Okay, going into this, I have to say two things. Firstly, I never watched the cartoon. Avatar: The Last Airbender is basically an American anime, and minus a Miyazaki film here and there, I’m just not much of an anime person. Secondly, I’ve never watched an M. Night Shyamalan movie all the way through. I like what I’ve seen of The Sixth Sense, I have to admit, but I know too much about the simple twists he uses, and really scary movies just aren’t my thing. When I heard Shyamalan was directing this (along with a rumor that he was being considered for Breaking Dawn) I wasn’t really sure what to think. Maybe that he was expanding his portfolio? Maybe that he was selling out? I don’t know.
I went to see this with my fiancé, who did watch the show, and I have to say that both of us enjoyed it a lot. The basic premise is that in this world there are four separate tribes, each who follow and identify themselves with a separate element: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Every generation, an Avatar is born—a person who can control all four elements. The Avatar is reborn into each tribe in a circulating pattern. Because of this, it was known that the next Avatar would be born into the Air nation – and the Fire nation destroyed the entire Air nation because of it. It so happens that Aang, the Avatar, was not with his nation when the genocide happened, though. Years later, after the Fire nation has taken power over much of the world, he is discovered by members of the Water nation, and together with some new friends, travels to different tribes to learn about the other elements, and to encourage hope and free will in the minds and hearts of the people.
The film doesn’t make a lot of sense cinematically if you’re not familiar with the show – or at least with anime in general. There are several moments where the focus is very close on the face, and everything behind is blurry, etc, but that’s just a stylistic thing. It didn’t bother me, though I’ve heard it has bothered others. My fiancé was delighted with the movie visually, and from what little bits I’ve seen of the cartoon, I thought it was beautifully done. Shyamalan definitely paid a lot of respect to the original work. The creatures in the film were beautifully represented, and the powers were fun to watch.
My one criticism actually comes from my sister (who was also a fan of the original) in that it wasn’t half so fun as the cartoon. Then again, anime-like hysterics probably wouldn’t translate all that well to a live-action film, either. The film was beautiful, really. It was a little bit slow, though. To be fair, I’d had almost no sleep the week before, but I did almost fall asleep towards the end of the movie. Still, I enjoyed the film a lot. And it was fun to see Jackson Rathbone in a non-Twilight role.
All in all, I really enjoyed the movie. I give it a B-.