Saturday 21 August 2010

73: Review - The Last Airbender

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The Last Airbender
(2010, 94 mins, Dir. M. Night Shyamalan)

Quick disclaimer: I'm not at all familiar with the TV series that this is based on. I know it exists, I know it's had good press, I just haven't seen it.

Quick plot synposis: The four nations (clans) that each control one of the elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) are in disarray after the disappearance of The Avatar - the one individual who can control all the elements and bring peace and unity (and balance to the Force, I suppose). When the Avatar arrives after a hundred year absence, the Fire Nation is on the verge of completely taking over. Only the power of The Avatar, with the help of his new friends can blah, blah, blah...

Yeah, I know. The setup isn't actually that bad, really. It's classic mythology, and that works in the film's favour. The viewer doesn't immediately have to know the back-story, as there's a comfortable familiar feeling about it. That being said, when the audience is required to know some back-story, M.Night Shayamalan isn't shy about telling it. Telling, that is. Not showing, as you might expect with a visual medium like film.

There's an old guideline in writing, "Show, don't tell". It's even more imortant in visual storytelling. In short, it's better to experience the events through the eyes of a character than have that (or another) character standing on-screen, clumsily reading thirty seconds of expository dialogue. You can allude to events, certainly, in the way that Ben Kenobi mentioned the Clone Wars, or the way that Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf reference their earlier adventures. But too much of The Last Airbender is spent listening to the cast mumbling their way through catch-up routines that aren't even essential knowledge.

And it's not like there aren't and flashback scenes. At one point, Aang (the titular character) recounts how he ran away from the monastary where he was raised... then an hour later we see the scene from his point-of-view as a flashback. The hell? Although the young actors in the film act maturely (character necessity), it still ruins the flow to have them reading out entire paragraphs of history that could have been shown at the start of the movie in a montage. In fact, if the exposition had gotten any denser in this film, it would have started to develop it's own gravitational pull.

This leads to the film's other major weakness: the script appears to have been written by a twelve year old. As I said, in the hardened times the film takes place in, the youngsters have a corresponding maturity. It's not that their dialogue is child-like, it's that it's been childishly written. And the adults dialogue, too. The words sound like the stuff I used to put in stories in early comprehensive school. Awful.

It says a lot to me that the last ten minutes of the film are the most engaging, and there are only three or four short lines in there.

That aside, I quite enjoyed the film (honestly). The visuals are absolutely stunning, and while the 3D is relatively good, it never becomes intrusive (which I guess is good, right?). All the elements of the visual and audio design are excellent, and despite my grumbles about the script, the acting's on-par, too.

I just felt the film was disappointing. I mean that in a genuine sense, because I wanted to like it more. I'd heard it was getting bad press in the US, but when I saw the trailer, I thought "that looks pretty damned good!" I'm also aware that there's a growing backlash against M.Night Shayalaman, which I don't quite get if I'm being honest. His previous works that I've seen I've enjoyed for the most part (well okay, maybe not The Happening, but that had a strong premise and just drifted off into eco-nonsense). But people seemed to take this movie as an opportunity for bashing his 'twisty-turny' writing - which doesn't apply for this movie, as it's essentially a mythology. Still, people moaned at George Lucas for Jar Jar Binks, irrespective of his decreasing screen-time in the prequel trilogy...

Which brings me on to what I really wanted to blog about. As you may know by now, when I review films, I ultimately end up comparing them to other films (which isn't too far away from what reviews are, anyway), but what I really like doing is comparing things to Star Wars. In this respect, The Last Airbender did not disappoint.

For the things I'm going to point out here, I should make it clear that they didn't detract from the film, they're just things I noticed.
I'm not claiming "OMGz STaR WrAS DID THIS 1ST! RiP OFFs!". No, this is just how my mind works.

First up, Aang rides a creature name Appa, a kind of flying bison who looks a bit like a Dewback from Star Wars, one of the Wild Things, and Falkor from The Neverending Story:

^^ Click on the image for full-size.

And a whole slew of lesser ones...

• Jackson Rathbone's Sokka reminds me a lot of Hayden Chistensen's Anakin Skywalker, both in look and in mannerisms.

• The Fire and Southern Water nations both reminded me of Theed, Naboo from The Phantom Menace

• If the flying bison reminded me of a Dewback, the Fire Nation's Komodo Rhinos just are Dewbacks, albeit the slimmer versions from The Phantom Menace.

• And I'd just about put Sokka reminding me of Anakin to one side, then he meets Princess Yue, and basically just re-enacts the romance-thread from Attack of the Clones. Including the two of them completely falling in love within a couple of days.

^^ Click on the image for full-size.

Like I said, I'm not shouting 'ripoff', these are just the things I noticed. To sum up:

The Good: The visuals. Plus the word "bender" is said a lot, which amused me greatly.

The Bad: An awkward, often unconvincing, script. Not as much combat as the trailer suggests (not necessarily 'bad', I know).

The Ugly: The huge streams of unnecessary exposition within that script.

I reckon: 6/10. It looks great on the cinema-screen, but you shouldn't lose too much by watching it on BluRay with a good TV. This movie had so much more potential that it didn't quite capture, I've got to mark it down to a 6.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Friday 20 August 2010

72: Where's Oleta..?

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

A couple of days ago, a friend quoted a line of a song on Facebook. I like song quotes, especially if I know which song it's from. This one was from Get Here, by Oleta Adams. Here it is...

And it occurred to me that not too many people know about the story behind the song. There's not a lot about it on the internet, as it was covered up by her record company, but I've got a couple of clippings from my pop-book of 1991.

^^ Click on the image for full-size.

The song was used as a Se7en-style lure for the police during an alleged kidnap case in 1991. It was quite a big deal at the time, I'm surprised you don't remember it (some have claimed the song was originally penned by Brenda Russell in 1988, which would make the Oleta Adams case a copycat crime, and perhaps a false alarm. This could be why she appeared to "get away" with it afterwards).

Let's deconstruct the song, shall we?

+++ +++ +++

"You can reach me by railway,"
We can gather by this line that her location is close to a main-line train station, since she doesn't mention needing inter-connecting transportation after alighting the train, and she doesn't say we need to jump off the train between stations like some kind of Indiana Jones character.

"you can reach me by trailway"
I'm not even sure what a "trailway" is, but I'm going to guess she means a kind of dirt-track, or un-kept road. They're everywhere. Let's be honest, this doesn't narrow it down. There's a public footpath that could be described as a dirt-track running past the bottom of my garden, but I doubt she's down there.

"You can reach me on an airplane,"
Again, this would suggest that she's hiding near an airport (public or private). Used in connection with the railway station, this should get us somewhere.

"you can reach me with your mind."
Oh, so now she's claiming to have low-level telepathic abilities. I'd expect this line from Professor Charles Xavier, but not Oleta Adams. I'm going to dismiss this line as it's clearly (to my mind) a red herring. Next section please...

"You can reach me by caravan,"
Now, a road suitable for towing a caravan would suggest to me a conflict with her previous assertation that a dirt-track is involved. I'm no expert, but I wouldn't recommend pulling any supplementary vehicle attachment over uneven ground. Unless, of course, that she's on a safe, maintained highway; and the trailway in question provides rear-access to the property.

"cross the desert like an Arab man"
Nice. A bit of casual racism, there. Because all Arabs live in a big tent in the desert, don't they, Oleta? She clearly says "desert" here, so I can't think she's referring to being near a beach or coastline. But then, who the hell would tow a caravan over sand? Taking into account the airport and train station claims, again I have to discount this information.

"I don't care how you get here, just - get here if you can"
And after all those carefully-laid "clues", she claims that she doesn't care how her pursuers find her. There's definitely a veiled threat in there, alluding to the late (or non) arrival of the listening party or parties.

The 3-2-1 style clues are intermixed with wild claims. This says a lot about her mental state at the time of writing.
Let's press on with the next verse...

"You can reach me by sail boat,"
This is in direct opposition to the previous claim of a desert. She's clearly somewhere by the beach.

"climb a tree and swing rope to rope"
...and next to a wooded localé, apparently. The suggestion that we'd need to travel above ground level to reach the property suggests to me that she's laid several traps around the area. She hasn't had time to dig spear-pits, so I'm guessing she's used bear-traps. Be careful.

"Take a sled and slide down the slope, into these arms of mine"
This wooded/beach location is also at the foot of a hill or incline. Now the net is tightening, Oleta. Do you hear me? Although the second half of this line warns intruders that she either intends to forcefully restrain them, or she's well equipped with a range of firearms. I'd go for the second one.

"You can jump on a speedy colt,"
Well, Oleta, given how close your hidey-hole is to public transport ameneties, and is on a maintained road, I doubt I'd choose to rise a horse to the location. But thanks for the suggestion. Although, maybe she means that upon catching sight of the armed songstress, I'd be wise to quickly draw my own firearm (in this case a Colt .45 revolver, although why I'd be using a 19th Century pistol is beyond me, frankly).

"cross the border in a blaze of hope"
Well okay, it could be a County- or State-Line, but it's more likely to be the border between two neighbouring countries, like America/Mexico, or England/Scotland (although the latter wouldn't work because of the Airport/Train-Station scenario).

"I don't care how you get here, just - get here if you can"
Again, the taunting. What a bitch.

^^ Click on the image for full-size.

As if that wasn't enough, it ramps up for a third verse...

"You can windsurf into my life,"
Again, the hint that she's by a beach or currented waterway. Windsurfing would be a silent approach, but she'll be watching the sea, and you stick out like a sore thumb. Don't use this method.

"take me up on a carpet ride"
She's getting bored and impatient now, and has resorted to fantastical claims. Treat this one like her telepathic boast in verse one.

"You can make it in a big balloon,"
Similar to the windsurfing method, I wouldn't recommend this. You'd be helpless in the air when she starts sniping holes in the balloon, or worse still, uses incendiary missiles if she thinks you're in a helium, rather than hot-air, variety. Besides the air-traffic-control of the nearby airport wouldn't allow it. The resulting chaos would alert Adams to your approach. And where would you land? You'd have to lower to just above the trees, then bail and hope to catch a branch to avoid the traps she's set.

"but you better make it soon"
And again, this insistence that if you don't make it by a certain time-slot, "she's going to hurt the kid" or maybe "arm the detonator" or something.

"You can reach me by caravan, cross the desert like an Arab man
I don't care how you get here, just - get here if you can"

...and we're back to the slurs. She's ranting by now, incoherently scrawling away, enacting alternate scenarios in her mind, none of which include her being arrested and incarcerated for this latest stunt. Oh no, Oleta's going out in a blaze of glory this time.

+++ +++ +++

So, WHERE'S OLETA? According to her claims, she's at the bottom of a slope, in a wooded-area, close to the beach, with a maintained road leading to the property and a dirt-track at the rear (probably leading up the hill). There's a train station and an airport, both close enough to be classed as 'local', and most importantly, she's near to a border of some description. She probably has a stable or outhouse where she can keep a horse, but there won't be one at the moment as it'd get freaked by all the firearms practice she's been doing.

The clues are there, off you go...

...but don't leave it too long, she's impatient enough, and the kid's starting to make her jumpy...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.