Trailer Tuesday: The Last Airbender
If you love fantasy, elemental magic and martial arts, then this one is for you!
It's taken me quite a while to profile the trailer for The Last Airbender, the highly anticipated live-action film based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, a Nickelodeon animated series that ran from 2005 to 2008, garnering massive popularity and critical acclaim in the process. Basically it took me so long to watch the trailer because I wanted to be a responsible pop culture commentator and actually view some of the TV show first before voicing an opinion about this adaptation.
The plot for The Last Airbender is pretty well explained in the feature trailer above, as well as in the much more enigmatic first trailer here. The film, like the animated series, takes place in a Eastern-style fantasy world divided into 4 kingdoms: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. In each of these areas live gifted individuals who can control or "bend" the element their people are associated with. And in every generation there is one bender who is the Avatar, a physical embodiment of the world, with the ability to control all four elements and draw upon the combined knowledge of all previous Avatar incarnations.
The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender exists in a delicate balance... until the Fire Nation declares war on the other kingdoms. Only the Avatar has the power to restore peace, but he, Aang (Noah Ringer) - a young Airbender - vanishes. A hundred years later he is found frozen in an iceberg by a pubescent Waterbender Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone). Still a 12 year old boy, and now the last of the Air Nomads, Aang must travel to the different kingdoms to learn how to properly control the elements of water, earth and fire so that he can achieve his destined function. Meanwhile, hot tempered Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) and Admiral Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), both from the Fire Nation, are on Aang's tail.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was divided into 3 seasons or Books - chronicling Aang's adventures as he learns to master the final 3 elements, each of which are represented by a different martial arts style. Hollywood's approach seems to be exactly the same. The Last Airbender (dropping the "Avatar" from its title lest it confuse Na'vi lovers) is intended to be the first part in a family-friendly fantasy action trilogy. The film will introduce the main characters and focus on Aang's attempts at Waterbending.
Of course, the big question among The Last Airbender's fans is whether the film will be any good. On the positive side, judging by the trailer, the special effects look freakin' sweet. I don't think I've ever seen elemental combat magic so beautifully handled onscreen. However, this plus aside there are many other concerns. One of the defining features of the animated series was that it was refreshingly angst-free. It had a very well-rooted sense of humour and fun. Looking at the trailer, all whimsy has been brutally excised, leaving the film looking like yet another generic, serious-toned action fantasy.
It's worth mentioning at this point that The Last Airbender is directed by and adapted for the screen by The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and The Happening's M. Night Shyamalan This is a massive concern for Airbender fans as Shyamalan's filmography as writer-director has been sliding down the toilet in recent years. Lady in the Water and The Happening were especially crap. The only difference with The Last Airbender is that it is the first of Shyamalan's projects based on someone else's source material, so hopefully he will find it harder to distort the project to suit his cinematic style, dominated as it is by long staring silences, unbroken tracking takes and ridiculous twisty conclusions.
Anyway, it's unfortunate that the acting in The Last Airbender's trailer looks especially stiff. This is a pity because of all the actors in Shyamalan's movies traditionally it was the children who always shone most brightly and had the most emotional impact (think Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense and Abigail Breslin in Signs). I personally have my doubts that in The Last Airbender, martial artist Noah Ringer will have the acting chops to pull off the appealing character of Aang - who, in the animated series, would much rather snowboard on the backs of penguins and structure his travels around exciting places to visit, as opposed to prioritising his training. Once again, it looks like all lightheartedness has been sucked from The Last Airbender adaptation to make it more acceptable for "badass" cinema goers disdainful of kids' stuff.
All these concerns aside, I'll definitely be watching this one when it's released later this year. And one thing's for damn well sure. The Last Airbender looks a million times better than Dragonball Evolution ever did.
The Last Airbender is released in the United States on 2 July. South Africans will be able to watch the film from 10 September.