In The Last Airbender, the world has been split into four separate nations, one for each of the four elements – air, water, earth and fire.
The film begins with two members of the Southern Water Tribe, Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), a sister and brother hunting for food like nomadic tribesmen because food is scarce. Their father has gone off to fight in The War, while their mother was killed when they were young. During their search, Katara happens to unearth a small lad, Aang (Noah Ringer, below), who we learn (as if you haven’t guessed!) is the Avatar, aka the last Airbender – and you can understand why they didn’t call the film by that name as it might have been confused for the overrated piece of nonsense from James Cameron.
So, what is his schtick? Well, with four elements, anyone who can bend an element can generally only bend one. However, but the Avatar is the only one who can manage all four of them. 100 years ago he disappeared, and that’s when life stopped being peaceful around the world. Now that he’s been brought back into the game, the bad guys are sure to lose as he’s back to kick baddie ass.
Wanting to stop him is Prince Zuko (Dev Patel, below-right, son of Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), from the Fire Nation, who kidnaps him and only Katara and Sokka can rescue him and bring peace to the world again and end The War. Zuko basically needs the Avatar to restore his honour with his father and become an heir to the throne once again. Given the nature of this movie, it doesn’t really take a genius to work out how things will pan out.
Aang knows all about airbending – as can be seen with him throwing air at some of the bad guys to push them away, but needs to be retaught how to bend earth, fire and water. As for his background, the Fire Nation killed all of the Air Nomads, so basically the same story of Luke Skywalker returning home on Tattooine to find his aunt and uncle killed.
Just give up trying to follow the plot – it’s riduculous – and enjoy the CGI instead, at least for the most part early on. After a while, the film slows down and there’s much more exposition (which doesn’t really lead anywhere) than CGI, which comes almost as an afterthought sometimes.
Note that this edition of the film is not in 3D, but having seen Tron Legacy in 3D recently, I don’t think it matters greatly. You can see how many scenes were created with 3D in mind, so those look rather obvious here when there’s not a lot else to some of those. These include what feels like too many scenes of Aang and Katara practicing moves slowly like an exercise video while the camera pans round, and there’s also one rather good fight scene, centered on Aang and a mysterious masked Spirit man (where you can easily work out who it is) which includes Aang twirling a spear and sticking it right into the camera.
A few asides about the film:
- Aang looks like a young Shane Botwin from Weeds, although it’s not the actor in question.
- Appa looks like a version of Digby the Biggest Dog in the World.
- An early fight scene with Zuko and a few guards isn’t very good as the framing is such that most of the action actually takes place just off-screen!
And some of my favourite quotes about the film…
- An old woman says to Katara: “I knew, for the first time we discovered you were a Bender, that one day I would realise your destiny.”
- Bad guy referring to Katara: “She’s a bender!”
- The Fire Nation want to stop all other forms of bending, and desolate an Earth village, which leads one resident to proclaim: “Those who could not bend were allowed to live in peace”
- Old man commenting on the Fire Nation baddies: “They took away any tools related to bending.”
- Sokka: “There are really powerful benders in the Northern Water Tribe”
- Master Pakku (the water-bending teacher): “We want to minimise their bender sources.”
Finally, the closing scene also sets it up for a sequel, and one that I would sit through, but I doubt it will happen given that the $150m budget wasn’t even matched by the $131m in US box-office receipts.
Presented in the original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio and in 1080p high definition, the picture is sharp and detailed, representing the bold colours and scenery and action perfectly. For the record, I’m watching on a Panasonic 37″ Plasma screen via a Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray player.
The sound is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, for which I got the 5.1 DTS version, and in both the score and battle scenes it really shows its mark. Later on, with a scene in the final act that features some… shall we say… interesting effects with water (so as not to give spoilers), the deep bass rumblings amongst the sound effects and score are outstanding. Absolutely wonderful stuff.
The extras are as follows:
- Discovering The Last Airbender (58:15): Almost an hour of behind-the-scenes chat from key cast and crew members about the what led to the film being made, the characters, location shooting in Greenland, the fight scenes, special effects, the music score and the finale. There’s one chapter for each of these segments.
Siege of the North (18:35): Building a massive set for the Northern Water Tribe and the huge finale fight within.
Katara for a day (5:37): Nicola Peltz (right) talks about playing her character in the movie.
Deleted Scenes (11:24): Four scenes here, and without giving any spoilers, there’s nothing in particular that needs putting back in.
Gag Reel (4:29): Mishaps and gaffes on-set.
Avatar Annotations: View the film with picture-in-picture interviews and behind the scenes footage over selected scenes. Basically, it’s rather like a visual audio commentary but with some extra content from time to time. Perhaps worth it if you really want to see more about the film. I tried selecting this supplemental piece, but I still only got the audio from the film and not the segment itself.
The menu mixes images from the film with a small piece of looped theme music. There are subtitles come in English, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish, all of which is commendable. However, who then thought that a miserly 11 chapters over the 103-minute running time was enough? It’s far from adequate. I go by the rule of thumb of one every five minutes, taking into account one each for the opening and closing credits.
Note that a DVD of the movie is also included, as is a ‘digital copy’, but does anyone ever use the latter?
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Cat no: BSP2198
Released: December 2010
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English only), Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: English, German, Spanish, French, Italian
Subtitles: English and 9 other languages
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Super 35)
Disc Format: BD50 & DVD9
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Producers: Scott Aversano, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer and M Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M Night Shyamalan
Music: James Newton Howard
Aang: Noah Ringer
Prince Zuko: Dev Patel
Katara: Nicola Peltz
Sokka: Jackson Rathbone
Uncle Iroh: Shaun Toub
Commander Zhao: Aasif Mandvi
Fire Lord Ozai: Cliff Curtis
Princess Yue: Seychelle Gabriel
Katara’s Grandma: Katharine Houghton
Master Pakku: Francis Guinan
The Dragon Spirit: John Noble
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.