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LAST AIRBENDER, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Four nations tied by destiny when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war against the others. A century has passed with no hope in sight to change the path of this destruction. The Avatar who held the balance of peace through the spirit world and his mastery of all four elements has disappeared. But young Air Bender Aang (Noah Ringer) appears, bearing the symbols on his forehead that mark him he is the new Avatar - albeit too young to have mastered the power to manipulate all four elements. Aang teams with Katara (Nicola Peltz), a Waterbender, and her brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), to restore balance to their war-torn world, while the Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) has sent his Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) to capture Aang - against the advice of his uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub).

Review by Louise Keller:
Targeting a very different audience from that of his previous films (notably The Sixth Sense), this action fantasy from M. Night Shyamalan is strictly for kids. Not that there's anything wrong with that but when you compare it to a film like The Never Ending Story, which transcends all age groups, you cannot feel but disappointed. Based on an animated TV series about the four elements and the young boy Avatar who is alone in being able to control them all, Shyamalan has written a muddled, confusing script and directed it badly. Wasted are the excellent production values which include Andrew Lesnie's wondrous cinematography, Philip Messina's striking production design and James Newton Howard's inspiring score. The cast, meanwhile is swallowed up by a spectacle of special effects, of which fire and water play the leading roles.

It is with Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) in an icy, white landscape, that we first meet Aang (Noah Ringer), the young, tattoed Avatar with a shaved head. Katara is a 'water bender', which means that with a few abracadabra moves of her arms and hands, she can manipulate water and turn it into ice. Nice trick. Aang has been hibernating for the past 100 years and inexplicably has avoided the ageing process. His giant furry friend (the equivalent of Falcor in The Never Ending Story) is a useful commodity - being able to navigate the skies and the seas. Trouble is, Aang hasn't completed his training and still has plenty to learn, especially with Dev Patel's banished Fire Prince hot on his tail, hoping to salvage his relationship with his father.

Ringer looks like a pleasant enough kid, as he makes his karate-like moves but he seems to only have one expression - angst. Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) is the only familiar face and he, too has been directed to portray terminal angst. Rathbone shows angst too, when the white-haired (very pretty) Princess Yue (Seychelle Gabriel) makes a decision he does not like, when the balance of the world goes awry. Shyamalan has injected a blanket of seriousness on the entire project and dialogue like 'All wars are won in the heart' and 'There is no love without sacrifice' sound like platitudes rather than thoughts we can embrace. As for the ending, which tips the likelihood of a sequel (this film threatens to be the first of a trilogy), the less said the better. It's a shame, because our kids deserve more than simply a slew of fantastic special effects. It's a darn good tale that they deserve.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The two young boys (8 and 9) at the media preview I attended give this film two thumbs up. I say that first to give the filmmakers credit for pleasing their target audience, of which I am not one. I can see why the boys like the film, its fantasy elements and spectacle delivering a kind of fairy tale for the 21st century. Fights between water and fire warriors, giant snow covered ice fields, a large flying puppy big enough to carry its masters and the young hero with the shaved head, all make for easy escapist entertainment.

Parents may be less easily pleased, finding the film a tad dull and lifeless, for all its elements. The script, the direction and the editing conspire to rob the film of any pace or tension, and M. Night Shyamalan's story telling is garbled. As if to make up for the lack of dynamics, composer James Newton Howard piles on the orchestral score to jolt us into a sense of adventure. Also helping is Andrew Lesnie's marvellous, effortless cinematography. (He of Oscar winning Lord of the Rings fame.)

But to their great credit, most of the cast are splendid, not least young Noah Ringer as the mystical Aang and Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire as the unfortunate son of the Fire Lord, outcast and desperate to capture the Air Bender Avatar. Also impressive are Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao sent to capture Aang and Shaun Toub as Iroh, both of whom deliver credible and interesting characters with some depth. Less successful are Seychelle Gabriel as Princes Yeu, given to looking pretty no matter what the circumstances, and Jackson Rathbone as Sokka a rather underdeveloped character with little effective to do.

It's probably asking too much of an animated kids TV series to withstand the expansion to feature film status - without significant new strengths in the story department. A kids' TV series is one thing, a feature film is another.
Published first in the Sun Herald

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

LAST AIRBENDER, THE (PG)
(US, 2010)

CAST: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz, Cliff Curtis, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi

PRODUCER: Scott Aversano, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, M. Night Shayamalan

DIRECTOR: M. Night Shayamalan

SCRIPT: M. Night Shayamalan (animated TV series on Nickelodeon)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Lesnie

EDITOR: Conrad Buff

MUSIC: James Newton Howard

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philip Messina

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 16, 2010







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