Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Last Airbender: Nerd talk (even for me)

I enjoyed The Last Airbender. This is sort of ironic because A. no one liked Airbender, and B. I'm Asian American. If I were still living in California I probably wouldn't have seen Airbender due to the outcry by the Asian American community over racism in the film's casting. But life is slow in the sticks and I wanted to see what the fuss is about.
Dev Patel is awesome as the banished Fire Nation prince Zuko. I didn't care for him much in Slumdog Millionaire, but his intensity and anguish won me over in Airbender. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender the animated series are unhappy that minorities like Patel were cast mainly as villians in the movie. They have a point, but Patel's character is much more interesting and multi-dimensional than any of the protagonists. Shaun Toub, who plays Prince Zuko's uncle, turns out a solid performance as well.

Noah Ringer may be white, but he looks like Aang and is quite convincing doing the little monk's martial arts. I was impressed. Noah has an impish smile, too. I wish they'd give him some funny Aang-ish scenes.

CGI effects
don't disappoint.

Two white kids, dressed like Inuit, living in a tribe of all Asian people=WTH? Considering they were portraying (culturally ambiguous, though Asian inspired) cartoon characters, the actors did an okay job. But certain scenes felt awkward with white actors playing Katara and Sokka. The beginning scenes in Airbender when they were with their Asian tribe just didn't work.

While it's not surprising that adults are in an uproar over the Airbender casting, I wonder what Asian American kids think about it. Are they crushed? Could they not care less?

Aang you glad I didn't say banana? Airbender director M. Night Shyamalan decided to change the pronunciations of the characters' names from the way they're said in the animated series to their true Asian pronunciations. I give him credit for wanting to do this, but fans have been watching Avatar for years so why suddenly pull the rug out from under their feet?

the movie is devoid of humor,
unlike the Avatar cartoon series.

All in all I felt entertained by The Last Airbender. I liked the costumes, sets and special effects in the film. If I could suggest two things to Shyamalan for Airbender: Book 2, I'd recommend he be faithful to the comic parts of the story and to give Dante Basco (Asian American actor and the voice of Prince Zuko in the Avatar series) a meaty role.