Film: ‘The Last Airbender’; Director: Manoj Night Shyamalan, Actors: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nocola Pelta, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Rating: ***
It is often said that while the western world might run out of mythology, the Indians and the Chinese with their millions of gods and martial arts, never would. And that after Hollywood has worn out European mythology, they would turn east.
It is no surprise that a spate of Hollywood films based on the various mythologies of Asia have been made in the last few years with ‘The Last Airbender’ being the latest addition.
It’s a mythological world like that of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ where the various worlds inhabited by people who can bend water, earth and fire live in harmony. They do so because the air-nomads who can control all of them maintain peace with their power.
And born among these air-nomads is an avatar, the most powerful of the lot. However, for 100 years this avatar has disappeared and there is war in the world.
When two children accidentally unravel a boy buried in ice, it turns out to be Aang (Noah Ringer), the latest in a line of avatars, being pursued by the ‘fire nation’ whose prince, Zuko (Dev Patel) wants to capture him to redeem his honour before his father.
What follows is a chase through the world and a rush by the avatar to learn the art of element bending and bring peace back to the earth.
‘The Last Airbender’ is a spectacular special effects extravaganza, with setting and choreography that remind you of ‘Lord of the Rings’. And the analogy of the avatar can be found in the reincarnation beliefs of the Tibetans.
It is alleged that since 1995, the Chinese have incarcerated Gendun Choekyi Nyima, believed to be the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, second only to Dalai Lama. The fire nation, if you look at the film politically, in real life is China.
Based on a TV series, the visualisation and special effects in 3D (originally shot in 2D but later converted) look spectacular. The film would be loved by children. However, the casting, a cramming of actors of Indian origin, does not really seem to work in the film’s favour.
Also, the idea of elements of nature maintaining harmony in the world is an Eastern one. Western audiences perhaps have difficulty understanding it, resulting in a lot of unfair negative reviews of the film globally.
Yet, ‘The Last Airbender’ could indeed have been another ‘Lord of the Rings’. But the characters and their quirks are not etched deeply by the pen of writer and director Manoj Night Shyamalan. He is verbose, and his direction doesn’t give much to rave about either.
Instead, Shyamalan comes out as a cliched filmmaker. Maybe he needs to get back to smaller budgets to remind himself of the film-bending craft he had begun to master.