Last Airbender - The Other Avatar

Last Airbender - The Other Avatar
Yes, the other one – not James Cameron's Pandoran epic, but Avatar: The Last Airbender, as brought to the big screen by M. Night Shyamalan. The two movies could not be more different, but the similarity in titles leads to often hilarious cross purposes among fans, which usually ends with, “Oh, you mean the OTHER Avatar?”

In Cameron's movie, the term avatar refers to humans taking on a N'avi persona to enter the society of these ten foot blue skinned aliens. In The Last Airbender, it refers to Aang, the endearing 100 year old who looks like a teenage boy, the current 'avatar' with the ability to master the four elements of fire, water, earth and air.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is based on the phenomenally successful 'American anime' series by Bryan Konieztko and Mike DiMartino, set in a world where the four elements can be controlled by masters, or 'benders.' Aang is the last of the air bending nomads, the rest of his tribe having been wiped out by the Fire Nation. All of this happens while Aang, who has fled the enormous pressure of being the next Avatar (the one who can master all the elements) is frozen for a hundred years. During this time, the Fire Nation wages war on the Water and Earth tribes, trying to wipe them out as well.

Two youngsters from the Water Tribe, Katara and Sokka, bring Aang out of his frozen sleep, and he sets out to master the elements and bring an end to the Fire Nation's devastating rampage. As fans of the anime know, Aang's quest to master the other three elements forms a separate 'book' in the series. Shyamalan's quest is to make each book of the movie. The Last Airbender is the first book.

The anime has won such a strong following that it seems inevitable that the live action movie could not please everyone. The trouble is, although Shyamalan has made a very enjoyable movie, it is not the Avatar we fans know and love, and he has managed to please virtually no one.

Anyone who has seen both the anime and the movie would have spotted the most serious flaw – the character of Aang. While Noah Ringer, who plays Aang, looks darn cute and moves with the expected grace, he is not allowed for a moment to show us the laughing, silly boy of the anime. Aang might be a Very Important Person, but he doesn't take himself at all seriously in The Last Airbender. There are delightful scenes in the anime of Aang and some of his fellow monks acting like larrikins in orange robes, that endear us both to Aang and the monks, and gives the tragedy of their obliteration much more pathos.

But to see this movie you would think Aang never smiled, let alone laughed or played – and that is sad, because it means Noah never gets to show us this side of Aang.

There is a lot missing, as well, and while it is understandable in a 90 minute movie that some stuff would have to be discarded, it is unfortunately stuff that makes the anime such an unexpected delight. In fact, overall, the movie was far more long faced and serious than the anime and it lost a lot because of that.

But in spite of that, Shyamalan did some things right. The Water City was awesome, the special effects – especially the bending of the elements – very cool to watch, and Dev Patel's performance as the Fire Nation heir Zuko was the best of the young actors, even though he is reported as saying he didn't think much of the movie himself.

Shyamalan was as faithful to the source material as he could be in the time constraints, particularly to the Buddhist theme. Like the Dalai Lama, Aang is the reincarnation of a long line of avatars, who bring peace and balance between the elements.

The loss of the humour and charm of the anime is a big flaw, and one that it is hard for fans to look beyond. But I hope Shyamalan does make all the movies in the series as what we saw in the cinema was a truly awesome visual spectacular.

I paid to see this movie with my own funds.

The movie:
Heath Ledger 8x10 Autographed Photo Reprint

The anime:
Avatar The Last Airbender: The Complete Book 1 (Collector's Edition)

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