Thursday, February 4, 2010

M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender gets a Super Bowl commercial.

I've often said that agree with most of the moral reasons that causes people to become vegetarians, but I just like meat too much.  On the same grounds, I'm completely sympathetic to the angry feelings regarding the 'whitewashing' of the film's cast (IE - casting white actors as Asian characters in this specifically Asian mythology), but I can't bring myself to turn against M. Night Shyamalan.  He was my favorite director following the one-two-three punch of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and I still contend that his worst films are more interesting than any number of unremarkable 'good films'.  I wrote at the end of my review of The Happening that I haven't given up on him yet, and nothing would make me happier than to see him knock this out of the park.  If The Village was his Batman Returns (a deeply unpopular and misunderstood picture that made tons of money anyway) and The Happening was M Night's Mars Attacks (a big-budget, high profile disappointment that was savaged by critics), then The Last Airbender is basically his Sleepy Hollow (his last chance to prove that he can make a major studio genre picture that can make a real profit). At a glance, this footage looks pretty terrific.  And, in his first real action picture, M. Night Shyamalan seems to understand that action works best with wide, fluid takes and keen sense of geography.  Of course, I wasn't too worried about Shyamalan (whose Unbreakable contained several lengthy one-take scenes) going the Paul Greengrass route.

Having put it off for one reason or another, I'm going to watch the three seasons of the original Nickelodeon show before July, 2010.  So while I can't say whether the visuals or the character designs are accurate to the original cartoon, I can say that this looks like a big, colorful, and epic adventure story.  Ironically, the preview goes out of the way to show the actual face of lead actor Noah Ranger, perhaps trying to hide the controversial ethnicity of the actor.  And, on that note, the music is simply a pretty standard hard-rock score rather than something more epic and/or ethnic.  Intentional or not, the teaser gives off a very confused vibe about its racial issues.  It's a pretty weird sell, showing off a film that looks very Asian in tone and visuals and hiding the face of their very Caucasian lead actor, but using an American hard-rock piece of background music.  Paramount is in a very tricky situation (arguably of their own making) with this one and it'll be interesting to see how their marketing campaign shapes up.  But for now, it's good to see M. Night Shyamalan directing a picture that looks so promising after a few real stumbles.  As far as accusations of 'yellowface', I can only hope that Shyamalan simply picked the best possible actor and didn't bow towards any kind of studio pressure.  With the ironic exception of Mark Wahlberg in The Happening, Shyamalan's casting instincts have always been dead-on, so I'll simply choose to trust him for the time being.  But social issues aside, so far so good.

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While i only despise "Lady" and "Happening", i don't really have faith in M. Night to have full reigns again. Going back and watching 2 films which i originally loved, "Signs" and "Village", i noticed the performances in them are all wooden. Its obvious he is not a fan of actors and doesn't allow them to perform. It seems he is way too appreciative of his own writing and doesn't even allow them to miss a word off of the page. It comes off monotone and awkward delivery in most scenes.

For example, in Signs, Mel Gibson seems to have only 1 scene in which he's actually allowed to act and its quite easy to guess what scene that is (Hint: he's not talking cuz his mouth is full of food).

What I would LOVE to see is something written by M. Night, but directed by someone else.



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