Middle Row, Centre: It’s Not Interesting, It Just Looks That Way

Last week, I heard a fellow named Edward Luttwak talking on CBC Radio, on a program about war.

Luttwak knows whereof he speaks — he’s a military strategist and historian who’s been a consultant to the US defence department and has served in the Israeli Army. In an ironic twist on John Lennon’s famous dictum, he said that we should give war a chance.

His rationale was that war uses up resources to help stimulate economies, and that besides, it’s a natural condition for mankind.

It comes down to being an organic thing, where humanity doesn’t really need a rationale for war.

I kind of got the same feeling from watching The Last Airbender. It’s a live-action spin-off of an animated kid’s TV series of a few years back on the Nickelodeon channel, and is the latest offering from director M. Night Shyamalan, of The 6th Sense and Unbreakable fame.

In the film, a primitive northern society that dresses like Inuit in some unidentified, ahistorical world with no recognizable context, constitutes the Water Kingdom. Each of the four earthly elements are represented by their own kingdoms. Certain initiates from each kingdom can manipulate their respective elements, which they do through the accomplishment of a series of tai chi-like gestures and manoeuvres.

It’s all very mystical, don’t you know. And one kingdom is constantly at war with the others, it seems. It’s never explained in the film precisely why they are, it’s just an organic thing … the way things are … no justification or logic needed.

Shyamalan wrote the script as well as directed the film, and his work in each department is equally wooden and stilted. The cast of unknowns do not convey any character development for the forgettable roles they’re cast in, with the possible exception of Dev Patel, who was featured as the hero quiz show contestant inSlumdog Millionaire, and here plays a villain.

What little plot line there is seems to involve a young boy who is unique, in that he is a manipulator of all of the elements, an avatar, who has escaped from his own kingdom. He didn’t want the responsibility that went with the position, and the elders of his tribe had told him that he could never live a normal life as an avatar.

He’s befriended by a young boy and girl from the northern water kingdom, and the trio become involved in trying to elude the people who are coming back after the young avatar in big steamship-like contraptions of iron that belch a lot of smoke. At least, I think that’s what’s happening.

And then there are the inevitable battle scenes, and once again, special effects trumps clarity of plot.

And on it goes.

Not surprisingly, The Last Airbender was number one in North American box office on its opening weekend, grossing $40 million. Presumably, this is a reflection of popularity with fans of the original TV series, which may not be enough to sustain such an awful film past its initial release.

And not surprisingly, it’s in 3-D, (apparently added in post-production, like Clash of The Titans before it, supposedly with equally disastrous results).

Also not surprisingly, it joins the ranks of Robin Hood and Iron Man 2, in a summer full of dumbed-down, over-hyped cinematic fare consisting of rehashed sequels and mediocre remakes.

So far, nothing has come down the pike this summer that qualifies as a memorable film, a true blockbuster with a fresh and original — as opposed to recycled — treatment. This one does not even begin to remotely qualify.

In summary, I wish I had some good things to say about this film, other than that its special effects are moderately watchable, but that doesn’t make for a watchable film.

The Last Airbender plays at 6:45 and 9:20 p.m. at the Yukon Theatre, and is rated PG for violence.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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