    This film is just as messed up as the movie Angels and Demons. The branding of the priests were incorrect.

    But anyway, from the guy who gave you the Sixth Sense, which did not portray childhood schizophrenia accurately or anywhere near the real world, what do you expect?

    Bisexuals love horror and terror. They also scam people, just like the Wizard of Oz. The old Oz film which is also about the Elements is understandably all-white because they were ignorant back then. People have higher standards now, and realism is a must.

    But M.Night, the Wizard of South Asia also has lessons for everyone after conning them:

    1) Clearly, when people don’t play roles that fit them, everything is messed up. (e.g. “male” clergy in what should be a female realm, forbidding gays in the military which is their territory)

    2) Whites are not fit to play the leading roles of Air and Water in the world scene. Leave that to the ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, Korea and South East Asia).

    3) Arabs are not necessarily the greatest evil in the world. Occasionally, they float like Ether to the ranks of Water. It is fiery whites that fit the role of Lucifer or Satan.

    4) By acquiring objective reviews from leading critics, they have agreed themselves that these are all factual objective realities.

    Thus, the Wizard, even if he is a con man, is also an accidental pseudo teacher. Partly, it’s called sunyata or “emptiness.”

  2. hanabrighton

    I have no idea what that person just said but Avatar was great full of big epic moments from the first book. And you know – I think everyonez obsession with the skin color thing is just a little ironic…my son never noticed the skin colors…that’s the goal right?

  3. Profile photo of Shiny1Shiny1 Post author

    And then again, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (attributed to Sigmund Freud).
    Let’s all say together: “It’s only a movie.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

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