FILM

M Night Shya­malan dis­cusses the crit­ics with Don­ald Clarke, p6. Don­ald Clarke pans his movie,

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

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

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