I promised my two nieces that I would take them to see The Last Airbender when they visit us next week. Both of these bright, beautiful young ladies are huge fans of Japanese anime (an interest I share with them on a smaller scale), and I had previously watched the English-dubbed-over-Japanese original anime series Avatar: The Last Airbender with them.
Being the doting uncle that I am, undoubtedly I’ll fulfill my pledge, and we’ll all trek to the local digital showing of M. Night Shyamalan’s CGI-heavy live-action re-make. But the critics have not given me much hope of being cinematically satisfied.
You can read below the litany of critics verbally spitting on Shyamalan’sAirbender (netting it a paltry Metacritic rating of 20, out of 100 !). Apparently, not even the presence of Dev Patel, the engaging hero of Slumdog Millionaire, could save the production. Perhaps the unkindest cut of all from a critic was in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which called the film “a toxic potion that will put children to sleep and kill Shyamalan’s career.” Ouch!
However bad this Anime-to-Live-Action melange turns out to be, let me urge you not to cast other cinematic anime gems out with the sewage. (Have I mixed enough metaphors here?)
From one Japanese production house in particular, and out of its founder’s imaginative genius, have come several anime films that can stand with much of the best of modern cinema.
Writer / director / producer / animation pioneer Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli (pronounced “jibb-lee”) have given us a truly marvelous body of work — comprising some of the most wildly inventive and beautifully creative animation films ever made. Miyazaki (Pixar Studio founder John Lasseter admires him to the point of hero worship) is never formulaic; each film is unique from its siblings and worthy of multiple viewings. Here are eight of his masterpieces:
(The links behind each name above will take you to a trailer for that film. Happy viewing!)
So, whether M. Night Shyamalan’s career has taken a nose-dive (and he has besmirched the anime genre), or whether he survives this univerally acclaimed dud, we still have the effervescent glory of the best of Japanese anime to fall back on.
The Last Airbender
METACRITIC RATING: 20
( Generally Unfavorable Reviews )
Genres: Adventure | Family/Kids | Fantasy | War
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel
Running Time: 103 minutes
Rating: PG for fantasy action violence
Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Four nations tied by destiny when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war against the others. A century has passed with no hope in sight to change the path of this destruction. Caught between combat and courage, Aang discovers he is the lone Avatar with the power to manipulate all four elements. Aang teams with Katara, a Waterbender, and her brother, Sokka, to restore balance to their war-torn world. (Paramount Pictures)
Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert:
The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.
Boston Globe Ty Burr:
The Last Airbender is dreadful, an incomprehensible fantasy-action epic that makes the 2007 film The Golden Compass, a similarly botched adaptation of a beloved property from another medium, look like a four-star classic.
Boxoffice Magazine Pam Grady:
The problems begin with Shyamalan’s script, which is an orgy of exposition. The characters explain and explain and explain some more, points driven home with the subtlety of a jackhammer.