M Night Shyamalan discusses the critics with Donald Clarke, p6. Donald Clarke pans his movie,
DURING THE early, gold rush years for the fantasy franchise – from 2000 to 2006 or so – it seemed as if a fortune awaited any producer brave enough to order up a trilogy about a boy or girl with a battle axe (or wand).
However, as various supposed franchises failed to excite the public, the cinematic landscape has become increasingly littered with depressing ghost estates such as Eragon Valley and Golden Compass Lawns. Catch sight of them and your heart sinks beneath the suffocating mass of failed ambition.
All of which is a way of delaying any consideration of the latest disaster from M Night Shyamalan. After Lady in the Water and The
Happening (more interesting failures than most critics allowed), the director has taken a turn away from contemporary spook stories towards, yes, a fantasy franchise.
The Last Airbender is being sold as the first in a sequence of three epics, but part one is so misconceived and shabbythat it comes as a surprise when they actually make it through to the end credits. You constantly expect a movie executive to stumble in front of the camera and order everyone back to the trailers. “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along now.”
Viewers will be divided into two groups: fans of the Nickelodeon TV series annoyed at the film’s supernatural dullness, and neophytes who will have absolutely no idea what is going on.
A glance at the production notes clarifies that it involves a conflict between the Fire Nation and three other tribes named for the ancient elements: Air, Water and Earth. Things look up for the oppressed peoples when a young boy arrives in a sphere of ice. He is the titular Airbender, who has the power to bring harmony between the various squabbling factions.
Making no concessions to the uninitiated, Shyamalan throws us straight into the action with only a cursory few explanations to soften the landing. What follows is badly acted, ugly to look at and worse to listen to. Most surprising of all, even the special effects are unforgivably crummy. The end result comes across like a North Korean TV adaptation of the Bhagavad Gita.
That may, of course, suit you quite nicely. DONALD CLARKE