Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Failure of The Last Airbender and the Importance of Characters

The Failure of The Last Airbender and the Importance of Characters

The Last Airbender has everything you need to build a great movie: great effects, extremely detailed choreography, an established and visionary premise, a base in mythology that is thousands of years old, and a great overall plot line. And from the moment the movie opens, it falls flat on it's face.

Why? Because The Last Airbender forgot the most important element of any good story: the characters. People aren't just present in a story, and their not just placeholders for the plot. They are the storytellers, the narrators, the filter that colors ever event in the narration. We see the stories through their eyes, their emotion becomes ours, and through them, we become a part a new magical world.

Without great characterization, even the best story just turns into a list of facts. *SPOILER ALERT* The Avatar doesn't want his responsibility, Zuko has been banished, and Katara is, well, nothing.

There was no lead in or development of these characterizations. We are presented with this list of facts, and then the characters transcend them. We rarely see Zuko struggle between his desire to do right and to seek honor. We never see Katara's fight to attain success in a land where female benders are forbidden. We never see Sokka's search for identity among his more talented peers.

All of these things fail to make an impact on an audience because there was no attempt to display their personalities within the movie. Instead, we got a movie full of gloss, plot and action scenes, with no real substance.

Some of this comes with trying to fit an entire season of a TV show into a 2 hour movie. But that could've been done: Avatar isn't a very complex show. But the priorities would've had to change: less plot, less detailed martial arts forms, and fewer fights. The Last Airbender tries to show us it's entire visual universe in one movie, which leaves it without any room to grow in it's most developed aspects, and with no reason for newcomers to watch the next movies.

Without characters, we just can't care about the movie that much. It's 2010, all movies look good now. And a lot of them look great. That's not a strong enough premise for a movie anymore. The Last Airbender had everything it takes to make a movie, and instead, it made a mediocre one, just because it ignored it's most vital elements.

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