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The Last Airbender 3D(2010)
Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Four nations tied by destiny when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war against the others. A century has passed with no hope in sight to change the path of this destruction. Caught between combat and courage, Aang discovers he is the lone Avatar with the power to manipulate all four elements. Aang teams with Katara, a Waterbender, and her brother Sokka to restore balance to their war-torn world.
For more about The Last Airbender 3D and the The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray release, see the The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 19, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi
» See full cast & crew
The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray Review
Does bending look better in 3D?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 19, 2010
It is in the heart that all wars are won.
Where have you gone, M. Night Shyamalan? A waning fan base turns its lonely eyes to you, wondering what happened to the once-remarkable director who captivated audiences with The Sixth Sense, put a fresh new spin on the superhero in Unbreakable, and dazzled with the extraordinarily well-crafted Signs. It's been almost a decade since Shyamalan's alien invasion movie seemed to settle the director into the "can't miss" category and ascend him to the heights reserved for the best of filmmakers: the Spielbergs, the Kubricks, the Hitchcocks. Then, disaster struck. The Village, Lady in the Water, and The Happening confused, disappointed, and alienated fans, respectively. Shyamalan had followed up three great-to-classic pictures with a trio of mediocre-to-bad outings, changing his fortunes from universally praised can't-miss filmmaker to, sadly, the butt of many movie fans' jokes, effectively relegating him to has-been irrelevancy. Even with his lackluster string of failures, his careful approach to filmmaking, breathtaking steadiness behind thd camera, and that unique style still shined through even in his lesser pictures. There remained a glimmer of hope, a knowledge that behind the bad scripts was still a brilliant filmmaker, maybe even on the verge of breaking out of his slump; after all, where else was there to go but up after The Happening? Shyamalan fans prayed for a miracle with The Last Airbender while cynics balked and wondered why the disgraced filmmaker would even bother trying to revitalize his career. With his talent still evident but the results simply not maturing to fruition, the aptly-titled The Last Airbender seemed like the last chance the director had to win back his fans and prove that he still had within him the ability to make a great movie. Alas, it simply wasn't to be. The Last Airbender is a disjointed and disappointing outing that's just another generic special effects extravaganza with little heart, bad acting, subpar editing, and no real purpose.
It's been 100 years since the four nations -- Earth, Air, Water, and Fire -- lived in harmony within a world defined by peace and prosperity. It's also been 100 years since the disappearance of the Avatar, the only living being who could control, or "bend" all four elements, and through his unique powers maintain balance throughout the elemental world. Now, with the nations of Earth, Air, and Water under threat of the powerful Fire Nation that wishes to gain control over all the lands, the world is on the brink of catastrophe. As fate would have it, two young people -- the water bender Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her hunter/warrior brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) -- one day stumble upon an awesome discovery deep within the frozen landscape of the South Pole: the boy Aang (Noah Ringer), a mysterious child younger even than Katara and Sokka who claims to be a runaway but bears unique tattoos on his shaved head. It doesn't take long for the village elders to identify him as, potentially, the long-lost Avatar, but the armies of the Fire Nation, under the command Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) and his disgraced son Zuko (Dev Patel), locate the Avatar and take him prisoner where he proves beyond doubt that he is indeed the powerful being that can control all four elements. Aang manages an escape, but when he discovers that a century has past since he ran away from fate and his fellow Air Benders have been wiped out by the Fire Nation, he trains in the art of bending the other three elements, beginning with water, in hopes of honing his skills and fulfilling his destiny as the one who can restore balance to the previously harmonious world.
The Last Airbender gives off a vibe that's sort of like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon meets The Karate Kid meets Star Wars or something along those lines, except it's not nearly as good as any of those films, or most any big-budget favorites, for that matter. Problems abound in what is arguably Shyamalan's worst movie to date (take out the cringe-tastic scene featuring Mark Wahlberg talking to a plant in The Happening and that movie hurdles over this clunker). Indeed, The Last Airbender sinks in every critical area: story, structure, pacing, acting, directing, and so on. No doubt there's a good idea behind The Last Airbender; based on the Nickelodeon TV series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," Shyamalan's film plays with some pretty nifty ideas that see certain people with the power to control one of four elements with the world split down elemental lines as four tribes -- Fire, Water, Earth, and Air -- live separately but peacefully, save for the armies of Fire who wish to rule the entire world (note the obvious thematic overtones that parallel classic lines of good and evil and Heaven and Hell). Of course, it's not very well realized in the filmed adaptation; other than providing audiences with the gist of the idea and then delving headfirst into minimal characterization and a barrage of admittedly impressive CGI work, there's simply little-to-nothing of substance through which the greater ideas of the story may be realized. Worse, the weak script is lessened even further by some of the most uninspired acting this side of the latest Friedberg/Seltzer Parody movie. That aforementioned plant from The Happening shows more spunk and urgency than do any of these actors, but it's probably not that easy of a task to deliver a line like "I am the Avatar. I ran away from home, but I am back now!" with any kind of real feeling or energy.
Oddly, The Last Airbender doesn't feel like an M. Night Shyamalan movie. This is his first major directorial effort that's not based on his own source material and original ideas, and it might be that detachment from part of the process that has in some way affected his visual style. On the other hand, The Last Airbender may be Shyamaln's attempt to re-enter the mainstream by reinventing himself and taking on a movie that's more family-friendly, effects-heavy spectacle than his usual lower-key and dramatically chilling sort of films. Either way, it's not likely that even viewers who were intimately familiar with Shyamalan's other films would be able to identify this as one of his projects without the benefit of his credit in the movie or his name on the various advertisements. Still, that doesn't make The Last Airbender a particularly poor movie from a purely technical perspective. Quite the opposite, in fact, the film enjoys excellent production values, a quality score courtesy of James Newton Howard (King Kong), and a general competency that meets the high standards of big-studio and large-budget productions. Nevertheless, the film clearly lacks behind its peers in the editing room; The Last Airbender is, to be kind, a sloppy and choppy bore that, even considering a runtime that extends only a few minutes beyond 90 sans the requisite 10 or so minutes for credits, drags the movie down considerably further than most anything else other than the bland acting and lame script. The editing hurts the action scenes the most; most every one of them are terribly uninspired, beginning with Aang's first escape from the Fire Nation vessel and on through to a climax that looks good but lacks in vigor. All said, The Last Airbender is a disappointingly superficial film that is but skin-deep; there's little of value here beyond the gloss, but it seems that's all it takes to make a movie these days.
The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Last Airbender received plenty of criticism when it was released to theaters, not only for the quality of the film but for what was reported as an underwhelming-at-best 3D experience. On Blu-ray, the 3D transfer is no Open Season or A Christmas Carol, but it gets the job done despite some problems and a few scenes that look downright awful. Airbender was filmed with traditional 2D cameras and converted to 3D in post-production, the same approach taken by Clash of the Titans, another oft-maligned 3D presentation that left audiences sour on the technology. The Last Airbender does fare better than Clash does on Blu-ray (or, at least the German release; a review of the U.S. release is coming soon) -- and much of the transfer looks quite good -- but there are some disturbing and distracting issues that, ultimately, make the handsome 2D-only release the better choice, even for 3D owners.
The Last Airbender's general attributes do seem to take a slight hit when directly compared to the 2D version of the film. Of note are black levels that appear to exhibit crush, a problem that wasn't readily evident on the 2D-only version. Here, darker scenes feature overwhelming blacks that seem to suck all of the surrounding details into some nether region where they're not perceptible by the human eye. Fortunately, the 3D transfer offers about the same level of excellent detailing when compared to its 2D counterpart. Viewers will note the same jaw-dropping textures on faces, clothes, and the like, though several shots go inexplicably soft, and the image as a whole occasionally lacks the crispness and definition of the standard 2D transfer. Colors appear to have retained the same vibrancy as those seen in the 2D image; Aang's flashback scenes deliver some very nicely realized reds and oranges, while both the film's many earth tones and the cold and blue Arctic imagery remain steady and accurate when compared to the non-3D version. Also of note is the blemish-free print, but slight banding and blocking are visible on the rarest of occasions.
The transfer's 3D components seem like a hit-and-miss grab-bag made up of part visual delights and part obnoxious eyesores. As to the better pieces of the puzzle, the 3D image often takes on the appearance of a film playing inside a box (giving a new meaning to "idiot box?"), where it seems edges are extending far back into the frame. Most every scene offers a fair amount of depth with characters, objects, and landscapes usually offset one against another to fine effect. It's certainly not as seamless, deep, or jaw-dropping as Open Season, but for a 3D image thrown together at almost literally the last minute (Paramount announced the conversion about two months prior to the film's theatrical release), it looks fairly good in many places. Several scenes do stand out as relatively impressive; a few straight-on shots of the deck of one of Fire Nation's massive seafaring vessels practically places viewers on it as they look from stem to stern or vice versa. Better yet, 3D playback, as sampled on Panasonic's TC-P50VT20 50" 3D plasma, displayed very little of the dreaded "ghosting" effect; the strongest instance appears on the Paramount logo at film's start with the cursive "P" looking like it has a ghostly twin, but otherwise, such an effect is kept to a minimum.
Unfortunately, there are parts of the 3D transfer that look downright awful, but like the "ghosting" effect, they aren't regular companions during the movie. When they do show up, though, they stick out like a sore thumb. Actually, a "sore thumb" might not be the best descriptor; they stand out far more than that. Maybe better to say they stick out like a giant "we're number one!" foam finger (that's The Last Airbender blue, of course, with some micro-sized legal print on the bottom and maybe a mustard stain from that fourth hot dog chased by that eighth beer). Anyway, the 3D transfer does no favors to many of the film's green screen effects. Look at several of the opening shots in the Arctic featuring Katara and Sokka; these characters look completely detached from the background, almost like they were sloppily cut-and-pasted into the frame. Such hiccups are visible throughout, and every time they completely suck the audience out of the movie (not that The Last Airbender does much to pull in its viewers in the first place). At the 6:19 mark, a few loose strands of Katara's hair look more like strange artifacts floating over the frame than they do her flowing locks; it's as if the 3D transfer was trying to add depth where none was really necessary, or maybe whatever process was used to convert the movie into 3D didn't handle the stray hairs properly. Either way, they look like a tangled mess and, for even such a small problem, manage to completely distract from the entire shot. The same effect may be seen on several shots of these characters' fur coats. Additionally, there are several instances where characters literally look like 2D cardboard cutouts inserted into a 3D environment, and the results aren't very good. It's important to note that these anomalies aren't regular occurrences; on the whole, the 3D image isn't bad, but when it does go bad, it really goes bad. Though the 3D transfer looks fairly good, the 2D version bests it by leaps and bounds.
Please note that all screenshots in this review were captured from the 2D version of the film found on the actual 3D release.
The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Besting the video presentation is Paramount's reference-quality DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, the same found on the 2D-only releases of the film. The Last Airbender sounds fantastic on Blu-ray, and from the opening seconds that feature the Paramount stars shooting across the screen and onward it delivers a nonstop barrage of quality sound effects, music, and dialogue that allow it to settle in as one of the year's finest audio presentations. The opening shot that features the distinct sounds of earth, air, water, and fire hurtling towards the audience sets a great tone for what's to come. Indeed, distinctive and spacious effects rule the day, as crackling ice, popping flames, gushy air, and crunchy dirt are all key sonic elements throughout the film that spring to life with amazing clarity in every instance. The sounds spread across the listening area with unmatched ease, often supported by potent and pleasantly tight bass that's aggressive but not overwhelming. Atmospherics are nicely handled by the 5.1 configuration, too; whether the constant chugging of the Fire Nation's hulking vessels or the slightest of breezes blowing across the back channels, listeners will enjoy the steady and satisfying immersion into the worlds of The Last Airbender that this track provides. Supported by a pitch-perfect presentation of James Newton Howard's incredible score and smooth and satisfying center-focused dialogue reproduction, The Last Airbender delivers an amazing sonic experience that has few equals.
The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are included, and the menu is not in 3D.
The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
M. Night Shyamalan demonstrated a once-in-a-generation talent with his trio of terrific films, but the last four -- including The Last Airbender -- seem so far removed from those glory days that one can only wonder from which galaxy did aliens come down and replace the once-brilliant director with a replica that just can't get those filmmaking instincts down pat. The Last Airbender is the latest debacle from the once universally beloved filmmaker; it's a smorgasbord of missed opportunities saddled with bad acting, a haphazard plot, a boring pace, a scattershot structure, and dull action scenes. The end result is so bad that it's almost implausible that this was made by the same director who crafted Signs; that's the real story here. Slap "Alan Smithee" into the credits and remove "M. Night Shyamalan" and The Last Airbender would just be another miss of a big budget movie. Unfortunately, it seems to have sealed the fate of Hollywood's one-time can't-miss prospect; even that trademark Shyamalan style is absent in this one, and the movie seems to have been made on cruise control with half the crew half asleep at the switch. There are some fans (ahem) who will always hold out hope that the M. Night of old will make a triumphant return, but it's not looking too good. Paramount Pictures' Blu-ray 3D release of The Last Airbender features a fair but occasionally maddening full HD 3D transfer, a splendid lossless soundtrack, and zero extras. Whatever the reason may be, it seems rather dishonest to force 3D customers to buy the disc twice to access the special features found on the two-disc 2D release. Put them on a second Blu-ray disc if space is the problem (and even maybe toss the 2D version on disc two as well to facilitate the retention of the picture-in-picture supplement), but no matter the reason, paying a premium for 3D and then not receiving any extras on top of that just won't sit right with most buyers. Hardcore fans of The Last Airbender who are 3D-ready might want to consider giving this a purchase if there's a good sale on. Otherwise, better to stick with the special edition 2D version.
The Last Airbender: Other Editions
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The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Last Airbender 3D Blu-ray at Best Buy - October 6, 2010
According to retailer information, Paramount Home Entertainment will release The Last Airbender 3D on November 16, making it the studio's first 3D Blu-ray release not exclusively bundled with 3D hardware. However, it will be a retailer exclusive, initially available ...
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