Someone should have explained to Shyamalan, who was once considered a master of suspense, that visual depictions of meditation don't do much to build tension. At one crucial point in the film, Aang declares that he needs a place to meditate, and might just remain in a meditative state for days! Hearing Aang's declaration, his friends declare that they need to be on their way, and they leave Aang to consult with the Dragon Spirit while they find something more productive to do. Viewers might feel compelled to abandon ship at the same point.

Throughout his films, Shyamalan's weaknesses as a storyteller have been masked by excellent visual presentations. Working with veteran cinematographers like Tak Fujimoto and Christopher Doyle, Shyamalan has produced film after film with mesmerizing images. For Airbender's cinematography, he's chosen Andrew Lesnie, known for his work on the films of director Peter Jackson, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Too bad, then, that Airbender has so few memorable images. Its abundant CGI and other visual effects can't offset the film's glaring weakness—we don't care about the characters or their fates. (Note: The film's 3D effects reportedly were added after the film was shot, as was the case with the similarly woeful Clash of the Titans film earlier this year. Don't bother to pay extra money to see the 3D presentation, as the 2D is disappointing enough.)

As for the story's central themes, Shyamalan was quote in Premiere magazine expressing gratitude that the studio behind the film (Paramount) would "let me make such a diverse, Buddhist tentpole summer movie." Notice the absence of such words as "coherent," "satisfying" or " well acted," none of which apply to this epic misfire. It's enough to make one look back wistfully at those poorly reviewed earlier Shyamalan movies—personal visions brought to sputtering, sometimes spectacular life, rather than the messy, mechanical adaptation of a pre-existing storyline in Airbender. We can only hope that the sequel set-up that concludes this film doesn't result in any further chapters.


Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  None.

  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  None.

  • Sex/Nudity:  A kiss.

  • Violence/Crime:  A man threatens to burn down a village; skeletons of dead monks are shown; fights and battles among the different benders; off-screen, a man burns his child to teach him a lesson; dead guards hang by a rope; an explosion; the ocean and moon gods are killed; a character drowns.

  • Religion:  Buddhist themes throughout; the Fire nation doesn't want to live in balance with the spirits; the avatar is said to be able to change hearts, "and it is in the heart where all battles are won"; Aang levitates and has visions of the Dragon Spirit; tai chi moves are practiced; it is said that if the avatar is killed, he will be reborn; a girl's white hair is said to be the result of her parents' answered prayers to the spirits; a sacrificial death.