July 1, 2010

Why You Should See The Last Airbender

To review: two of M. Night Shyamalan's films are among the Five Worst Movies I Have Ever Seen. 

Since The Happening, though, I've tried to look at and, yes, even appreciate Shyamalan's films as milestones in cinema history. It's incredibly rare that movies this distinctively awful are seen by so many millions of people - nearly all of whom, ironically, would consider them unwatchable. The opening of a Shyamalan film is truly a social phenomenon in my eyes, much different than the latest teen fiction trilogy installment or fanboy-frothworthy video game adaptation.

Ask yourself, how often are you around to witness a formerly celebrated artist's career - be it a musician, writer, or painter - dramatically crumble through no fault or circumstance (i.e., drugs, mental illness) other than their own bad ideas?

I'm not asking you to appreciate the art of Shyamalan's films, but rather the rarity of his career. This is a filmmaker - by most accounts supremely talented (at what? I couldn't say) - who despite obscenely negative reviews still continues to write and direct blockbuster films with major studio backing. It would be as if LeBron James were to suddenly go ice cold for the next decade with his new team (oh, let's say 2.5 points per game and the team wins fewer than 20 games every year), and yet still command sell-out crowds and an eight-figure signing bonus for his next contract.

Looking at it another way, Shyamalan has officially moved into car wreck/natural disaster/graphic war images territory. Despite your deepest fears or your most sincere moral judgments you just can't look away, and when you take a step back you realize you are witnessing a piece of history in the making.

Yes, when our kids are watching Shyamalan's films in shocked awe at midnight screenings 25 years from now (let's be optimistic and assume people will still visit movie theaters in 25 years), you can tell them that you recognized at the time the significance of these films. You knew that you were bearing witness to "a hate crime against film lovers", and that his films brought out the most superlatively creative writing from critics around the world. You knew that these weren't just "bad" movies, but among the worst original productions coming out of a very dark period in Hollywood.

If you don't see The Last Airbender for yourself, see it for future generations. See it for history.


  1. I was thinking about this the other day, and I've come to the conclusion that M. Night's career, in a sane world, would follow a similar trajectory to that of George Romero. Here are two halfway decent directors with some glaring deficiencies of talent, but who nevertheless managed to catch lightning in a bottle with their early careers. (Beginner's luck, properly aligned stars, and/or some extra talented cast & crew. Who knows?) Both filmmakers then rode the goodwill of that success through a bunch of middling films that could never quite recapture the magic.

    The difference is that Romero's prior failures led to budgetary restraints, DVD releases, and lowered expectations on future projects, (which may be why no horror fans can agree on which of his post-Dawn of the Dead films is the true diamond in the rough) while Shyamalan just keeps failing upwards to bigger budgets and wide releases.

    Affirmative action? A reality distortion field to hide his terribleness from the studio execs? A twist? Something to do with space aliens? Who knows.

  2. Ha, I never looked at Shyamalan's career in this way, but your argument makes a lot of sense. I guess I haven't appreciated the uniqueness of his career.

    Perhaps we should return to this debate after the run of "The Last Airbender." I think this could be his downfall in terms of giant studio backing simply because the budget is so incredibly high, and I can't see the box office returns being big enough. It's got to end sometime, no?

  3. I will see the film, as I always give Shyamalan a shot, on the strength of the one film of his that I really did like. (THE VILLAGE) That one had Roger Deakins' exquisite cinematography and a great James Newton Howard score, (not to mention that lead performance by Bryce Dallas Howard) and the Twilight Zone allure of the story, even with its bizarre underpinnings.

    Aye, this could be the nail in the coffin for him, in view of the cost.

    I trust all is well Dan, and happy to see you are back.

  4. Knarf, it's a really good comparison to Romero, but I'm afraid your theories as to why are as nonsensical as Shyamalan's stories. Of course, you realize you are being nonsensical in attributing his career to space aliens; he may truly be convinced that that's the case. I've heard more than one person posit that Shyamalan suffers from mental illness, though I haven't found any evidence (aside from his films) to believe that's true.

    Danny, I haven't checked the box office numbers over the holiday weekend but maybe you're right. Of course, I thought the same thing after the rather lackluster profits his last two movies brought in.

    And Sam, if and when you see it you'll have to report in since I have, despite my argument above, not actually seen The Last Airbender. Considering how many movies I have to catch up on in 2010 I don't think I could forgive myself for wasting two hours with it, but I still have that feeling that watching it can deliver a kind of badge of honor.

    Anyway, this movie aside I see that he apparently wrote another film set for release this year but is not directing it, something he has only done once before. You guessed it: Stuart Little. ?!?!

  5. Yes, I just had to see it. It was horrible. I can't decide if it was worse than The Happening. All I can say is that if I was forced to re-watch one of those two films, I would probably choose The Happening because I find some its badness funnier than the numbing poorness of Airbender. I saw it with Jason of the Cooler and we were inspired to make a parody preview - posted at the Cooler.

    So glad you're back on your blog! I've missed your comments! And, looking at this sad cinematic year positively, it's been a good year for movies you just love to rip apart!

  6. Ha, I took a glimpse at the the parody preview - really impressed that you guys put that all together in a day. Knowing that you both saw it and survived makes me that much more morbidly curious about this movie...

  7. Ha! I, for one, couldn't pass up seeing The Happening just to see how bad it was, but like that one, I think I'll wait for it to hit DVD/Netflix before doing so. I'd prefer to spend my theater dollars on better fare, if possible.

  8. "If possible" being the important part there...

    Now that I think about it maybe not paying in the theater is the way to go, just as long as you do watch Shyamalan's films. History will remember them.


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