An 'Airbender' Blunder? M. Night Thrashed by Critics
By John Mitchell Posted Jul 2nd 2010 02:30PM
Is 'The Last Airbender,' director M. Night Shyamalan's live-action version of the Nickelodeon cartoon 'Avatar: The Last Airbender,' the "worst movie epic ever"? Time magazine certainly thinks so and it isn't alone -- the film carries an especially rotten rating on movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, earning a paltry 9 percent fresh rating from the nation's top film critics.
This marks the latest misfire from the once lauded director of hits like 'The Sixth Sense,' 'Signs' and 'Unbreakable.'
Before its release, the film was seen as a comeback vehicle for Shyamalan, who after weak box office performances from his last two movies 'The Happening' and 'Lady in the Water,' which earned 18 and 24 percent ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, respectively, changed up his usual formula. The director is best known for supernatural thrillers set (and filmed) near his home in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
'Airbender,' according to its IMDB synopsis, was very different:
Despite the film's reliance on images associated with eastern and Buddhist culture, it was principally filmed in eastern Pennsylvania (like all Shyamalan movies), with some filming also done in Greenland and Vietnam. The pic is said to have cost north of $100 million to produce -- with some estimates running as high as $150 million -- and as much as $130 million to market.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. Caught between combat and courage, Aang (Noah Ringer) discovers he is the lone Avatar with 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.
For Shyamalan, a writer-director desperate to prove he can do more than PG-13 spook films, the critical trashing must be particularly hard to swallow.
In its review, Time magazine calls the film "surely the worst botch of a fantasy epic" since a 1978 animated version of 'The Lord of the Rings' and says Shyamalan's dialogue "has the stilted sagacity of a fortune-cookie dictum." The mag also responds to the controversy over Indian and Caucasian actors being cast in parts intended for Asian actors, saying, "The actors who didn't get to be in 'The Last Airbender' are like the passengers who arrived too late to catch the final flight of the Hindenburg."
But it's Roger Ebert who perhaps best sums up the reaction to the film. In his review for the Chicago Sun-Time, the beloved film critic says, "'The Last Airbender' is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here." Ouch.
'Airbender' hit theaters July 1 as counterprogramming to the blockbuster third film in the 'Twilight Saga,' 'Eclipse.' Its studio, Paramount, saw an opportunity to attract young male moviegoers unlikely to be interested in whether Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) picks Edward (Robert Pattinson) or Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Only time will tell if the reviews will hurt the film's box office, but precedent isn't on its side in the competitive summer season: The critically-slammed 'Jonah Hex,' a semi-supernatural western starring Josh Brolin and Megan Fox, earned a similarly weak 12 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and has so far grossed a disastrous $10 million since its June 18 release.
Shyamalan, a two time Oscar nominee for 'The Sixth Sense,' presently has no other films in development as a writer or director. Domestically, his seven films have grossed nearly $900 million, led by 'The Sixth Sense' and 'Signs.' The director became well known for his use of surprise twist endings after 'Sense' and 'The Village,' and has taken small roles in many of his films.
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