Monday, February 21, 2011

Dear Charlie:

Much as I hate to displace the picture of the awesomeness of Big Bad George, I feel it's time for a movie review. I haven't done one in a dog's years (namely because I haven't rented a movie since Blockbuster closed and have only been to the theater once in the last year), but I just signed up at Family Video, so I figured I'd do a little renty-renty and maybe catch up on movies I've missed in theater this year.

Starting with The Last Airbender. Oi.

Remember how annoyed I was with DragonBall: Evolution? Ugh. I'm not saying anime can't be made into live action; I just don't see the point. Make it CGI and keep the voice actors. Or at least try to get actors that look like the characters and coach them to sound similar.

And, for the love of the anime gods, please get a decent script that lives up to the spirit of the series and has catchy dialogue!

DBE didn't do that last. Or the first. Or really the second. Some of the actors weren't truly awful (Goku and Piccolo were as close as they could be with the pitifully weak script, as were Grampa Gohan and Yamcha), but for the most part, everything missed the mark. Might have been enjoyable to non-fans (or at least bearable), but it was just plain awful to anyone in the know.

Honestly, it's the same story with TLA.

I'll pass on accusations of "whiting" up the cast. Yeah, the anime had various races representing the different kingdoms, and yeah, they coulda found Inuits or at least Eskimos to play Katara and Sokka and key Water Tribe characters, but they at least had Asians for earth benders and... well... Middle Easterners?... for fire benders. I may not agree with their choices (even the creators said most of the world was supposed to be Asian), but at least they weren't as whitey-white as claimed in all the articles.

My problem with the cast is what they did to the script. Most of my enjoyment of the anime came from the quippiness of the dialogue. Sokka was a laugh riot (Sparky-Sparky Boom Man, anyone?), and Aang didn't spare the puns or the practical jokes. Heck, even Katara got in on the laugh action, though she tended to be the more mature of the group.

But in the movie, that's all gone. Oh, there are a few places where lines could have been mildly amusing... if they weren't delivered devoid of any personality. How can you have a water-bending misfire end up on Sokka without gaining even a chuckle? Well, they managed.

Sokka is completely humor-deprived. He looks a little like the one from the anime, but he certainly doesn't act like him. Aang tries to look cheery on occasion, but it comes across as so forced and stilted that it loses any joy the anime character took in everyday actions. Katara is lifeless. Instead of being the soul of the group, she's a set piece that moves and sometimes says stuff.

And Zuko? Just... no. Instead of being the tormented, driven, honor-searching and morally dubious upstart from the anime, he's just whiny. The only time I like him is as the Blue Spirit -- in other words, when he has no lines and is heavily cloaked and masked. He's Zuko when he's fighting faceless, but that's it.

And did I mention that there's no sense of humor at all?

Even Uncle Iroh is preachy instead of garroulously fatherly. I didn't hear him mention tea even once, though my attention may have wandered.

[Edited to add: My bad. He did say something about having tea when Zuko returned from rescuing Aang. Woo.]

The sad thing is that they managed to hit most of the high points of the anime's first season, but I suppose that in the rush to cram it all in and tell a logical story, they left out everything that made the anime so absorbing.

I mean, how can they leave out the Kyoshi warriors? They're crucial to the end of the trilogy and to Sokka's growth as a character. They even visited Kyoshi Island, for crying out loud.

And, no offense to Cliff Curtis, but he's no Fire Lord Ozai. Part of the reason the Fire Lord is so imposing in the anime is because he looks every inch nobility. Iroh, the rightful ruler, comes across as a bumbling fool, though his power is off the charts. Ozai, on the other hand, is coldly beautiful in the heat of his passionate rule, and every inch the perfection of an Asian male. I particularly like the long hair. Even silent, he is imposing. The Ozai in the film is simply there.

I dunno. Maybe my standards are too high. I wouldn't consider myself an anime fanatic, as much as I enjoy watching a new one every now and then. And I admit to wanting to see a truly well-done live action, just like any other moderate fan.

But with what's already been done, I sincerely doubt "well done" can be done. Oi.

Sad but true.

So, if you haven't already seen The Last Airbender, you aren't missing much. If curiosity impels you, as it did me, you'll find much familiar and probably be impressed with the graphic representations of Appa, the bending styles, and the Fire Nation's army. They're impressive and worth watching.

But if you're looking for the anime brought to life, you won't find it. At least, not the heart of it.

I mean, they can't even pronounce the names right. Sheesh.


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