“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

Director M. Night Shyamalan decided to explore the world of fantasy-adventure by filming an adaptation of an animated television series called ”AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER”. This movie is a fantasy-adventure tale set in a fictional, Asian-influenced world with Chinese martial arts and elemental manipulation. ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” tells the story of a young monk and the only surviving airbender (one with the psi ability to manipulate air) named Aang, who is believed by others to be the future Avatar – one who can manipulate all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. With his two new friends from the Southern Water Tribe, Aang seeks to learn to manipulate three other elements – water, earth and fire. In this movie, he journeys with his friends Katara (a waterbender) and her brother Sokka to the Northern Water Tribe, where he can learn how to master the waterbending skill from a master. Tracking Aang, Katara and Sokka is Prince Zuko, the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation; who has been exiled by his evil father, Fire Lord Ozai and sent to capture the future Avatar. With the Avatar’s capture, Zuko’s honor and right to the throne will be restored.

I would have never bothered to see this movie. But an office colleague of mine had really enjoyed the movie and recommended that I go see it. Needless to say, I do not regret following her advice. Mind you, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER”was not perfect. The movie’s first five to ten minutes failed to kickstart my interest. It bored me so much that I found myself on the verge of falling asleep. Most of the cast members gave performances that ranged from mediocrity to sheer boredom. And a good deal of the movie’s dialogue seemed extremely cheesy to me – the kind of dialogue one would find in the ”STAR WARS” and the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” franchises.

However, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” definitely had its virtues. I was impressed by the performances of the two leads, Noah Ringer and Dev Patel, who portrayed Aang and Zuko respectively. These two literally kept this movie together. It also helped that both had genuine martial arts experience. I was also impressed by Shaun Toub, who portrayed Zuko’s wise uncle, Iroh; Aasif Mandvi, who played the Fire Nation’s cold-blooded military commander, Zhao; and Cliff Curtis, who portrayed the ruthless leader of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Ozai. Andrew Lesnie’s photography, Philip Messina’s production designs and the art directions supervised by Richard L. Johnson were very impressive, if not mind blowing. However, I did find Judianna Makovsky’s costume designs to be very beautiful and memorable.

From what I understand, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” is not exactly a hit. It has failed to fully earn back the money spent on its production. Well . . . what can I say? Regardless of whether it was a hit or not, I found it an entertaining movie to watch and look forward to viewing it again on DVD.

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“PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME” (2010) Review

“PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME” (2010) Review

Recently, I had listened to a radio talk show in which a movie reviewer compared Disney’s new movie, ”PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME” to the 1962 Oscar winning film, ”LAWRENCE OF ARABIA”. Much to the detriment of the Disney film. And as I sat there and listened to him bash ”PRINCE OF PERSIA”, it occurred to me that there still were plenty of idiots in this world . . . including radio disc jockeys. 

Directed by Mike Newell and based upon the 2003 video game, ”PRINCE OF PERSIA” is about an orphaned street urchin in sixth century Persia named Dastan whose gallant and courageous act at a marketplace attracts the attention of King Sharaman and leads to his adoption into the Royal Family. Fifteen years later, Dastan, his royal-blooded foster brothers, Prince Tus and Prince Garsiv, and his uncle, Prince Nizam are planning an attack on the sacred city of Alamut, which is believed to be selling weapons to their enemies. However, Persia’s successful invasion of Alamut eventually leads to a great deal of trouble for Dastan, when he is framed for the assassination of the king. With the help of Tamina, Princess of Alamut, Dastan eventually discovers that the invasion was nothing more than a means for the real assassin to search for a magical dagger that Dastan has already managed to get his hands on. The dagger enables to bearer to travel back in time. The assassin wants to use the dagger to overthrow the Persian Royal Family and seize the throne.

I had mixed feelings about watching ”PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME”. A part of me was attracted to the idea of viewing another Disney live-action movie with a fantasy setting. Another part of me recalled my disappointment over Tim Burton’s rather flaccid movie, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Attraction and curiosity won out and I went to see the movie . . . despite my low expectations. Needless to say, I ended up enjoying the movie a lot.

Granted, the movie had its share of flaws. First of all, one had to endure some of the over-the-top dialogue that has plagued movies like ”SPIDER-MAN”, and from the ”STAR WARS””LORD OF THE RINGS” and ”THE MUMMY” franchises. Some of the action sequences that featured actor Jake Gyllenhaal jumping all over the place struck me as a tad too frantic. It almost seemed as if Mike Newell and cinematographer John Seale had channeled Paul Greengrass and photographer Oliver Wood from the”BOURNE” movies. I love actor Alfred Molina. I have been a fan of his for years. But I must admit that I found his performance as an ostrich racing-organizer named Sheik Ama waaaay over-the-top. Speaking of ostrich racing . . . WHAT THE HELL? I have never seen anything so ludicrous in my life. I mean . . . I could understand camel racing or even horse racing. But ostrich racing?

Yes, I do have some quibbles about the movie. And yes, I realize that it is not an example of artistic Hollywood movie making at its height. It is certainly not the best movie of this summer. But dammit! I liked it a lot. One, screenwriters Jordan Mechner, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard wrote a very entertaining adaptation of the video game. I am certainly not familiar with it, but I did like the story. Not only was it filled with plenty of action and fantasy, it had a good, solid mystery over the identity of King Sharaman’s assassin. This mystery also served as the background of a well-written family drama involving Dastan and the Persian Royal Family. Most importantly, the movie’s script featured a funny and spirited romance between Dastan and Princess Tamina.

Speaking of the cast, I never thought I would see the day when I actually enjoy a sword-and-sand fantasy that featured Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead. He is not the type of actor I would associate with a costume movie from the Disney Studios. I must admit that for the movie’s first ten to twenty minutes, I found it difficult to accept Gyllenhaal in the role of a street urchin-turned-adopted member of the Persian Royal Family. But he seemed to be doing such a good job and I was becoming engrossed in the movie that I eventually overcame any unnecessary problems I had with him in the role. Most importantly, Gyllenhaal had great chemistry with Gemma Arterton, who portrayed Tamina. The only other movie I had seen Arterton in was the latest James Bond movie,”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. Honestly? I had not been that impressed by her performance in that movie. But I was impressed by her performance as Princess Tamina. She gave the character a strength and drive rarely seen in female roles from the past five or six summers. She also seemed to have better chemistry with actors that are from her generation . . . like Gyllenhaal.

Ben Kingsley gave a very subtle performance as Dastan’s adopted uncle, Prince Nizam. He did a great job in portraying the one character that acted as the Persian Royal Family’s backbone. Both Richard Coyle and Toby Kebbell gave solid performances as Dastan’s two royal brothers. However, I must admit that I did not find them particularly memorable. Steve Toussaint did a good job in portraying the dependable, yet intimidating Ngbaka knife thrower Seso. I certainly enjoyed his performance more than I did Alfred Molina’s. It seemed a pity that the latter’s character annoyed me so much. I also have to commend Gísli Örn Garðarsson, who portrayed the leader of the Hassansins, hired to kill Dastan and recover the dagger. For a character that did not say much, I found his performance particularly intimidating.

I have another confession. I was not that particularly enamored of Mike Newell’s direction of the 2005 movie, ”HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE”. And when I heard that he was the director of ”PRINCE OF PERSIA” . . . well, I was not expecting to be impressed by his latest work. ”GOBLET OF FIRE” had convinced me that Newell should avoid the science-fiction/fantasy genre. However, his direction of ”PRINCE OF PERSIA” proved me wrong. Sure, I could have done without some of the frantic action sequences. And I would never consider the movie to be on the same level as the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” movies. But I thought it was a pretty damn entertaining film.

Which brings me back to the radio disc jockey. Why did I consider him an idiot for comparing ”PRINCE OF PERSIA” to”LAWRENCE OF ARABIA”? Who, in their right mind, would compare a summer Disney movie based upon a video game, with an Oscar winning film about a World War I hero? Who would be stupid enough to do this? Apparently that radio disc jockey was stupid enough to do so. And why did he do this? Because both movies were set in the Middle East. Go figure.