Things I Learned From Movie X: The Last Airbender
By Edwin Davies
February 18, 2011
It was July, 2010, and summer was in peril. Sure, Iron Man 2 and Toy Story 3 had made money (and, in the case of the latter, been the best film of the year) but the rest of the season was littered with the charred corpses of movies that everyone thought might do okay but burned to death under the spotlight. Surely, M. Night Shyamalan, Mr. Quality Entertainment himself, could offer up something worthwhile? Maybe a live-action adaptation of a rightly beloved cartoon series? Maybe one that wasn't completely, irredeemably awful on every conceivable level? It turned out that no, he could not.
I'm not going to lie to you; The Last Airbender is a truly terrible film. It's so bad that you can't even really mock it; it's too flat and boring and pointless for that. More than anything, my one (and I hope only) viewing of it left me feeling sad. Sad that Shyamalan, to put it delicately, is treading water so poorly that he should have drowned long ago. (To put it indelicately; he is allowing his engorged ego to suffocate his once prodigious talent in order to turn out work that is abhorrent and passionless.) Sad that he could even ruin a wonderful TV series like Avatar: The Last Airbender; turns out that whilst you can't polish a turd, you can rub shit all over a diamond. Most of all, I was sad that the film existed and that I was watching it.
Still, let's brace ourselves, down a fistful of Prozac, and try to find anything of value in, urgh, The Last Airbender.
Pronouncing names correctly isn't *that* important
Now, I can understand getting pronunciation wrong when adapting a work that was not originally in the English language. Sometimes names that are perfectly natural in one tongue sound awkward in another, so have to be adapted or changed entirely. That makes sense. Why, then, does no one in The Last Airbender pronounce their characters' names correctly, even though it was based on an American TV series? Names like Aang and Sokka, which sound exactly like they are spelt, are butchered, becoming "Ung" and "Soak a". That's like staging a production of Romeo and Juliet in which the title characters pronounce their names Rome-oh and Jewel-eye-ate; it sound ridiculous and takes the audience out of the film, even people unfamiliar with the source material because the chosen pronunciation is so counter-intuitive to the way that names are spelled and how human beings actually talk.
If they needed lessons pronouncing the names, they could have just turned on a TV and changed the channel to Nickelodeon to get a taste of how they should speak. Apparently they were kept away from televisions and, judging by the way that Noah Ringer, who plays Ung, the "uhvatar" and Last "Airbender" (okay, they at least got that right) destined to unite the four warring lands and elements, stares vacantly into the distance every time he has to emote, any and all forms of entertainment, the better to get the most stilted, joyless performances possible.