Monday, 22 April 2013

My Brother Reviews "Mouth Agape: Over tar, Tthe Last Air Dancer."

My brother watched The Last Airbender movie with me and decided to submit his own opinions on my blog.

You are reading this because you cannot get enough criticism of the movie, of how the terrible, horrible, silly way M. Night Shamalingdong brought Avatar to life. If you are a fan of the series, and you have not seen the movie yet... go see it. It is definitely in the "so bad that it hurts" category, and is quite an experience. If you have already seen it, then let us enjoy it a bit more, shall we?

Book One: Water, was a pretty powerful season, large in geographical scope, rich with colourful characters, and with an intricate story. Avatar Aang and his gang started at the South Pole, visited the Southern Air Temple, visited Kyoshi island, visited the walled city of Omashu, went on a floating prison, freed a village from a rampaging panda, visited a Fire Temple, fought with pirates, fought alongside rebel outlaws, went fishing with an old man, got captured and freed by an enemy, saved a village from an erupting volcano, spent some time with a few nuns, met Jeong Jeong (a fire bending master), then went to the North Pole to learn more water bending, where the gang was besieged.
I suppose book 1 was kinda awesome.
That is a lot. It is 20 episodes, which is roughly 7-8 hours of non-stop animation. The quality of the storytelling means that even if you take out filler material (crossing the canyon, riding penguins and koi), you will still end up with 5-6 hours worth of dense, quality material. That is 4 or 5 movies' worth of time. Condensing all of that into your standard 1 hour 20 minute format is an enterprise doomed to failure, guaranteed. Even if you omit as much of the non-essential plots as you can, you will still need 2-3 hours for Book One, which is two movies, and that barely, BARELY does the series justice.
So from the start, we know that the movie is going to butcher the series and throw away 4/5ths of it. And yet, the story is written, the series is already acclaimed for its great directing, you just need to bring to live-action, right? How badly can Mr. Shamalamadingdong mess up? Ah... where to begin? The cast, of course!

In the series: Avatar Aang is a cute, somewhat silly 12 year old. He is fun and bubbly.
In the movie: Over-tar Ong looks like he is 7 years old, and his mouth is almost always agape. He is not fun, cute or silly. He is just awkward.

In the series: Katara has light brown skin and hair loopies. She is defiant yet reasonable, emotional but rational, a complex character that binds the group together.
In the movie: Katara is white, and her character is flat. So flat and insipid, that if she had been deleted from the movie, you would not have noticed. For some reason, in about 90% of the scenes she is in, her mouth is agape.

In the series: Sokka is sarcastic and goofy, yet knowledgeable and a strategist. He is the leader of the group... somewhat
In the movie: Sokka stands there with his mouth agape. At the end of the movie, after spending roughly 15 seconds with a girl, he falls in love and they kiss. Other than that, nothing. No wit, no humour, no funny, no leadership, no sarcasm. Nothing. Except his mouth being agape, that is.

Mouths Agape alright.
In the series: Zuko is Chinese. He has a HUGE angry red scar that covers a quarter of his face. He is the most complex character, seeking his honour, yet seething with anger, torn between conflicting desires.
In the series: Zuko is Indian. He has acne. His mouth is agape. When his mouth is not agape, it is because he is rudely shouting. Why? I do not know! The movie certainly did not explain.

In the series: Iroh (Eye-row) is a SHORT, FAT, wise, old Chinese man. He is the calm foil to Zuko's youth and recklessness.
In the movie: Eeroh (Eee-row) is a TALL, THIN, wise, old Indian man. Surprisingly, Eeroh's performance was quite good, despite the weight loss, the increased height, and the change of ethnicity. He was the ONLY actor who managed to pull of his role well. Against all odds, when Eeroh is silent, his mouth is not agape.

In the series: Firelord Ozai is mysterious, respected and feared by all around him. 
In the movie: Ozai is a smirking jerk. He is an Indian wearing Roman armour. Why is an Indian wearing Roman armour? Why not cast a fearsome tough guy instead of a smirking jerk? Ask Mr. Shamalingdong.

So that is the cast for you. The ethnicity changes could have been acceptable, but the personalities changed too (aside from Eeroh), and some of the names changed, and the result is quite ugly. The really funny bits are where Indian soldiers walk about wearing Roman clothes/armour. If Shamalingdong changed the characters from Chinese to Indian, then why not give them Indian clothes? It does not make much sense.

Bending the elements is the core of the series, but the movie botches it. Air bending is easier to animate than it is to show in real life, so that can be forgiven, but water bending and fire bending both look weak. Instead of martial art moves, the actors dance, and sometimes the dancing proves to be ineffective (check the ending of the movie, where Ong and Katara dance for about 1 minute with no visible result). The bending is much closer to "energetic yoga" than it is to the fighting-styles of the series. Shamalingdong cripples the fire nation by requiring a fire source to bend (like water is needed for water bending), so you end up with scenes where air/earth/water benders are fighting for their lives with fire benders... when there is only one source of fire that can easily be put out. It does not make sense.

The story is subpar, even if you have not watched the show. The plot moves too fast and there no character development, while far too much time is spent on yoga-dancing ("bending") and actors looking stupid with their mouths agape, but in general the plot is still within the realm of acceptability. The bending effects, if you discount the yoga-dancing behind and look only at the elements, are actually quite good. Most of the props and sets in the movie are good too... except for Appa. I have absolutely no idea what they did with Appa's face. No, I literally have NO IDEA what Appa's face looks like, because Appa never shows his full face to the camera for more than 0.1 seconds. I think movie-Appa was so damn ugly, that even Shamalingdong could not bear to see his face, so they made sure all the Appa shots are from the side, or that Appa's face is cropped.

There is not much to this movie. A badly chosen cast who mostly cannot act, a weak and butchered storyline, blindingly obvious plotholes, extreme faithlessness to the original, but some cool CG effects. Cramming 7 hours of story into 80 minutes was never going to work, and you needed people who could do more than yoga and "keep your mouth slightly open." Fans of the series are going to be disgusted by the unpleasantness of seeing SO MANY unnecessary and jarring changes to the show, while people who have not seen the animation will likely give the movie a 5 or 6 out of 10. Personally, I give it 1/10, 0.5 for the CGI, and 0.5 for Eeroh. As for the missing 9 points, I simply deducted 0.1 from the score every time a character spent half a scene with their mouth agape.