Dreary 3-D is not the least of critics’ complaints about ‘The Last Airbender’
It’s no secret that Roger Ebert hates 3-D movies. The dean of America film critics took to the pages of Newsweek recently to make his case, calling 3-D “a waste of a perfectly good dimension.” It also has dawned on Ebert, as it has others of us, why Hollywood studios have been falling over each other to convert their films into 3-D, even when it was something of an act of artistic suicide, as with the awful-looking “Clash of the Titans.” As Ebert put it, the studios’ mania for 3-D “is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets.”
So it’s not a surprise to see Ebert come out swinging again in his review of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender,” which opened Friday. The film, based on a popular Nickelodeon TV series, takes place in a dystopian future when man survives only in the form of beings endowed with magical powers that enable them to control air, earth, water and fire. Ebert ends his review by saying that he hopes the film’s title will prove to be prophetic, but not before taking a whipping stick to the whole misguided project, especially its quasi-3-D elements.
This is the core of Ebert’s brief against the film:
“‘The Last Airbender’ is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3-D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that. Let’s start with the 3-D, which was added as an afterthought to a 2-D movie. Not only is it unexploited, unnecessary and hardly noticeable, but it’s a disaster even if you like 3-D. M. Night Shyamalan’s retrofit produces the drabbest, darkest, dingiest movie of any sort I’ve seen in years. You know something is wrong when the screen is filled with flames that have the vibrancy of faded Polaroids. It’s a known fact that 3-D causes a measurable decrease in perceived brightness, but ‘Airbender’ looks like it was filmed with a dirty sheet over the lens.”
Ebert isn’t alone on this one. “Airbender” has earned an abysmal 9 at Rotten Tomatoes, which could make it the worst-reviewed major studio film of the year. The critics have dinged it for its incomprehensible plot, laughable dialogue and horrible 3-D effects. The Detroit News’ Tom Long said the picture looked as if it “could have been made by the spoiled son of a studio mogul willing to waste gobs of money.”
We’ll see what audiences think, but this cheesy attempt to exploit higher 3-D ticket prices might put another nail in the 3-D coffin by generating even more public cynicism (or justifiable skepticism) about the motives behind the 3-D revolution. Either way, the film is a critical drubbing for Shyamalan, whose stock has plummeted after “The Sixth Sense,” which is looking more and more like a flukish bolt of inspiration from a Hollywood hack, not a polished gem from a game-changing filmmaker. Aang (Noah Ringer) can move water, air, fire and earth, but he cannot move critics to give ‘The Last Airbender’ a good review.