Bomb of the Summer: The Last Airbender?

The Last AirbenderEveryone knows that M. Night Shyalaman’s last two movies have sucked big time, so there’s a lot riding on his latest film The Last Airbender, which is apparently the first of a trilogy. I recently read an article at a respectable website where the one of the authors was describing The Last Airbender as his most anticipated movie of the summer. Really. Really?

The Last Airbender – and here’s my professional opinion – will be the bomb of the summer. It will make some money, perhaps even a respectable amount, but it cannot possibly live up to whatever wild expectations there are of the film. Because, apparently, there are expectations for the film.

The movie will be released on July 2, 2010 and have the 4th of July weekend all to itself. That’s something, and by default should allow it to make a decent amount of money. But the 4th of July weekend should be reserved for Will Smith extravaganzas or fighting robots, not some cheesy anime adaptation with questionable special effects and even more questionable casting.

From what I hear, the material on which the movie is based is supposed to be pretty good… but good material doesn’t necessarily translate into a good movie.

1. The actors. Just like Dragonball or the new Street Fighter, two horrible adaptations, the casting just looks wrong in this picture. From the completely un-intimidating lead (who has no prior acting experience) to the likes of Dev Patel and Jackson Rathbone, the actors don’t seem to fit their surroundings. Then again, when this happens, it’s often more an issue with…

2. The overall look and feel. The entire atmosphere of the movie feels hokey and surreal, and not in a good, imaginative way. M. Night Shyamalan has made some great movies (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are favorites) of mine, but both were very narrow, personal films with mood lighting and the works. When he’s tried to open his movies up to a broader set of characters or setting, he has shown to be less than effective. Furthermore, Shyamalan has never dealt with heavy duty…

3. Special effects. They don’t look bad. They just don’t look that good. As in not anywhere close to Iron Man/Avatar/Transformers/Star Trek good. This is a 4th of July movie we’re talking about, in the 21st century. From what I’ve seen, the special effects just aren’t up to the caliber of huge blockbusters. Of course, a bigger problem is…

4. The source material. The source material may be great, but American audiences don’t know that. The movie is based on a cartoon and the movie trailer exudes this fact. Will that resonate with American audiences on the level the studio is expecting? I doubt it. Oh, and let’s not forget the movie is written and directed by…

5. M. Night Shyamalan. He still has his fans, but they are dwindling. The Happening, as bad as it was, opened to $30 million, but barely made back its budget after that. This is a huge drop from the openings of The Village and Signs ($50 and $60 million, respectively), which featured more intriguing plots and big stars. Between The Happening and Lady in the Water, he’s lost a lot of goodwill with moviegoers (such as myself, who used to get excited for his movies) – frankly, I’m surprised they’re using his name in the marketing.

I could be wrong. I’m no box office analyst, and there have been movies I thought looked horribly stupid in the past that went on to make lots of money. Since it opens over the 4th of July weekend, it’s bound to make some cash – but what opening number will be considered a success? $50 million? $60? $100 million? Against a budget of $250 (reportedly for three films, not just the one in question), The Last Airbender is going to have to kick ass to succeed. And it’s not going to kick ass.

By Erik Samdahl
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  • teddyb

    Avatar: The Last Airbender was an AMERICAN cartoon! In fact, it was hugely popular on Nickelodeon, winning the cable ratings some nights. Your “professional” mind was clearly unable to do the proper amount research to learn that.

  • Thanks, teddyb – fixed! Doesn’t change my stance on how this movie is going to turn out, though.

  • Seriously

    Yeah I usually wait to see a film before I call it a box office flop or bomb. Hey, that’s me though.
    Also the special effects look fine. What, if manipulation of water were done in Avatar it would have looked more real?


    I just saw the trailer. It just looks like another movie like “The Chronicles of Riddick”. All kinds of special effects. The trailer and the music make it look all exciting and interesting and in the end the movie sucks. Just nothing to want to go back and view again. Actually make you think you never really had to watch it. Plus this is M.Knight Shamalamaanan, His movies are sooooooooooooo sloooooooooooooow and boring and he focuses too much on un relevant plot points just to get the feeling he thinks that scene needs and he makes scenes waaaaaaay too long and he makes every thing so over dramatic that in the end when you see what the whole point of the movie was you realize he did all those things for nothing other than to try to include his Booooring Director Trademarks that i listed above.
    He had said in an interview a while back that he never wanted to make sequels to his films. And so this one was a Trilogy?? He should have made a sequel to Unbreakable. So i think this movie is going to be no bigger or relevant than “The Chronicles of Riddick”

    Im with you Filmjabber!
    Wether thats a good thin

  • DaNGeR

    Why do you people act so over-smart and over-confident about all these things. If you have seen the show, you know that the story has a lot of potential to do well. American people don’t know about the show?!? It is an American show which is famous world-wide.
    This is not a creation of M Night so don’t expect a lot of twists and stuffs. And about the sequels; those are not sequels. The entire trilogy is one single story divided in three parts just like LOTR.
    First you say it will bomb(with overconfidence) and then you say i could be wrong.If you are not confident about your views then why do you even post it??

  • Listen…

    Don’t judge the movie by its trailers and by its producer and wait till it ACTUALLY comes out. And first off you’re just asking too much with the cgi effects. They’re good-looking enough. The casting is very diverse and don’t look wrong at all.

  • Thanks for the comments – the whole point of this post is to get people talking and sharing their opinions.

  • I feel this movie plot is one of the excellent forms of what makes great movies. One thing is i don’t think that the actors can carry this to the level I feel it can be brought up too. All honesty the cartoon series has a charisma about it that this movie has nothing of the sort from what i saw in the trailers, the movie has this personality about it very much different. But i will be first in line to see this, to put my mind at ease. I watched the whole series of the cartoon, wonder how they are gonna put all that into a movie? Bet though that there will be allot of left out material! My prediction this movie will get a C rating from viewers.

  • @Shupes – good analysis/prediction.

  • TheLinguist

    I think this movie will exceed my expectations, simply because mine are quite negative. In fact, my expectations are so low, that this film can only succeed them…I hope. I’m a big fan of the show, and I don’t think American audiences are too unaware of the fact that it’s an “adaptation” – I use that term loosely – but the rest of the world probably won’t get it. “Avatar” simply isn’t too well-known outside of the US, to my knowledge, which could be problematic.
    I agree with your overall assessment, but I think a bigger problem will be in the way it’s being adapted. Namely, Shyamalan likes being the creative helm of his films, and when you’re translating something from any form of media – especially video game or TV show – the creative helm isn’t necessarily in your hands, you’re just honoring another form of media. This is a case where the team behind the TV show did much more homework than the live-action film. They had the martial arts, the ancient form of Chinese caligraphy, the clothing and architecture – it was just a very well-done job, and that kind of care just hasn’t survived in the film. The most he’s done is diversify the races, which was only done after an outcry, according to one member of the crew.
    All in all, what’s really going to sink this film is its lack of faithfulness to the source material. You need more than the basic outline of a project to make it a good adaptation, and those who aren’t prepared for the workings to change are going to be in for a big surprise.
    Here’s my analogy. Say an artist is in a room and sees a painting of the Mona Lisa. He then decides to alter it a bit to fit his vision. A man in the room watches him as he produces changes. He changes the woman’s hair color, her skin color, maybe even her eye color. He reworks a few of her characteristics, but the basic woman is still there. Then he makes changes to the background, adding some things and removing others. The man watching slowly adjusts to each change as they occur, only outraged for a few moments before they sink in. Now, the artist finishes and the man in the room praises him for his creativity. Another man enters the room and sees what the artist has done to the painting and throws his arms up, not having expected the artist to be there tampering with the crucial elements of the work. He’s outraged. He didn’t see it coming together, he just sees something that only vaguely resembles the original Mona Lisa. That’s how this movie is going to be, I think. The rabid fans who have been following it since day one have had time to adjust their expectations of the movie. On the other hand, the fans and families who watch the show but haven’t been following the film will go to see it and wonder what happened. “The actors don’t look like the characters!” “The costumes are all wrong!” That is why this movie will fail.

  • Thanks for the comment, The Linguist. Some very good points in there.

  • Ted

    “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a multiple award winning animated series: 2005 Pulcinella Awards(2), 33rd Annie Awards(1),34th Annie Awards(2), 36th Annie Awards(2), 2007 Genesis Awards(1), 2007 Primetime Emmy Awards(1), Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards 2008(1), 2008 Peabody Awards(1).

    In my personal opinion, the live action motion picture adaptation, “The Last Airbender” (based on Book One: Water), will either barely make back its investments or loose money deeply. The second and third movies(Book Two: Earth and Book Three: Fire) will probably get scrapped or done by someone else.

    They have strayed far from the source material and alienated many of its fan base, myself and my 14 year old stepson included, with bad casting and character alterations.

    My best to M. Night. Nothing personal, but I’m going to wait for the cable version or get it from the $1.00 DVD vending machine.

  • VirtMachina

    Everyone pointing out the posative that this is a HUGELY popular show on Nick. The problem is Shamalan is not sticking to the formula. The vast majority of the people who post about why they love the show state they most enjoy the fact the the heros are not the typical Caucasian “chosen one”. Well, none of the main characters in the movie are Asian. I cannot believe he could direct a movie about the fictional origin of Martial Arts and the practitioners are not Asian. The rest of the incosistancies continue from there.

  • Well, I was right about the reviews – but the movie is on pace to make $70 million this weekend, so “bomb” is not an accurate term.

  • Frank

    I just saw the movie, all I have to say is that is sucked, it was terrible

  • AndyS

    Erik, I’d like to hear a follow-up from you on this, now that The Last Airbender has been out for 4 weeks, and in spite of being the worst reviewed movie of the year it has made about 124 million. Not a successful movie by any means, but given the horrible reviews I’m surprised that it has remained in the top 10 at the boxoffice, and seems to be coming close to breaking even financially. I’m always disappointed when bad movies make money because I’m afraid it will permit more bad movies to be made.

  • Hi AndyS – You’re right, the movie wasn’t the bomb I was expecting. Critically, it was exactly as I predicted, but I underestimated the fan power/the name draw of M. Night Shyalaman. Even after so many bad movies, people turn out.

    It will be interesting to see if the studio approves the sequels, and if they do whether they re-hire M. Night Shyamalan.

  • AndyS

    Erik – Thanks for the response. Though I think the Airbender ticket buyers were there more because they were fans of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon, not because they are M. Night fans.

  • Hi AndyS,

    Yes, the movie definitely carried somewhat based on fan attendance; but Shyamalan, despite having directed several critical failures in recent years, continues to have drawing failure. It’s a combination of the two; had this movie been this bad and NOT directed by Shayamalan, I would expect lower numbers.