Hannah, age nine, sits on the sofa with her folded legs drawn in, the remnants of a sandwich assembled on a bright melamine plate on the table behind her, rings of condensation off her water bottle progressing across the table’s surface.She fits her chin in the bridge of her joined knees, and if she’s blinked in the last hour I’ve missed it. For days Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” has been streaming in back-to-back episodes in my living room.I’d queued the first episode of Book One for some quick research and within minutes Hannah emerged from the recesses of the house, trudging across the living room rug and toward the siren call of a child’s voice:“Water.Earth.Fire.Air.Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony.Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them.”As the sofa cushion reclaimed its shape after I stood and walked away, Hannah’s fingers crawled over to the remote.Then she took over.Or, rather, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” took over.

Hannah’s scrunched up figure in the flicker of the animated bald-pated boy with his eyes, as well as the arrows on his hands and head, aglow, spells out the hazards for M. Night Shyamalan as he steers the franchise into the cinema with The Last Airbender (the “Avatar” name having been dropped given the release of James Cameron’s blockbuster).Meaning the viewers who love this series really love this series, and they’re primed to scrutinize.Interesting that Shyamalan’s big comeback strategy would involve taking on another’s beloved story, effectively placing him in pretty much the same position he was in before.

Since penning perhaps one of the most discussed surprise endings in cinema history with The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has been plagued with heightened expectations.For one thing, it’s hard to trick an audience twice, and when you don’t try to trick them again the audience thinks it’s because you’ve simply failed in tricking them again. Expectation has been Shyamalan’s nemesis.Well, among many other things.Like a movie with Marky Mark delivering lines like he’s half-asleep at his breakfast table, reading the back of a cereal box.

Enter The Last Airbender.

The critical comparisons began well before the July 1st opening with an L. A. Times article noting that major characters, including little airbender Aang himself (Noah Ringer), were cast with white actors instead of Asian and Native American actors.In my cursory inspection of the screen beyond Hannah’s silhouette as I’d cleared her plate, I have to admit I’d thought the animated characters had been intentionally drawn in ethnically ambiguous ways.Hannah, however, assures me the representations by the white actors in the film “aren’t quite right.”  Paramount has noted the diversity of the rest of the cast, which includes Dev Patel as Prince Zuko.And as TNB contributor Matthew Baldwin said in our recent Twitter exchange on the matter:“Also, this ‘whitewashed’ film was directed by a man of Indian descent. I smell a subtext.”

And Shyamalan smells a sequel.Or two.His decision to direct a story not his own could reap some serious rewards.He may still be stalked by the weight of expectation, but at least the expectations have changed.At least he has changed a decade’s long conversation.It just wouldn’t be like Shyamalan if he did so without risk.If he pulls it off, he’s set for the next installment and perhaps a clean cinematic slate at last.And while the creative ownership rests with series writers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, The Last Airbender’s overriding themes mirror those of every other Shyamalan film (with the exception of The Happening – which is why, I’ll always contend, that one bombed big time).The Last Airbender’s Unlce Iroh (played by Shaun Toub) clarifies this theme nicely when he says:“There are reasons each of us are born. We have to find those reasons.”

While condensed and selective, the plot-line of The Last Airbender follows that of the series’ first “book” of episodes to the letter. Airbender and reincarnated Avatar, Aang, is found after a hundred-year’s absence, but he’d gone off the grid before learning to bend all of the elements.Now he’ll have to make due in a world virtually emptied of its bending masters as the Fire Nation angles for complete control. Perhaps one satisfying subplot as well as performance comes from Patel’s Prince Zuko, the villainous outcast of the villainous Fire Nation, driven by daddy issues and navigating a gray area of shifting allegiances.Then of course, there’s the cool factor of the bending itself with the graceful, complicated series of taekwondo-like maneuvers required for commanding the elements.Except for the fire-benders.They move as if they’re shaking stray rocks out of their pant legs.

Gone are the plunks and doinks and dings of sound effects, the facial acrobats of Sokka’s goofball demeanor, and the often pithy landscapes like those paintings over the beds in old motel rooms. Shyamalan tweaks Airbender’s cartoony, slap-sticky tenor to skew more Lord of the Rings than Land of the Lost, infusing it with a sort of fantastical cinematic grandeur the layered storylines of the series seem to be begging for.And finally, finally, a Shyamalan film gets some decent special effects.I’m thinking of that boot brush that sat in the grass to approximate the “scrunt” in Lady in the Water. But as Hannah says, “That was way back when everything looked fake.”That’s right – way back in 2006.

For more details on how The Last Airbender differs from its series, read my post-screening conversation with Hannah here (another fine Matthew Baldwin tweeted suggestion, I might add.Credit where credit is due).

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TNB Arts and Culture Editor CYNTHIA HAWKINS teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Most of what she thinks she knows comes from movies, including how to tango, how to take someone down with a ballpoint pen, how to curse in French, and how to catch a moving train. Her work, on movies and otherwise, has appeared in literary journals and magazines such as ESPN the Magazine, Parent:Wise Magazine, The Good Men Project, New World Writing, Strange Horizons, and numerous alternative weeklies and anthologies. You can find Cynthia on Twitter and at cynthiahawkins.net.

52 responses to “The Movie Formerly Known as Avatar

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    Can I just say that I hope Shyamalan pulls it off? I mean, on the whole, as a career?

    I was among the slack-jawed masses after 6th Sense, and I loved Unbreakable.

    I also loved Signs (one of my favorite movies ever) and even tolerated The Village for being really fun to look at.

    I saw Lady in the Water but barely remember it, and skipped The Happening altogether (a wise decision, I’m told).

    I think if he ever pulls himself together, manages to focus his interests again, he could be one of them. The big boys. He has a “voice” that is unmistakable, even when he bombs.

    His talent is just pooling around, milling, waiting for him to make a good decision. I hold out hope for M. Night. He has a really cool name. Totally going to see this one.

    But what the fuck do I know? My favorite director is Tim Burton.

    • Becky! You are officially my new bff. For one, Unbreakable is my *favorite* Shyamalan film. Secondly, I wrote a whole “Defense of M. Night Shyamalan” once in the S. A. Current … unfortunately in anticipation of The Happening … which then proved to be godawful anyway. I wanted to like it, but I knew it was just shite. I haven’t given up on him, though!

      • Becky says:

        You can do it, M. Night! We beliieeeeve in you!

        He plays a high-stakes game to begin with, one that a lot of writer/directors wouldn’t dare touch (or couldn’t), in that everything he does is super high-concept, full of theory, and still aspires to blockbuster.

        He’s laid two serious eggs out of 6 (where the other 4 are varying degrees of “excellent” and “okay”). Given the same task and the same six stories, almost any other director would be lucky to go 1 for 6.

        That’s my general feeling about the guy. I hope he rights the ship, ‘cuz when it works, it’s heavenly.

      • Matt says:

        Unbreakable is his strongest film, in my opinion. It stands up better to repeated viewing than The Sixth Sense does, and the turn at the end is really more of a gradual revelation the film has been leading to than it is a “twist.”

  2. Greg Olear says:

    His career has been one of those graphs that slope downward at a perfect 45-degree angle. “Lady in the Water” was so terrible, people in the theater were laughing at it, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” style. It almost makes me think “Sixth Sense” was written by someone else.

    The guy is due.

    • Ooh, ouch, I can imagine the laughter. One scene saved that movie for me, though. The scene with Cleveland coming to grips w/ the death of his family in order to heal whats-her-name (am blanking — too early in the a.m.). I know. Complete schmaltz. But Shyamalan’s schmaltz always gets to me. Maybe because its creepy schmaltz. And, by the way, that’s another theme he likes to revisit, the power of the individual when they finally unpack their emotional baggage, even in Airbender. I would love to see what Mystery Science Theater 3000 would do with The Happening though!

      • Becky says:

        That’s what I loved so much about Signs (besides Joaquin Phoenix *swoon*).

        It’s a suspense/thriller that makes me cry. Every time.

        Who DOES that?

        • Richard Cox says:

          I’m about to leave for a while and won’t be able to respond, but Becky…Signs? I thought you said you wanted your world to be logical. Complete breakdown of logic and basic storytelling in that one. And it hurt all the much more because I had such high hopes.

          I was slacked-jawed with Sixth Sense, and M. Night was my hero because he resurrected a genre and premise I thought dead. And you’re totally right about his style. But I agree with Greg, since then he’s been headed straight downward, except I enjoyed The Village.

          If there’s anyone to root for to resurrect his career, it’s this guy. I think he has amazing potential. I don’t know what happened after Sixth Sense, but if I were fortunate enough to have on my my novels adapted into a film and could hand pick a director (hahaha), he would be in my top 3.

        • Becky says:

          Indeed. I liked Signs. A lot.

          I don’t know what liking my world to be logical has to do with liking one movie or another. My favorite novel in the whole wide world has no particular plot at all. Formulaic storytelling holds no inherent value as far as I’m concerned.

        • Becky says:

          I should clarify that. What I mean is that the absence of a traditional plotline or adherence to formulaic storytelling rules isn’t sufficient to declare a story a flop any more than the presence of a traditional plotline is sufficient to declare a story a success.

          Signs, for me, sails by on its other merits, including seriously empathetic characters, good acting, and really well-crafted suspense.

          And Joaquin Phoenix’s hot ass.

        • Matt says:

          I thought Signs had some very, very good scenes, but added up to a movie that did not equal the sum of it’s parts. Ultimately, for me, the movie was undone by a premise that’s not only illogical, but downright stupid:

          Why would an alien race that deathly reactive to water attempt to invade A PLANET COVERED IN IT?! Without at least wearing some sort of environmental suit?

          That”d be like us attempting to invade a planet covered in sulphuric acid while buck naked.

        • Becky says:

          I think part of the problem with Shyamalan’s films is that–and bear with me–they’re not meant to be watched like most films.

          They’re content and message heavy–verging on the allegorical in their fixation on themes and ideas, so you have what amounts to a story-shaped collection of symbols. (Especially with “Signs,” I might add, which had as one of its themes symbology itself).

          Like most allegories, the plot is questionable because the plot is not the actual story. The story we’re presented with: Guy, his brother, two kids, an alien invasion, is not the heft or focus, really. It’s a vehicle for what Night is actually interested in, which is usually some kind of complex intellectual/theoretical abstraction.

          While it’s true that any story should have both a working text and a working subtext, I think to some degree, his cavalier attitude towards plot consistency is intentional. Or even if not, I think he’s aware of it. I think he just just doesn’t care.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Ooh, I hear ya Becky. I have been endlessly ridiculed for liking this film despite all of its faults. I mean, there’s even that scene where they’re tirelessly boarding up a door … that opens in the opposite direction anyway. And I still like it! It’s that emotional core, I think. Then again, my movie obsession has been known to latch onto things with no explanation at all. Case and point: I lurrrrv The Fifth Element.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Becky, I think we made our prev. comments at the same time — but I think you are spot on about the allegorical nature and allure!

        • Zara Potts says:

          Totally with Becky re: Joaquin’s hot ass.

        • Becky says:

          Honestly, if I’m right, it would mean he’s been doing something new and innovative this whole time, that Sixth Sense was in fact his most conventional film (if a very well-done one), and that people simply don’t understand what he’s doing or what they need to be doing to enjoy it.

          The truth is probably somewhere in between. I think, since he’s obviously got the conceptual chops, it would do him well to hone the craft aspect a bit.

          But I think if audiences EVER expect to get traditional storytelling out of him, they’re wasting their time. It doesn’t appear to be how he thinks. I’ve only seen him interviewed a couple of times, but if you listen to him talk, he sounds nothing like other directors. Yeah, he wants to tell a good story, compelling characters, good acting, blah blah blah, but hey, here’s the IDEA that inspired it…let me tell you about my NOTIONS…

          Ah HA. I’d never seen this before. He’s totally doing it on purpose.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmXltMkWDwM

        • Richard Cox says:

          I couldn’t disagree more. Follow storytelling rules does not necessarily mean following Hollywood convention. Good storytelling transcends medium. Stories have followed certain patterns since they were told orally over the camp fire. They follow these general patterns, the ebb and flow, the doling out of suspense or comedy or emotion or whatever because of human nature, because we’ve evolved to respond to them in certain ways.

          In this interview, in places, it sounds like he is rebelling against what a studio executive or a focus group wants, which is a completely different discussion. Yes, formulaic films and books are generally awful and uninteresting. Rebelling against that is what any creative type person ought to do if they want to be somewhat unique. But rebelling against basic storytelling rules is like just throwing out scenes and hoping they stick. I won’t argue that can’t work on occasion, but even the most edgy, unconventional independent film or book, in my opinion, works better if it tells some kind of actual story.

          The novel House of Leaves is an excellent example. It defies the conventions of format and print and structuring of scenes and reality, but it doing so a narrative still emerges. You could hardly find a more unconventional novel but the story still ebbs and flows, moves from positive to negative emotional charges, builds toward a climax, etc.

          My problem with logic as it relates to films is not when something fantastical occurs in a story…it’s when the story doesn’t follow its own rules. In Star Wars, for example, there are plenty of fantastical things that happen. But in one of the newer films, when R2D2 escapes from some calamity because he can suddenly fly, when he never could before, it’s the fictional universe breaking its own rules to fix a plot problem. Bad bad bad.

          Becky, you like Signs because of the subtext and emotion, but I can’t get into that place with that film because of the absurd actions taken. Like the door Cynthia mentioned or the absurdities Matt brought up. Someone else might make the same argument about Titanic, saying the love story is overwrought and simple and liberties were taken with uncertain historical events to add fake emotion to the story. And maybe they would be right. In the end, liking or not liking a piece of art is an individual thing.

          However, inferring that most people don’t understand “what he’s doing” is off the mark, in my opinion. First of all it’s the storyteller’s job to build a story that works in multiple ways, so even if you don’t “get” one aspect you can be entertained by another. And secondly, if you are going to be an elitist and esoteric writer and director of films, don’t make up silly rules to get your story to work.

        • Becky says:

          Well, Rich, I don’t know what to tell you.

          I liked Signs.

          Cynthia liked Signs.

          Even Roger Ebert liked Signs. In fact, he loved it. And he wasn’t alone among critics.

          This is hardly a scenario in which I’m defending a film that was panned by everyone on earth but me.

          So I would offer that when you say it didn’t work, you speak for yourself. What is the mark of a film that “works?” Whether it worked for you? Whether it worked for a LOT of people? I mean, are you trying to make a declarative statement of something like objective truth? Are you laying down the how-it-is law, or are you just saying you don’t like it?

          For the most part, what Shyamalan does works for me. I think you will have a hard time arguing that Signs lacks a narrative, Richard. THAT could not possibly be the source of your complaint.

          I’d wager it’s more like Matt’s. Personally, I am not overly concerned with why there are water-allergic aliens on a planet full of water. That doesn’t strike me as central to or problematic for the movie’s goal as I understand it–it’s nit-picky on a level that ignores what the film is trying to offer in favor of what you prefer it would. But, you know, THIS is the movie. It’s a different TYPE of film. Its logic works just fine, it’s just not the sort of logic you’re looking for.

          So do you sit and bitch that he’s not following the rules you’re familiar with, or do you try to figure why he’s not? He certainly seems to know what the rules are, so he’s breaking them. Why? To what effect? Basic art criticism. You might like it and you might not, but for fuck’s sake, don’t get all tedious and dogmatic on me, Dude.

          Maybe Shyamalan just isn’t for you. Maybe just break it off and don’t call him again. Might be best.

          For me, from where I sit, I don’t understand why it needs to be a matter of bragging or elitism or all this manifesto-generating creative outrage. He’s making the movies he wants to make, which is what any artist, including you, wants to do. Sounds like he’s willing to suffer the consequences for doing so. Not sure what the problem is.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I think I’ve been careful to say “in my opinion” and “I think” and “for me” as much as I could as we’ve talked about films over the past couple of days. And I said it was an individual thing. Of course I mean how I feel, not how you should feel or anyone else.

          For Matt or me, maybe because we enjoy speculative films and occasional sci-fi or whatever, we expect some lip service paid to reality. The kind of logic that would exist if the story were actually happening. But that doesn’t mean someone else can’t like it, as I believe I’ve said again and again to avoid applying my preference to anyone else.

          It’s a fine line between “breaking the rules” and whining that people just don’t get your amazingly deep, high budget art films. I take the Robert McKee view on this. Most good films are at their heart good stories.

          In any case, Roger Ebert has over time proven to be the film critic whose opinions most match my own. Based on what I’ve read here, and his review (which I also just read), I think I’ll give Signs another try. Although I won’t award any bonus points for Joaquin Phoenix’s butt.

        • Matt says:

          Like I said before, I think Signs has some very, very good scenes; my personal favorite is the one where Gibson talks his son through the asthma attack while they’re trapped in the basement. And the little bit with the South American kid’s birthday video is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen on film.

          I certainly enjoyed it while I was watching it. It was only afterwards, when I thought about, that I had the “Hey, wait just a minute now” moment.

          But it was cool watching Phoenix go to town on an alien with a baseball bat.

        • dwoz says:

          Gotta disagree with you guys and go with Becky on this one.

          Weak movie.

          Signs didn’t need an explanation, it needed an excuse, or at the very least an apology.

          So Mel Gibson goes from crashing motorcycles to being nailed to a cross to being nailed to an albatross.

          I agree with Becky’s comment elsewhere that relativism is dogmeat masquerading as angus beef.

          The movie horked up a fur ball. And I LIKE sci fi.

        • dwoz says:

          Loved that interview Becky.

          Director is telling a story that’s about storytelling, and to do so he has to heave storytelling into the scuppers, so he can be ‘noir’ by being all recursively self referential ‘n stuff.

          Cop out.

          and I’m not even a “rules” guy. At my other favorite web hangout, I just today wrote (in context of songwriting)

          “rules are fantastic until the point where you find yourself invoking them. If you EVER have to apply a rule, then you’re doing it wrong.”

          Now, mind you, that statement says ANYTHING BUT that you should discard rules purposefully.

        • Becky says:

          I was arguing in favor of Signs. And if you like Sci Fi, you should have maybe watched a Sci Fi movie. Because Signs is not. Which is one of the ways people get confused, I think, about how to watch it.

          Because his films tend to be dark and a little strange, people equate him with suspense, thriller, whatever…and certainly his films tend to be suspenseful.

          But it becomes swiftly apparent, with any amount of review of his work, that his concern is never really the suspenseful situation itself, but the way people react to it. The situations are just there to give him a reason to focus on the human element.

        • Becky says:

          Richard! Give Joaquin’s ass a chance!!

        • Richard Cox says:

          “And if you like Sci Fi, you should have maybe watched a Sci Fi movie.”

          This is mean-spirited and pedantic. As if that’s all we ever watch. And I shouldn’t be speaking for Matt, in any case. My apologies to Matt.

          I’m not even a fan of genre. I wish they didn’t exist, because they only serve to pigeonhole art the way you just did above. In that statement I was trying to admit a possible bias on my part, since I do sometimes enjoy stories that involve contact with alien civilizations, and perhaps I was too critical of the aliens’ ability to traverse light years of space but not be able to break down doors or shield themselves from water.

          Instead you suggested I was confused about how to watch a film.

        • dwoz says:

          Becky, I cut my teeth in my formative years with the Brattle Street Theater, so I don’t get tossed easily.

          Signs…shallow end of the human psyche.

          The only rule I ask for in a flick is to BEG, PLEAD with the director to suspend my disbelief. It isn’t a high bar either. A bit of continuity (i.e. sun stays in the damn sky during the camera1-to-camera-2 cutaway.), then maybe just enough cultural milieu to convince me that I’m not sitting in a Pizzaria Uno’s franchise restaurant. After that, Characters with wooden spines and supple dialog, instead of the other way around.

          that’s all. Not asking for the world in 3D here.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I have to leave again. I love you to pieces, Becky. As I said before I bet we enjoy more similar films than you think. I’m going to watch Signs again for sure. You ought to try Requiem if you ever have a free evening. I bet you’d like it.

        • Becky says:

          *sigh*

          Richard, this: “And if you like Sci Fi, you should have maybe watched a Sci Fi movie.”

          Was directed at dwoz, not you. I’m okay with being mean and pedantic to him.

          I stick to my assertion that it is not sci fi. It has aliens, but only at the end of the movie, and that’s about it. No one should expect it to act like a sci fi movie. Science plays no role in the movie at all.

          It’s about the people.

        • dwoz says:

          …”I stick to my assertion that it is not sci fi. It has aliens, but …”

          Strangely enough, I actually completely agree with this. My novel-in-progress, for example, has mythic creatures and a vague reference to interstellar travel, but it ISN’T SCI FI. Not at all.

          I have the hardest time making that argument stick. I am not being facetious here.

          And you SHOULD be nice to me. You never know how the universe may turn. I may lose my high-powered job, and end up a migrant paperboy, delivering newspapers on your street. And I’d make sure that your Minneapolis Herald Tribune ended up in a puddle EVERY DAMN TIME.

        • Tom Hansen says:

          “It’s a vehicle for what Night is actually interested in, which is usually some kind of complex intellectual/theoretical abstraction.” Yeah most likely, the problem as I see it is that he keeps going further and further away from the basic human problems and situations that made the first of his movies so cool

  3. Matt says:

    This may be the kindest review of this film I’ve seen yet. It’s getting torn-up across the board.

    Don’t know if you saw it or not, but right after our little Twitter exchange Roger Ebert (who savaged the movie) posted this link to an essay thoroughly analysing the use of “yellowface” in the film: http://splinterend.tumblr.com/post/749364670/facepainting

    I haven’t seen one of Shyamalan’s film’s since The Village, which utterly offended me with it’s b.s. contrivances and terrible performance by Bryce Dallas Howard. Neither The Lady in the Water or The Happening looked like they had anything to offer me–a weighty statement, considering my well-established celebcrush on Zooey Deschanel.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      I know! I laughed when I saw Ebert’s tweet about it: “What. Were. They. Thinking.” Ha! I think I had the benefit of taking along a nine-year-old. Also, I was more interested in thinking it through in the context of the series. I think the older fans are going to hate it because all of those things I said were “gone” are things they like. A lot. However, I thought it was a great cinematic representation. Problem is, though — now I can’t really analyze it outside of that context. I mean, it has seriously been streaming in my house non-stop! But I’m glad if I can offer a little kindness, ha.

      Ooh, and Zooey’s quirkiness and Shyamalan’s quirkiness do NOT go together well. It makes her look like the worst actor on the planet. I think the same thing happened to all of the actors w/ Lucas in the Star Wars prequels. Except the kid who plays young Anakin — he really is the worst little actor on the planet. But that’s a whole other story …

      Oh, haven’t read the “yellowface” link. Will do!

  4. Phoenix’s hot ass aside, I would contend that Shyamalan hasn’t done a relevant film since his first, meaning that The Sixth Sense offered something that had not (really) been done before. He, or the studios, was smart and milked that for every single mouth-watering drop it was worth, all while Shyamalan’s artistic integrity apparently imploded, withered, disappeared.

    I liked Unbreakable, but it was more of the same.

    I told friends who went to see The Village the ending before they went, and I hadn’t seen it.

    I think Shyamalan’s a one-trick cliche pony and can’t resurrect his career because he’s not interested in doing so. He’s got that paycheck. He’s the Nicholas Cage of directors.

    As evidence, I’m going to cite Rotten Tomatoes on this one: the rating for this one is 7%. Take me to see Jonah Hex over that any day. Or, Hell, I’ll just wait until Winter’s Bone FINNNNNALLLLLY arrives.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Just my guess, but I think since the huge success of Sixth Sense he’s been trying too hard. That never works. I’d also read that The Happening was the result of him pandering to studio execs who were going to pull their backing/funding from anything he was planning on doing in the future if he couldn’t bring audiences back in. Thus his first R rating, etc. And it still bombed.

    • Dana says:

      “He’s the Nicholas Cage of directors.”
      Bwah haha haha!

      I loved Sixth Sense.
      I liked Unbreakable.
      I saw Signs. (Yikes.)
      I saw The Village.
      I’m probably done.

      With each successive film I felt like I was getting clobbered with his dogma.

      • Those two, Samuel L. Jackson, and Gerard Butler should form a super-studio of stock workers that you can hire for x amount of money to do your crappy romantic comedy or summer “blockbuster.”

        Slogan: “Have a script? We’ll do it! We’ll do ANYthing! We don’t even need to see your damn script!”

        They would take over the world.

  5. Gloria says:

    Tolkien and Indigo (my 8 year old twins) and I have watched every episode of the Nickelodeon series at least three times. We love it. I’m so nervous about seeing this film adaptation. I love the cartoon characters so much – complete with the beeps and zoinks. And what is Sakka without the facial expressions and pithy moments of comic relief? I doubt I’ll see it.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      As I type, Hannah has made it to the middle of Book Two. I can see why she loves it! It’s exactly the sort of thing I would have liked at her age. I think you are not going to like the changes to Sakka at all! Still some humor and pratfalls w/ him, but he’s the most changed — and played by Jackson Rathbone from Twilight (perhaps in hopes of winning some of that demographic over?).

  6. Slade Ham says:

    I watched the entire series too, a year or two ago. Literally, every episode in a row over the course of a week. I’m pulling for MNS, but I am not optimistic. Fortunately I get to watch it for free at the Alamo Drafthouse next to the comedy club while I’m stuck here in San Antonio.

    I shall pass judgment tomorrow. The upside is that even if it sucks, it won’t have cost me ten bucks.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      You’re stuck in SA? And in the rain, ick. Free movies at the Alamo Drafthouse, good perks!

      • Slade Ham says:

        “Stuck” is a strong word I suppose. I actually quite like it here. A little less rain would certainly make things better though.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Oh, and beware the “Twi-hards” when you go! If a deluge of bad reviews don’t do Airbender in, surely Twilight Eclipse will.

  7. Joe Daly says:

    I would see “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on the channel guide, and I had always assumed it was just a commercial knock-off of the movie- a cartoon spin off to squeeze a little more milk for Uncle Jimmy’s bottom line. So I’m relieved to read that it’s not, and slightly embarrassed to acknowledge that until reading your piece, I was entirely unaware of this pre-teen cultural obsession. I’ll cut myself a bit of slack on the latter, having two dogs and zero kids.

    More movie reviews from you, please. This is a really well-done piece. You bring in lots of external dialogue to set the movie in a very interesting context.

    Like Slade, I’m hoping that MNS gets some props. I feel bad for the guy after seeing him get beat up so badly after The Sixth Sense. I will say that I loved Unbreakable, even with an ending that you could see coming. That seems to be the corner into which MNS has drawn himself- if he doesn’t freak people out, he’s missed the mark somehow, and that’s not entirely fair. Bruce Willis’ performance in Unbreakable was quite nuanced and I enjoyed it.

    Anyway, nice piece. Thanks for filling me in!

  8. […] here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure Cynthia Hawkins is a nice person. In Cynthia’s piece The Movie Formerly Known as Avatar, I can really appreciate her reporting from the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” hysteria of her […]

  9. Simon Smithson says:

    I thought Shyamaladingdong knocked the ball out of the park with Sixth Sense, but then, everyone did.

    I loved Unbreakable. I thought it was slow and nuanced and beautifully worked through, and I think it was one of Willis’s better performances for a long time – he was just so very tired, all of the time.

    Signs? Yep. Creepy as hell, and the birthday party bit? Shyamalan for the win!

    Yep. The water? That was stupid. And while that may be nitpicky to some, to them, I say: No. If you’re going to be a storyteller, and you’re going to set up rules for a universe, you have to follow them. Otherwise, you have to be prepared for people to call no dice.

    Lady in the Water? Ughh….

    I like his work. I really do. So I want this flick to do well. Because I want M. Night to do well.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Your description of Unbreakable (how to do the italics? you’re too savvy for me – and where did your lightsabre go???) is exactly the reason I love it …. and the reason I’ve come to think Shyamalan’s biggest problem is that the Sixth Sense before it led everyone, including Shyamalan, to believe Shyamalan’s a mainstream director. When I saw Unbreakable in the theater, half the audience walked out grumbling even though it had so much going for it. I think the sooner he, and everyone else, makes peace w/ the fact that he’s not mainstream, the better. I hope I’m wrong about him being too reviled among the masses to make something solid that’s appreciated enough to let him continue in the biz (and damn you Cynthia Hawkins for your attempts to squelch my hope!).

  10. […] Please Give, the Robert Duvall effect, the Academy Award nominees for Best Soundtrack, the movie formerly known as Avatar, and her own critical essay on the movie formerly known as […]

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