Dreary 3-D is not the least of crit­ics’ com­plaints about ‘The Last Air­ben­der’

Austin American-Statesman - - TV TONIGHT - By Pa­trick Gold­stein Zade Rosen­thal As­so­Ci­ATeD PRess

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.

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