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In Defense of M. Night Shyamalan: Last Airbender and the Disappearing Art of Storytelling

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M. Night Shyamalan. Photo: CynSimp, WikiMedia Commons.

M. Night Shyamalan. Photo: CynSimp, WikiMedia Commons.

People love or hate M. Night Shyamalan. Could it be that many of the haters are just experiencing a lack of comprehension of Shyamalan\’s storytelling style? Shyamalan thinks so—and so do I.

In a recent interview, Philadelphia area’s M. Night Shyamalan revealed his feelings to “Vulture” regarding negative reviews. “It must be a language thing, in terms of a particular accent, a storytelling accent. I can only see it this certain way and I don\’t know how to think in another language.”

I couldn\’t agree more. After all, I\’m one of the few proud fans of The Village. Each time I watch it, I learn or experience something new—or find that I feel differently towards a certain character. Sometimes this is because I have changed; other times I simply observed and appreciated a detail that I missed on previous viewings. To me, this is the hallmark of an effective story, whether told in person, through music or on film.

The Village is the hallmark of an effective story

Others call The Village weird, slow-paced or confusing. I see it as a love story; a way in which love can transform us to think selflessly and purely in desperate times. This isn\’t just about the main characters, either—but their parents and the village\’s ability to face or turn away from fears. “The Last Airbender” touches on this theme as well. I almost feel like people that don\’t understand the treatment of love in “The Village” might never understand how I feel love, making it an intensely personal experience instead of something universal.

Many naysayers of “The Last Airbender” are fans of the original animated series. They dislike changes made or the pace of the plot (this time “too fast” instead of “too slow”). Admittedly, I dislike the animated series. I feel like I understand the symbolism of the elements in the show, but some of the seemingly random cultural elements and associations presented confuse and distract me. With his cultural understanding of Eastern and Western worlds, Shyamalan has done a service to the original concept by presenting universally-understandable symbolism and themes.

That\’s the other thing about Shyamalan—his storytelling method is very deliberate. “Lady in the Water” is another frequently-trashed Night flick. When I hear someone trash-talking it, I find it to be a primary indication that the person is a) not a writer; b) not a decent storyteller and c) may lack comforting memories of fairy tales and childhood storytelling sessions.

Lady in the WaterI was so intrigued by “Lady” that I watched it twice immediately, quickly realizing that the movie isn\’t about its own plot, but the construction and completion of the story itself. After all, the protagonist\’s name is “Story” and she is endangered in our world. Bad things happen to movie critics in the film. If you can\’t interpret that symbolism (in addition to the multiple layers of subtext in the film), you should probably go back to watching high-school potty humor movies made by Michael Bay.

I respect that people have differences of opinion when it comes to entertainment. Since “Airbender” was so frequently panned, I was expecting ridiculous wire-fu and a slow-paced action movie. Instead, I found relatable concepts and immersion. While the 3-D didn\’t add much to the film, the film itself lacked any major problems. I got the message—but everyone else must be so hung up on the anime-to-feature-film-conversion errors that they missed the spirit of the film.

Shyamalan fixed many things that irked me in the cartoon. I mean, if I met a new person flying a large flying-otter-mammoth-thing, I\’d have a pretty big WTF moment, especially if that species was presumed extinct. In the cartoon, many characters don\’t notice…as if they see large flying-otter-mammoth-things every day. In the film, one of the characters actually has a WTF moment over the strange creature. I appreciated that enough to suspend my disbelief about the more fantastic elements of the story.

Maybe Shyamalan\’s storytelling style reminds me of my childhood. One of the elementary school librarians I remember would bring old Irish folk tales to life by adding her own details and answering questions about leprechauns and brownies with precision. Sure, I knew that leprechauns weren\’t real, but the level of the storyteller\’s involvement made it permissible to be lost in the story despite my age and experience.

As an adult, Shyamalan\’s style does the same thing for me. I enjoy plot-heavy epics like “Lord of the Rings,” but shorter folk tale flicks are weaving and representing the storytelling fabric of our present society. Sometimes people put that storytelling style down or ignore it just as they might to folk music or fairytales. That might be fine for you, but as someone who wants to be the best possible global citizen (and a decent parent someday), I\’ll treasure these stories.

A lot of people in my near thirty-something age range and below also don’t care for or appreciate The Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” They hate The Beatles, and they’re entitled to–even though practically every musician they listen to from Green Day to Lady Gaga and P. Diddy is undoubtedly influenced by them. The point is this–”Abbey Road” is a concept album. If you focus on each song, you’ll find that some are quick and dirty or feature stylistic elements that The Beatles employed previously. As an album, it’s a masterpiece, and with that big picture, it’s easier to enjoy the music and understand the meaning behind each song. Such is the art of enjoying an M. Night Shyamalan movie–if you focus on one piece, you risk missing the big picture.

Helpful links:

M. Night Shyamalan

“The Last Airbender” Official Site

For an alternate viewpoint on The Last Airbender, see An Obiturary for M. Night Shymalan – Demise Comes at Release of The Last Airbender

  • James Adams

    You have terrible taste in movies. How anyone can take your opinions seriously is beyond me.

  • http://www.tarawrites.com/ Tara Clapper

    @James Adams: Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. Shyamalan must have some fans…otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten the capital to make further films.

    I hope you have a spectacular day full of people not taking YOUR opinions seriously… :)

    • James Adams

      I’m sorry if my initial comment came of as rude but if you’re giving this movie credit over something as simple as people going “WTF” the first time they see Appa then you’re clearly reaching for something to like.

      And how you can keep the so called spirit of a series when you don’t even pronounce the characters names right (!!!) is beyond me. You’re giving credit where it’s not due.

      And everyone no matter how terrible as some fans but doesn’t mean that what they do is any good. You can take that logic and apply it to Uwe Boll if you wanted to.

      You’re supposed to be critic and look at things objectively but you don’t. That’s why I can’t take this review seriously. You have all the evidence of a terrible movie staring you in the face and you’re pretending to be blissfully ignorant to it. If you and a few other commenters want to be suckers that don’t demand better from their films that’s fine but don’t expect everyone else to stomach this dreck.

    • James Adams

      No one is saying you can’t have an opinion or that you shouldn’t like M.Night. I am saying you’re not looking at these films fairly and that you’re biased towards them.

      • http://www.tarawrites.com/ Tara Clapper

        Agreed. This isn’t an objective review and it wasn’t meant to be. This is a blog entry on a site that permits opinions. When did I ever say that I was attempting to craft a journalistic masterpiece or approach this film objectively? I’m not “supposed to be a critic.” I don’t have a degree in film and I don’t know what makes you think I’m trying to be some sort of film expert.

        What I do have is the understanding of a full-time freelance writer and a BA in English. This is perhaps what allows me to approach and deconstruct storytelling element of this and other films.

        Like everyone else, I am an observer of culture. You don’t need objectivity or a degree to do that, either, and I doubt it would be possible for one to remove oneself from one’s own culture to create objective discourse about it.

        I’m not “expecting everyone else to stomach this dreck.” I don’t have a knife at your throat forcing you to see the film or like it; I’m simply offering an opinion from the perspective of someone who appreciates the storytelling in the film.

  • http://www.mikebrits.com/wp Mike

    I was really a fan of M Night Shyamallanaamnam, but i feel his films have been on a steady decline since Sixth Sense. Forget reviews, im talking about quality of story. Lady in the Water is what made the penny drop for me. It was non sensical and evaded logic altogether. Im all for a good story, I really do love them, and write a few small things myself, but as imaginative as LINTW was, it was filled with holes, and not at all captivating, with a ‘complete’ ending. I cant be fussed to watch Avatar TLA, his QUALITY of films of late dictate this for me, not the reviews on the film.

    As for the little WTF moment, dont focus on one piece, you’re missing the big picture.

    By the way, are you saying Avatar TLA is a good film? Because although you are defending Shyamanalanaaman, you dont seem to give a conclusion of the film.

    • http://tarawrites.com Tara M. Clapper

      I think that The Last Airbender was a decent film. Was it amazing compared to my other favorite movies? No. Did I like it more than most Night movies? It was probably average among them. I think it’s worth seeing, but in a different summer movie ‘climate’ it would have been severely overlooked on all accounts.

  • J

    Hmmm. It seems that Shyamalan’s recent films have performed poorly with critics and audiences. For example, Lady in the Water bombed spectacularly at the box office and couldn’t make back the enormous marketing budget of $70 million. If you look on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively, his recent work has garnered the following scores (out of 100):

    - The Village 43, 44
    - Lady in the Water 25, 36
    - The Happening 18, 34
    - The Last Airbender 8, 20

    I’m incredulous to believe that the majority of critics and audience members who don’t like Shyamalan’s recent work don’t understand storytelling as you suggest. His twists are uninteresting and his characterizations are wooden. Moreover, his unwillingness to even consider criticism is simply the mark of immaturity and hubris. If you can’t be honest with yourself, then you can’t become a better artist. I’m sure he’ll still make the big bucks for the time being — only his movies will just suck.

  • Jo

    You ARE missing the big picture, the whole story. You probably haven’t even watched the whole series, and Shyamalan probably didn’t either by seeing how bad this movie was. You make it sound like he was only expressing his vision of Avatar in the movie, But you have to take into consideration what people watching the movie are going to think. Especially, Avatar’s greatest fans. I hated this movie, It was the greatest disappointment of my life, because I’m a great fan of the series. The actors have no depth, no character or emotion. The storyline was choppy and made no sense to the non-fans, And a lot of important, story-changing characters were left out. Not to mention the terrible miscasting and TOO slow motion effects.

  • Amitava

    I really enjoyed TLA and recommended to my friend’s kids as well. They loved it.

    I want to thank Tara for pointing to the techniques of story telling. Movie industry is flooded with shocking imageries , amazing special effects and ridiculous execution of innumerable digital magic tricks. The audience is primed with expectations of more ‘cool’ tricks in every next movie. But, tricks shouldn’t ever overshadow the main story, the human element or values. When they do then you scratch your head after 10 minutes, thinking what the movie was about. Very few movies these days have a neat story line or they don’t spend time building it. Now, the story telling of Village or Lady in the water was not a conventional one. Not like in spiderman or in Jurassic park. It was somewhat cerebral where the characters are rarely stereotypes of another movie. That is why these movies will be discussed over and over. Some movies take time to be liked.

    In TLA director spends time to build the story and very consciously avoids trendy polished dialogues, blood spilling or graphic violence. We have watched fast paced stereotypical Jet li like martial art for many many years. The pace was appropriately slow and near perfect dance like martial art was visually refreshing.

    • http://www.tarawrites.com/ Tara Clapper

      Thanks for your perspective, Amitava. I understand what you are saying about stereotypical martial arts. Others are pointing out that Jet Li isn’t stereotypical, etc., but I see what you mean–even though Li’s style might be innovative, now we see it repeated time and again in movies and this particular movie offers us something different.

      • Exe

        Basically you know nothing about martial arts either? Jet Li has shown a VERY wide variety of martial arts in different movies…Again you fail to see what is right in front of you, the moves in this movie are very stagnant and stiff, Zuko is just terrible…the techniques they do before their bending is…well its just sad…and really has no place in the technique…watch the show (finish it too..the WHOLE series) and you’ll see there is a lot more depth to it.

        ..and guess what…The Flying Bison gets kidnapped because its soooo rare…guess people were paying attention to that too huh? but you’re right, it would be so excited if in every single episode there was a good 5 minute explanation to every person they meet about the flying rug…

        • http://www.tarawrites.com/ Tara Clapper

          Again, did I ever claim to be a martial arts expert? I don’t think so. I was complimenting Li’s achievements but you’re turning my words around to expose a lack of knowledge that I’m admitting is there. Does someone really have to understand the life and times of Jet Li to appreciate a film that does not even feature him? I don’t think so.

          And honestly, yeah. I mean, the flying animal isn’t exactly inconspicuous. I would think that most people new to it would at least offer the creature a strange look. I get that it’s rare.

  • Exe

    Sounds to me like you got your head up M nights butt with a bit of a crush to go along with it.

    You didnt like the show but you liked the movie so that means everyone missed something that your superior vision missed? You ever step back and think “hey, im in the minority in my opinion here, maybe my idol M night might actually be slipping.”

    sixth sense was good and his other movies had good pieces…but come on, the villages big twist is a bunch of rich people rather live the forest using leaves for toilet paper and using fire for light? …. completely wowed me after I woke up and someone told me what happened.

    Lady in the water…what did this teach us? that sometimes buffing up only one side of your body means youre meant for something more and that monkeys will attack wolves.

    Signs…I did enjoy pieces of this…but seriously….Aliens have unlocked travel to other planets so that they can run around naked in peoples fields? Why would a race that dissolves like m nights career when hit with water come to a planet that is 70% water and not even bring an umbrella? why the hell are the aliens naked and unarmed in hostile leaky territory?

    Lets run around to avatar now…first off the names… THEY HAVE BEEN PRONOUNCED, how does he still mess that SIMPLE part up?

    Now you say he improved on what the show did cause it was “confusing for you” (yet children ranging from 8-12 had no problem getting it, just saying) Then tell me why he changed the EARTH BENDERS prison into a prison sitting on EARTH when in the series they made it metal so that they could not bend…that made LESS sense to me.

    How about making the fire nation indian? did the asian undertones in the show just fly over his head? did he not HEAR Iro talk? (course considering the way he had the names pronounced we might wanna fit M night with a hearing AID)

    He didnt even do anything creative, he watch the first season (seems like not all of it though) and just copied what HE thought was the best and most important, then he tweaked things (look at the firebenders needing to carry a zippo to be of any use) messed up the names, then watched power rangers and screwed up the fight scenes.

    I dont know what he thought he was doing there either, obviously m night is not someone who has even thrown a punch in his life, because the dancing those morons would do on screen before finally getting around to bending was pathetic.

    Theres no lack of comprehension, the stuff he does is not deep in any way, you can twist his movies to your hearts content to making them more than they are. Sadly though if you look into his movies you just see flaws. Also, the casting was pretty sad in Avatar as well….I really couldnt stand hearing Commander Zhao even speak, EVERY line was horrible.

  • Joann

    I really value your opinion of this movie. As a fan of the animated series, I was really hoping this was going to be good. I have heard all the talk of the decline of Night’s movies since the Sixth Sense, and I’ve let these reviews of TLAB influence me enough to choose to see other films coming out around this time. I have also read that Night was and IS a fan of the animated series. I just hope he got the point of this first chapter down. According to other people who actually enjoyed the animated series, he didn’t. Ang (if he is even called Ang in this movie) learns the value of friendship, trust, and the skill of water bending throughout this part of the series. He needs to learn more before the story is really completed. Perhaps the fact that this movie is really a trilogy that may not happen now given the reviews is why some viewers didn’t like the story telling. We want so much to sum things up in under 2 hours and make ourselves feel good. I wish Night the best, but I think that perhaps film directing is not his calling in life.

    • http://www.tarawrites.com/ Tara Clapper

      I somewhat agree. Night is really tough on himself in the cutting room; as a result, most of his movies are very short. I admire him more as a screenwriter than as a director.

  • Exe

    Oh ya! I forgot to point out all the flaws in M Nights SHOCKING RATED R MOVIE!…I swear he bribed someone to get that rating, it was a sad sad sad attempt at horror…

    Point I knew it was over “Uhhh we think the plants are angry and making people kill themselves”

    ….sorry, wheres the story telling technique there? honestly I have seen some really good twists in movies and the way its delivered, M night has not done anything new or ground breaking sorry.

    Amitava, you obviously know nothing about martial arts, Jet Li is a very skilled martial whos movies are polished and if you have actually watched his films you would see he is a very fluid martial artist and his movements are like a dance, again if you know what you are talking about which you dont, that shows from your opinion on this movie.

    Those ” dance moves” were pure trash, and they made the actual asian people in this movie look like morons when they were doing their techniques. I seriously shuddered a bit when they were making faces and weird sounds, watch the cartoon, their are much better martial artists in the show…

  • http://www.dichotome.com Ahmad Jordan

    Tara,
    I really enjoyed and appreciated your take on M. Night’s movies — especially the part about Lady in the Water, which is one of my favorites of his movies. I thought it was very clever on his part to make a movie about storytelling and all of the completely illogical bends, turns and detours that happen during the creative process. I had read an interview with the writer Paul Schraeder who said “Choose your metaphor” and put your story behind that. Night’s apparent metaphor was the Story itself. He gives us all of the usual suspects who hover around a story including a muse who goes by the name of “Story”; a writer who needs inspiration from the muse; and a critic who is, well, a crtic. I imagine the scrunt represents the terror of self-doubt that threatens most writers.

    I love Night’s films including The Last Airbender. But as writer Scott Frank said in an interview with Creative Screenwriting magazine: “We don\’t seem to be telling complex narratives
    like we used to… I don\’t see too many writers today who are trying to write complex characters and then from those characters create a complex plot. What they\’re doing is starting with a concept, and then they\’re creating attitudes, not characters. You have an idea to make a movie about car
    racing, not about a race car driver.”

  • Amitava

    @Exe,
    I admit I don’t know too much about martial art. I did start learning when I was a kid but didn’t continue. But, I am also a fan of Jet Li and I have watched a good number of martial art movies. Of course that doesn’t make me an expert on the art. How about you?

    But, in this movie, I thought the emphasis on slow movements which is an inseparable part of any Martial art to concentrate and understand the opponent and the surrounding environment in between moves was intentional. It was somewhat meditative and age appropriate I thought.

    Also, I am not too much of a fan of hyperbole.

  • Exe

    Jeet Kune Do, Lima Lama, Tai Chi, Free Form Karate, Kenpo, Ninjutsu, Muay Boran, many different styles of Kung Fu (yes theres more then one) Drunken Fist, I could go on…but YES I am and and especially am compared to you..let me guess..Tae Kwon Do…

    Try watching Fearless, or Tai Chi Warriors or even The One. Jet Li knows how to move, the people in this movie look like power rangers with an upset stomach.

    One thing M night especially doesnt understand about martial arts is the FEELING behind it, just like these actors are going through motions but got little to no understanding of WHAT they are trying to do.

    The cartoon got martial arts better then a whole cast of people, because the person behind the martial arts aspect of the show understood the FEELING.

    Earth; Grounded, strong, stiff movements.

    Water; like tai chi, flowing, fluid motions that feel like theyre extending out.

    Fire; direct, to the point and very chaotic.

    Wind; similar to tai chi but think of riding momentum in a more direct state.

    The people in this movie were sad, some moves were ok, but still NO FEELING, NO EMOTIONAL CONTENT…they moved to move but they didnt know why, Jet Li knows why…wanna know why? (think i can fit another why in their or do you want me to use a word like hyperbole instead of antagonize so I can try to sound smarter?) HE UNDERSTANDS FEELING, look at Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee..

    Those actors understood martial arts, you seem to be on par with the Van Damme crowd though.

    • TiredOFRants

      You’re kind of a cranky little dude aren’t you?

      C’mon though, do you really get your jollies off berating people anonymously? Pick up a hobby to get rid of some of that pent up energy. Try something that involves physical exertion. And you’re not always right either, just because its your opinion.

  • http://northmansoatmeal.deviantart.com/ MasterOatmeal

    I normally love Shymalan, The Happening was the greatest prank on the movie industry of all time (how could it not be a joke? M. Night Shymalan is an amazing writer, hence Unbreakable or the Sixth Sense for example. How could he go from that to writing a movie where the opening line is “I forgot where I am.”?)
    The Last Airbender was bad. And this is coming from someone who didn’t watch the show, I’ve seen episodes but that’s the extent of my Avatar viewing. Anyway I understand the story, the quest to reunite balance etc but the main problem with the movie is this:
    It lacked depth.
    Any character development, side-plots, even characters are thrown out the window in exchange for a fast paced blink and you’ve missed an entire bit of nothing.
    One example of this is how none of the characters (except perhaps Aang) grow at the end of the movie. For all intensive purposes they’re the same as they were at the beginning by the end.
    Next, and this is just a minor thing. The Earth benders who were imprisoned to prevent them from using their powers were imprisoned in… a quarry. That’s right, earth all around them and they somehow were being kept prisoner?
    Finally it seemed they tried to do as little animation as possible. The monkey and the bison, both major characters in the show are kept to a few scenes with most of the bison’s shots being shot with a real prop. I don’t know if it was a lack of money or resources or what but it seemed odd.

    Now the reasons for this, when you’re trying to fit an entire season in one movie it’s hard to do without losing something. I have a feeling though that alot of the problems were because of the producers and the money lenders. Shymalan can do great things but here he was imprisoned to doing what others wanted him to do cutting scene after scene.
    I don’t know how true it is but I would think that’s the problem. Maybe the next movie will allow for a bit more depth.

  • CNEWolf

    Although I am definitely not a huge fan of his other films, I was truly hoping that his dedication to the art of making movies would allow the live action version of TLAB to be spectaular. Additionally, I had read that his main impetus for creating this movie was that his daughter loves the series. I was completely disappointed as were my children and from the comments I heard while leaving the theater, so were the rest of the audience members.

    I do not understand your comment that the series is confusing. It is those “random cultural elements” that make the series so wonderful. I can understand that it was a monumental task to try and fit over 20 episodes worth of information into a single movie. However, he should have paid more attention to details and less to his view of how the story should be told. Small things like the way character names are pronounced, way the characters behave and the way the bending of the elements is done could have made this a much better movie.

  • Siddarth

    You did not like the anime/ cartoon !! my gosh woman like how u have seen the other crap of his again and again, i think you need to watch the anime again
    have you watched the episode of the face-stealer; my guess is that u thought this cartoon is just for kids so skipped all the character building parts till the end. My dear he fucked up and Ps i am a huge fan the sixth sense(which should have won the oscar instead of American beauty talk about racist there) unbreakable and signs the rest is plain shiite but as u explained above everyone is entitled to their opinion.
    MY POINT THIS ANIME/CARTOON IS REALLY COMPARABLE TO MIYAZAKI CLASSICS, may not be in his class but definitly comparable

    • http://www.tarawrites.com/ Tara Clapper

      I actually gave the anime a chance years ago because some adults suggested it to me. I’m not here to bash the anime or anime in general. I’m glad it entertains kids and adults. While I found it amusing, it failed to entertain me on a deeper level.

  • Melanie Billig

    I liked your article. I think I will go see the movie.

    • dude

      you will regret it

  • sharkymouth

    Personally, a new Shyamalan film is a major event for me. Both myself and my girlfriend really love his movies and as mentioned above, always seem to take something new from a repeated viewing. I honestly cannot understand all the hate people have for his movies, as they always seem so beautifully written and constructed. I watch a LOT of films, but Night’s always hit the spot for me. I do however hope that his next film will be one of his creation and not an adaptation, as I love to go into a first viewing of his films knowing nothing of the story to come. I think he’s one of the greatest storytellers in modern history – but that’s just me.

  • Jeremy

    I don’t see my comment. Boo to censorship!

    • http://mikeshowalter.com Mike Showalter

      Perhaps it was the one I just found in the spam folder? Not sure why it got flagged, but I pulled it out and approved it. If it wasn’t that one, please let me know.

  • Xajek

    I thought it was a great comedy.

  • mu

    “After all, the protagonist\’s name is “Story” and she is endangered in our world. Bad things happen to movie critics in the film. If you can\’t interpret that symbolism…” Is that really symbolism? I don’t know what context those fit into, but naming things after what they symbolize seems like text and not subtext.

    “Admittedly, I dislike the animated series. I feel like I understand the symbolism of the elements in the show, but some of the seemingly random cultural elements and associations presented confuse and distract me. With his cultural understanding of Eastern and Western worlds, Shyamalan has done a service to the original concept by presenting universally-understandable symbolism and themes.”

    I wonder if you’re familiar with the casting controversy. The symbolism and themes of the show weren’t random, they were based on ancient Asian and Inuit cultures and mythology. In fact, from the writing to the fighting styles, lot of research and effort went into portraying them accurately. There’s nothing wrong with being confused, or unfamiliar with them, and I don’t fault you for it. However, saying that replacing Eastern themes (and people) with Western ones was a service to the story… that’s not something I’d feel good about. Even if you personally found it more accessible, do you really want to defend the removal of cultural elements different to your own as “universally-understandable”?

    • http://tarawrites.com Tara M. Clapper

      I did not say that he replaced anything with purely Western themes, rather he included additional cultures to provide a broader frame of reference. You’re certainly spinning my words to indicate opposite intent.

      • dude

        “I did not say that he replaced anything with purely Western themes, rather he included additional cultures to provide a broader frame of reference.”

        Broader frame of reference? In which sense putting two main Caucasian actors in a village where everybody else is Asian create a broader sense of reference to you? in which way replacing that beautiful Chinese writing with gibberish creates in you a broader sense of cultural reference? How? Its not even a real language. And what about changing the names of the characters so they don’t sound to much Asian? Does that broader the frame of reference to? You can’t be serious, really.

      • mu

        The fact is, I can’t tell what your intent originally was, hence I presumed you weren’t aware of the extent of the changes. Things like the removal of the Chinese writing, dark skinned heroes, and Eastern fighting styles did happen, and it’s not a matter of opinion. I want to give you broader context for your comments.

        If you don’t want to say that adding Western themes (at the expense of the existing Asian ones) fixed the story, then I would recommend reconsidering your words.

        Again, I’m not faulting you for not being familiar with the original material. For example, a character does in fact have a WTF? reaction to Appa, the flying bison/”flying-otter-mammoth-thing”(otter? do you mean beaver? he has sort of a beaver tail), in the first episode. However, it would be unreasonable to expect you to know that if you don’t watch the show. At the same time, your criticism is still weaker for it.

  • Dick Jones

    How can you defend what is easily the most horrible sequence of sounds and images captured on film in the last forty years?

  • dude

    “Admittedly, I dislike the animated series. I feel like I understand the symbolism of the elements in the show, but some of the seemingly random cultural elements and associations presented confuse and distract me.”

    Dear Lady, if you don’t understand the source material which is deeply based on Asian culture and mythology, because obviously you have a lack of general knowledge regarding Asian culture and lore, then why are you reviewing this movie? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

    “I\’m glad it entertains kids and adults. While I found it amusing, it failed to entertain me on a deeper level.”

    You see this is your problem, I am not saying you need to like it, you just need to understand it in the first place. You are not the right person to make a review of a movie of which you don’t understand the source material. There is a deeper level of moral, philosophical and spiritual themes embedded in the Avatar animated series which obviously you don’t understand.

    I am not a fanboy or anything like that and I am not blindly defending the Avatar TV series, but i can tell you your review about the source material its completely out of place.

    • http://tarawrites.com Tara M. Clapper

      Dear Dude, What I’m saying here is that the movie presented the story in a way that made sense to me. The cartoon didn’t. So what if I’m not a martial arts expert or if I don’t have a deep understanding of Asian culture? I don’t need to have that understanding to appreciate a cartoon series that utilizes it. The fault isn’t with me or with the cartoon–perhaps I just dislike it. Similarly, some people like or dislike the film. If you want to get into philosophy, think about it this way–people have fought wars for centuries because they have different ways of viewing the same supernatural power. Since people are willing to shed blood over that, it makes sense that others are going to give and receive bruises on something as insignificant as a movie.

      “You are not the right person to make a review of a movie which you don’t understand the source material.” But…but your sentence lacks syntax! Obviously you do not have a complete understanding of the language in which you are writing and you are therefore unqualified to make a comment on an article written in English!

      I’m not just saying that to point out a grammatical error. I do think you still have the right to comment here and make an opinion even though you are not a masterful writer. As I said previously, I don’t think I need extensive experience in cultural understanding to watch a cartoon or movie. Asian cultures are particularly prevalent in American culture, so I think it’s fair to say that most people in geek subculture in America have a GENERAL understanding of key cultural concepts.

      I could write a dissertation on various aspects of Irish culture because I am a near-expert in that field–but what I haven’t done here is seriously attempt to unravel the Asian culture in the series or movie. What I HAVE said is that when Shyamalan presented it, I got the message.

      Welcome to the Internet. Anyone can write a review. Some of us just happen to do it for a living.

  • dude

    “But…but your sentence lacks syntax! Obviously you do not have a complete understanding of the language in which you are writing and you are therefore unqualified to make a comment on an article written in English!”

    That argument does not make any sense. I guess that occurs when someone don’t know what else to say. That was just plain lame.

    “So what if I\’m not a martial arts expert or if I don\’t have a deep understanding of Asian culture?”

    When did I mentioned martial arts? I haven’t even said anything about it. I don’t even like martial arts. Who said you need to have a deep understanding of Asian culture to understand the series? Jeez, you don’t even need to like it to understand a cartoon. Why you can’t understand Avatar: The Last Airbender is beyond me, seriously.

    And by the records I speak 4 languages, I wonder how many do you speak.

  • Baleman

    I totally agree with you! He is a story teller! He makes plot lines filled with themes! See, what most people want is a sex filled action packed pop related mindless hour and a half so they can forget their “hard” lives cause their mommy’s wont buy them a new sports car. When M. Night makes a movie, he puts his soul into it. He picks a theme, an emotion to be played out, and he shows it. His movie isn’t about the action, it’s about the characters. The scene in the movie that sold me, and made me love this movie was when Aang was making the huge wave. It showed what he was thinking for a second, then showed what he was doing. When he was making the huge wave, he wasn’t thinking about. He was in another place. He was thinking of all the suffering he caused, and he was coming to grips with his emotions. That is what this movie is about. Also, I think I know why most people hated it. If you look at our society, it is encouraging people to be less and less responsible for out actions. Eg. Avatar is about a marine who ditches the corp without even blinking so he can sleep with an alien… or whatever. Do you know any marines who would ditch the corp for anything? And yet people loved that movie. They praised it as the shiz… but it’s really horrible because it only teaches us to go back on our word and that humans destroy stuff… Look at Titanic… It’s about how adultery is fun! And acceptable, but only if you really really really love the guy. Where is the fact that she has a 1 night stand a guy she’s seen twice, thus cheating on her fiance even brought up? Or what about Twilight. It’s just about a teenage love circle… everyone being sexually frustrated cause they want to get it on, but don’t cause they are afraid of mommy and daddy. But even if they did, there would be no downside to it anyway. Cheating is acceptable, and excused, and there is consequence for bad decisions based on short sightedness and lust. In the Last Air Bender, he is taking responsibility for what he did. Because Aang ran away, how many people died? And yes, he was young… but it is still his fault. That is what the movie is about. People just don’t like movies that make them think, or internalize what is happening. Anyways… I loved the movie, and agree that M. Night is one of the best story tellers of our day.

    • dude

      “See, what most people want is a sex filled action packed pop related mindless hour and a half so they can forget their “hard” lives”

      I find your views rather simplistic and misguided. You can find a lot of sex on cable and on the Internet so I don’t think people are going to the movies to see people having sex, you just need to watch HBO for “sex filled action packed” movies. I think you are confused about this. At the end of the day what most people are really looking for is characters to connect with and that is impossible without character development. The Last Airbender fails to deliver lovable characters to care about. Thus most people dislike the movie.

      Also, reason why most people dislike the end of the movie is not because people don’t want to take responsibility of their actions is because the final episode in the cartoon was way better. Aang later learns to control his emotions since he can’t when he is in the avatar state because there is to much pain in him. In the next 2 books he learns to control this, therefore it is critical that he kills people in this movie, otherwise there is no journey for Aang, no transformation.

  • AZ

    Mark my words: there will come a day when the filmography of M. Night Shyamalan – and yes I’m very much including The Village and Lady In The Water here – will be re-evaluated and regarded for what I personally believe it to be; that is, the body of work of a true master of the medium. Many of you will scoff at this. Scoff away. But the day will come: Unbreakable will be seen as the most poignant “comic book” movie ever made, far surpassing the vapid, shallow comic-inspired trash rampant these days, on an intellectual, emotional, and artistic level (and no, I certainly don’t feel that the much-lauded Nolan Batman films offer very much in these regards, nor even adequately define the character); The Lady In The Water will be rightfully regarded for its masterful and bold juxtaposition of disparate storytelling elements: the grim realism of its lonely and emotionally-fractured protagonists with the unabashed glee and potential of the fantastical. And on and on. Scoff away. But the day will come.

    It seems to me that all of the many critics and countless faux-critics out there all begin to sharpen their knives six months in advance of any forthcoming Shyamalan film, never allowing the director’s films a fair opportunity. Many people, it seems, want to hate the next Shyamalan movie. Could this possibly be because Shyamalan’s style is utterly unique in this day and age? Now I know that this question will be met with much vicious and sarcastic response, because that’s what happens when someone defends the director’s more maligned efforts. But seriously: educate and enlighten me, and name me one director whose cinematic style and thematic fixations are at all comparable to Mr. Shyamalan. If the comparisons are few and far between, consider this: perhaps a lot of people don’t like Shyamalan’s films because they make them feel uncomfortable. Because the unfamiliar, the unique, the different always serve to unsettle us, most especially when told in an emotionally engaging and poignant way.

    There’s a lot going on in Shyamalan’s films, and this I believe is why they’ll be remembered and re-examined in the years ahead. But then again some people will scoff and merely look forward to enjoying the next installment of the Iron Man franchise, because another generic, fun, bearable comic book movie is much easier to digest than anything that seeks to be more thought-provoking and emotionally engaging. Long Live M. Night.

    • dude

      “But the day will come: Unbreakable will be seen as the most poignant “comic book” movie ever made, far surpassing the vapid, shallow comic-inspired trash rampant these days, on an intellectual, emotional, and artistic level (and no, I certainly don\’t feel that the much-lauded Nolan Batman films offer very much in these regards, nor even adequately define the character);”

      Christopher Nolan is one of the BEST directors in Hollywood. The Dark night have a lot of social commentary and twists in case you didn’t notice. There is a LOT of character development. Do you think Shyamalan is the most original guy around? Have you ever seen how original Memento is? How uncomfortable and disoriented makes the audience feel? how everything makes sense at the end of the movie? That movie is better than any crap Shyamalan have come up with except maybe the Sixth Sense.

      “If the comparisons are few and far between, consider this: perhaps a lot of people don\’t like Shyamalan\’s films because they make them feel uncomfortable.”

      No, he doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable, he makes people feel stupid and bored at the theater.

      “Many people, it seems, want to hate the next Shyamalan movie.”

      No, everybody wanted to love this movie, specially the fans of The Last Airbender TV show. People hate it because there is no humor, no plot and absolutely NO character development in TLAB, how many times people have to repeat it for the Shyamalan’s fan boys to understand why this movie is a failure of epic proportions?

  • Hugh Mility

    I agree with much of what Tara has indicated, not as it relates to TLA (have not yet seen it), but to M Night. He who judges defines not the object of his judgment but only himself as someone who needs to judge. The truth is, it is not M. Night Shyamalan who is letting you down when you go see his movies… it is your expectations. YOU are actually the reason for your disappointment. This is sobering, but also empowering because you hold the power to change your experience. Because you are still holding within your expectations an experience produced by that offered by The Sixth Sense, you have blinded yourself from opening up to truly experience the magic and beauty that is the work of Mr. Shyamalan. The issue is never that a movie is good or bad; is it that you didn’t understand it. The problem is that The Sixth Sense provided you such a wonderful movie going experience that you literally were craving more. It’s not the writer’s fault that you are stuck with an unsatisfied craving – all these years later – it’s yours. I had to watch Lady in the Water 3 times before I finally ‘got’ the movie. And in coming to fully appreciate and understand what Mr. Shyamalan was attempting to create, I now view Lady in the Water as a fun classic. But upon first viewing, I was going in with Sixth Sense glasses on. Big Mistake. Terribly myopic. Totally my responsibility. I was going to a baseball game expecting to see a football game.

    To derive that which a writer is putting out, you have to reach a common understanding within the material. But just be aware that if you are still frustrated or angry with Mr. Shyamalan, it is not becaus he has let you down, it is because you are still sitting at Boston Gardens waiting for the Celtics to arrive (not realizing that the stadium has changed). Once you begin to truly understand the man, you will appreciate his ways.

    Can I suggest you be more responsible with how you direct your words toward others. Perhaps you should make your own movies and release them to the world. See how long you can withstand the venom that you yourself are currently offering. Would you abandon your dream? I hope you wouldn’t. I hope you would remain true to the integrity with which you know you need to live your life.

    Great point about the Beatles and Abbey Road Tara. I think a few years from now if you re-released several of Night’s movies, people would see them from a different angle and be captivated by their beauty (as millions have already), The Village included. Some of his films will be revered as classics years from now.

    Peace.

  • Hugh Mility

    Well Done AZ! I couldn’t agree more. Let’s build people up for their gifts and uniqueness, not tear them down.

  • Thinker

    Well, I’m no BA, movie critic, or anything else important. Besides being an Avatard myself.

    But!!!

    There is something that most people that see the English version will not get: The film does not have English themes. It has Asian themes, and in order to understand them you probably must understand Asian culture. I myself do not, but my girlfriend, and her Korean friend (who has taught her Asian culture from several plays and films from prior events), understood these and liked the movie. It is a perspective that I myself, and others, lack. It wasn’t required in the animated series, and I’m sure that was one thing that made it more enjoyable. So is he any good? Yes, he is. In time, this will gain popularity similar to how The Great Gatsby did, in my opinion. It’s not well credited, but it’s there.

    However, that leaves some criticism, even as it explains so much about the The Last Airbender, and the two that I have go together.

    For a moment, step back and look at another series; Battlestar Galactica. There were two series that went by this title, the original and the 2003 ‘RDM’ series, both of which were well done for their time periods (and I am a fan of both, though I like the 2003 one better). Why do I bring this up? Re-imagining. RDM greatly changed the series when he started it, and received a lot of criticism (per Night, anyone?), but he got incredible viewership and positive reviews, etc etc. Others re-imaginings have happened since, but this is one of, if not the, best.

    One of the reasons, in my opinion, was the time. It had been twenty years since the original series had gone off the air, and in order to bring it back he updated it. Similarly, Star Trek also received an update to bring it back into style (not as good of an example due to popularity and sequels all the way to ’04 i think).

    The first problem The Last Airbender had was it re-imagined a series which ended just shy of two years ago (July 19, 2008). The second problem is the type of movie, in my opinion. The Animated Series is an escape from reality (or at least it is so to me), whereas The Last Airbender is a realistic movie that keeps you in reality. The two are very nearly polar opposites, it would seem, at least in that respect and probably in more.

    So, no, I didn’t like it. I barely thought it was a good movie, but here is the problem. I am not the intended audience. Thus…

    The FANS of the animated series ARE NOT THE INTENDED AUDIENCE! I am sorry for the caps, but I really, really think that this was, well… sad.

    We fans expected a movie that would, at least loosely, hold us to the animated series, with some new laughs and old fun. The fact is that this movie feels like we are being spit in the face a loyal fans, something few other series have done, at least this soon after ending. I respect this movie, and what it has set out to do. What I don’t like is how this movie is so… disloyal to the humor and wit of the series, if not more.

    This would have been better as a novel, in my personal opinion. It certainly felt like one. Perhaps that is it’s undoing.

  • http://tarawrites.com Tara M. Clapper

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate your different perspective here. I agree that this might have done better as an adapted novelization targeted at adult fans.

    Some on here are arguing that Asian themes have been stripped out of the Shyamalan movie, so I find it interesting to note that your girlfriend (with more of a cultural background) did spot the Asian themes–beyond a typified use of martial arts. I would like to watch the movie and the animated series again with some more background knowledge.

    I think all Night movies are very layered; different people can enjoy (or dislike) different layers of them. I also think it makes the movies accessible to a greater number of receptive audience members.

    • dude

      “I think all Night movies are very layered; different people can enjoy (or dislike) different layers of them. I also think it makes the movies accessible to a greater number of receptive audience members.”

      I don’t understand why are you saying The Last Airbender have many layers. There are several layers of ineptitude in this movie thats for sure. How many layers of incompetence does a movie need to have to do something as stupid as getting the primary antagonist killed by 4 unknown extras? Yeap, in case you haven’t notice it before, the main villain in this movie was drowned by 4 unknown guys. You call that a layered movie? Do you understand how awful this was? is like if in the original “Star Wars: A New Hope” Grand Moff Tarkin, the main villain in this movie, tried to scape the death star before it blows up and all of the sudden 4 unknown extras came out of nowhere and just kill him. Just like that. Even an film student can do better than that.

  • M. Night

    Seriously, HOW MUCH CRACK HAVE YOU SMOKED TO THINK M. NIGHT IS A GOOD STORY TELLER? ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS FOLLOW 20 SOME HOURS OF CARTOON FOOTAGE AND CONVERT IT TO 2.5 HOURS. HOW HARD MUST HE OF TRIED TO RUIN AIRBENDER? AND REALLY WHAT MUST HIS KIDS THINK? I PITTY HIM FOR FAILING SO HARD!

  • Incognito

    OK, you liked the movie. Good for you. As long as YOU like it and enjoy it that should really be enough. I like a lot of stuff that other people think are stupid, but hey, I still enjoy them. Now, just because you like something that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck. And boy does it suck. Not only does it suck, it swallows it all. A really bad movie. As somebody mentioned, at least is not as bad as Eragon, a truly epic failure. Now let me define SUCKS in the context I’m using it. A movie sucks if it doesn’t even break even. Yes, you can like the movie but if most of the other people don’t not like the movie then that means that statistically speaking the movie SUCKS. So, according to Wikipedia (and assuming it is correct) the movie’s budget was $150 million USA dollars. So far as of July 12, 2010 it has a gross revenue of $110 million dollars. IN ORDER FOR A MOVIE TO BREAK EVEN IT HAS TO GROSS APPROXIMATELY TWICE AS MUCH AS ITS BUDGET. You hear that, TWICE. This is a failure of epic proportions. Is good that you like it, but that doesn’t stop it from being a failure. And trying to use the excuse that the rest of us just don’t understand his movies is just you grasping at straws. It is fine that you like it, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. And you know what, most of us do not like it. We have voted with our wallets by keeping them close. BUAHA HA HAAAAA! The power of democracy!

    I wonder if this is the worst that Shyamalan can do or if there is yet more to come.

    Something tells me that he just got lucky the first time. One hit wonders are usually like that.

  • dude

    “I wonder if this is the worst that Shyamalan can do or if there is yet more to come.”

    Definitely there will be even worst movies to come in the future. As long as some deluded people keep seeing hidden meanings, esoteric teachings or the hints of a film making genius in Shyamalan’s movies. Shyamalan reminds me very much of the latin american writer Paulo Cuelho. That guy is the WORST writer ever, but his books sales worldwide are astronomical. The reason is that he uses all sorts of ambiguous parable-like narrative BS, and deluded people try to find a sort of spiritual hidden meaning were there is none.

    His book “The Alchemist” is a perfect example. It is like Shyamalan’s The Village or lady in the water. Meaning a bunch of ambiguous non-sense that can be many things for many people, but in the end are meaningless.

  • amh

    how much did paramount pay you to write a good review on this movie? you know, honesty is the best policy…

    • http://mikeshowalter.com Mike Showalter

      CultureMob does not get paid to write reviews.

  • Shyamalan Sucks

    Shyamalan’s “storytelling accent” is basically bad dialogue, awkward writing and pacing, and endless exposition. Its not a matter of taste, he really does suck.

    • krd

      Talk about Inception’s pacing and ENDLESS exposition.

      It’s still a matter of taste, and biases.

  • Shogun1x

    Night failed because he had no respect for the series. I understand that some things will be changed from the show to the movie, but mispronounces names? Honestly? The firebenders need a fire source to bend? Imprisoning earth benders in earth? It doesn’t make any sense. The bad casting also changes the entire theme of the show. Each nation is supposed to show a different Asian culture, and m night spit on it. This was the epitome of garbage.

  • Xave

    Wow! When was the last time this guy made a good movie? The bigger question is why would a studio entrust $150 to this guy to make a movie and $130 to market it? I hope this is the end of him. I am a firm believer in the free market and it has spoken.