Manoj’s silly bullshit

Here’s my tagline for The Last Airbender: “This summer… get bent!”

Okay guys, it wasn’t that bad.

Grant you, I will, that I never saw the series, but I read such reviews raving about a catastrophically awful apocalypse of a movie, so of course I had to see it.  And really, I was kind of disappointed, not in that it was just that bad but in that it wasn’t bad enough.  I was expecting like a Transformers 2 or a GI Joe level catastrophe, but it wasn’t that bad. In some ways it was engaging, even (though that could be my penchant for young Indian dudes.) But mostly it was kind of boring, badly written, and madly miscast, but not really painful.  Not Transformers 2 painful, anyway.

Speaking of Indians, I will touch briefly on the issue of race. I’ve heard some upset on the whole race thing, and I will admit I found this most distracting. So this is a non-Earth magical land. Fine.  So they cast white kids in the not-really-specified-racially main roles.  Whatever.

But every single tribe was multi-racial!

I found this distracting for several reasons.  Number one; they’re obviously East Asian in the cartoon. We can raise a big stink about that, but eh… I don’t really care. The Hollywood likes its white kids, so fine.  But then they go and try to make up for it by making this water tribe mostly Asian/Inuit.  With a sprinklin’ of white people, who just happen to be the main characters.  But in this tribe of multi-culti, nobody’s mixed race?

Okay, so I figure, in this world, that maybe race is more in the realm of a recessive gene.  Let’s say that if you mate a white dude and an Asian chick, their children turn out either white or Asian.  I guess that would explain why nobody is mixed race, by God. And why Indian Firelord dude’s brother and Dev Patel’s uncle is Middle Eastern.  …eh! Little weird that the most moral firebender in the whole crowd seems to be the lightest, but whatever!

All the kids sucked. All of them.  I’d say Aang sucked the least, but as actors, man everyone was wildly miscast. I walked in thinking that Dev Patel, ferryman to sunshine and happiness, would be the most miscast, but no, I’d say he was actually the best. And who the hell decided Aasif Mandvi was a good idea?  Maybe I’m too much of a Daily Show croney, but all I could think of every time Aasif opened his mouth was that he was going to turn around and call Jon a fool.  All satirical-like. To my knowledge, this is the first time Manoj has cast Indian actors in main roles (feel free to correct me on this, I didn’t think that hard.)  Maybe that has something to do with it and there are just that few Indian actors, I dunno.

I know a thing or two about the creative element, and there’s nothing more integral to it than passion.  Seems like Manoj Shyamalan lost his early on in his career. It seems like some people, when they have children, it’s like they can devote their passion in life to only one thing.  Or maybe there was some tragedy somewhere along the line. Maybe someone called him a dirty name. I can’t theorize on why the guy can’t make a movie worth a damn anymore, because I really think that The Sixth Sense was well-done, but between this and The Happening, I think it’s time for him to stop and move back to producorial stuff, before he ruins his career completely.  But I think for some people the incentive to create just surpasses their passion to do it.

  • Danny

    OK here’s my opinion on the race issue, I honestly believe that even if the movie had all the characters the same race as the character in the series it would still be bad. Though the characters are an important of a movie but if the story and the directing are shit chances are the movie will be shit to. A very good example is Dragon Ball Evolution. Growing up I was a huge Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT and when they announced that the were coming out with DBE I was psyched, but when I saw it I was extremely disappointed, I thought (and this is my opinion only) this movie was a fucking sacrilege to the series and anyone who was a fan and the fact that Justin Chatwin (a White Guy) was casted as Goku wasn’t the reason the movie sucked as a mater of fact I thought he was pretty good the story sucked, it was as if the writers watched only a couple of episodes and said “OK here’s what were gonna do, we’ll make it nothing like the series throw in a few choice characters and add the dragon balls change a shit load of things and hope for the best”. So that’s my opinion on the mater.

  • Veljko

    Going by the reviews (I am not paying to see this) this is nothing more than a bad movie. Not a horrible movie. Not even a very bad movie. Just bad. Averagely bad.

    The problem is that it is the adaptation of a series that was very, very good. Not only was it good, but it had that rare something that makes nerds, like yours truly, really passionate about it. It had characters that were almost supernaturally likable. Villains, heroes and spear-carriers alike, were really memorable and seemed to posses a life of their own.

    I don’t have the usual attitude about the racebending thing. I come from a country that’s so ridiculously European and white that we haven’t come up with racism yet.[1] Thus, I don’t have the well developed sense of racially awkward moments that all Americans seem to be born with. So I don’t mind too much that the kid they got for Aang is white. He looked sufficiently Aangish on the promotional stills. I’ll even swallow the deeply unfair casting of fire nation characters, who have the lightest skin tone in the cartoon, but the darkest in the movie. But why on earth did they pick actors for Sokka and Katara that have no resemblance whatsofuckingever to their characters? I’m not asking for politically correct Inuit actors[2] , but at least make some effort.

    Sorry. I fanboi’d. My bad.

    The point is, the hate is not because the movie is so bad, it’s because it served badly a franchise that deserved so much better. As ever, the dependable result is NERD RAGE.

    [1] That, and our erstwhile communist government spent outrageous amounts of time hammering in the message that, essentially, “Discrimination is bad, m’kay?” The result is a thoroughly weird attitude to race and gender issues. Half middle-ages, half 21st century progressive.

    [2] Mind, since they apparently found kids that couldn’t, you know, act, the excuse that there aren’t that many Inuit actors is beginning to wear thin.

  • Wigmy

    I never really cared about the race thing. People say Aang is supposed to be chines, but I don’t really see it, he is a little tan and the wind tribe is clearly based on buddhism but that is about it. The issue I saw with him in the trailer though was his personality. Yeah their are parts in the show where he gets serious or turns into a badass, but most of the time he is light and happy and has a huge grin on his face and I haven’t seen a single clip or screen shot where he is in anyway exuberant. The core of his character is that both his greatest virtue and biggest curse is his innocence and joy for life and if you don’t have that, it just isn’t the right character.

    And one more race thing. I would not have guessed Indian for the fire nation, I was pretty sure they were Japanese based partly on how they look, but more on their architecture, their dress, and some of their customs. But, again I really wouldn’t have cared if they got everything else right.

  • L

    Y’know, though Asian myself my biggest problem with the whitewashing of the cast is honestly that it makes the characters look, well . . . wrong. Cartoon characters are almost as iconic as comicbook characters just because they both occupy a visual medium. It’s also glaring because the Avatar cartoon was unusually well-made from a design POV, and included very distinct architectural and clothing styles. In terms of world texture it, or at least how fans regard it, is comparable to the Lord of the Rings series, so it wasn’t unreasonable for fans to hope for a similar commitment to detail in the film. Honestly, it’s boggling that Peter Jackson could cast entire groups of extras with the text-specified physical characteristics working almost exclusively from a New Zealand casting pool while Shymalan had the whole of the United States to grab from and couldn’t even find actors with the right hair color. I’m in support of casting skill over appearance, but on top of the general disappointment with the protagonists’ acting talents the casting choices reek of Just Didn’t Care. (And considering how rabid some of the fans are, this was a bad, bad move.)

    (PS: Shymalan cast Indian actors in Lady in the Water, ie. himself and the woman playing his character’s sister. Also, he was the messiah in that film, but that’s a different problem.)

  • Justin

    So, I guess it goes against popular opinion, but I liked The Last Airbender. Not as some cinematic masterpiece, but as a servicable action-effects flick, and at the very least I’m compelled to check out the original cartoon. Maybe it’s because I also saw such adaptation tragedies as Dragonball: Evolution (I love me some Dragonball, but that movie was garbage) and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (best part: Michael Clarke Duncan knowing he’s in a shitty film and having fun with it). The vitriolic hate appearing for this film is just wildly out of proportion, and I’m not really sure where it’s coming from. Several adult actors were miscast (very few kid actors are decent, so I dunno how you fix that), the dialogue was stiff (but not Attack of the Clones awful), and they tried to cram too much into a 90 minute film. Honestly the race thing just wasn’t a big issue for me, not in the way that say Transformers 2 had actively racist caricatures as a major portion of the film. Even if you didn’t like the film, I don’t think there’s anything aggressively offensive about it, so why the hate, critics and internet?

    • Elly

      Please do check out the original cartoon. That’s all I can say before devolving into Nerd Rage. The vitriolic hate is actually an adjustment to keep things IN proportion, because the original series was so great that we can’t just shrug off an impressively incompetent version– thanks, Sandy –with, “Could’ve maybe been better.”

      Awesome, great, amazing, magnificent… was the baseline of every single episode of the series. The original creators had a story to tell, and they told it with both skill and passion. By contrast, the people behind the movie didn’t even seem to have entertainment in the hemisphere of their consideration, so much as they saw something popular, devoured its soul, crapped it out, and spread that crap over a big screen to take our money. So what’s new? Just personally, it’s that I WILL USE CAPSLOCK LETTERS AT THEM, but s’cool that you don’t mash that way.

      Oh, and some people just seem to have a chip on their shoulder about the race thing or something, I ‘unno: http://ssj10.livejournal.com/131146.html

      “If you think that stories are not important, if you think a movie that just removed real world people from the landscape of a source material that respected and loved their 5000 years of culture and history is no big deal, if you’ve never known what it means to be erased from your own world and told to be thankful for it, I want you to do something for me.

      Stop thinking. Stop feeling. Put down your books, put down your pens, forget your stories. Close your eyes and plug your ears. Forget what your story sounds like. You have no myths. You have no history. Stop breathing with your heart and living in your head. Your dreams are worthless, because they are not real. They are not tangible. You can’t sell them. They are worthless. Go outside and consume, consume, consume. But never question. Never speak. Never dare to feel that you’ve been malnourished or mistreated. Never, ever admit that you have been poisoned.”

  • Troy

    At least it wasnt Jonah Hex bad, and not AS franchise ruining like Midi-chlorians from Star Wars or hell, ALL of Highlander 2: The Quickening was. Its not much, but at least its something ha ha. And yeah casting Aasif Mandvi as the serious power scheming Admiral made as much sense as casting Will Arnett at the “tough as nails” Army commander in Jonnah Hex. Every time he tried to talk tough to Brolin I half expected him to do a Gob Bluth from Arrested Development and cast a fireball before leaving the scene on his segue.

  • “Number one; they’re obviously East Asian in the cartoon. We can raise a big stink about that, but eh… I don’t really care. The Hollywood likes its white kids, so fine.”

    Booooo.

  • Dev Patel was the only thing that kept me awake during this film. I feel bad because I’d love to see it the bits of him again, he was very good, but there’s no way I could sit through that whole movie again.

  • Sandy Schaefer

    Yeah, The Last Airbender wasn’t painfully bad, it was just kind of impressively incompetent.

    M. Night was clearly out of his league and either didn’t care or couldn’t think of a better way to compress the story arc for the first season into a feature-length film. It almost felt like a really long recap episode that touched on all the important plot points of the first season and threw in some action, along with some poorly-acted, insufficient bits of character development. That’s not to mention WAY too much expository VO work – seriously, did M. Night just flat-out forget the most basic of filmmaking rules, “show, don’t tell?”

    As for the racial casting issues… well, admittedly, it’s not like it’s something new for Hollywood. That said, just because we’re all used to seeing sexist/racist casting in big budget productions doesn’t make it okay, though.

    I think the big issue a lot of people have had with Airbender is that there simply seemed to be NO reason for the casting decision. This wasn’t like Prince of Persia where 1) Jake Gyllenhaal’s name was actually used to sell the movie and 2) … Well, okay, that movie was a racist piece of crap, really. That said, NONE of the kids in Airbender were selling points for the movie or were even well known to any particular moviegoing demographic. Why not show a bit of integrity then?

    Ah well. Hollywood sucks and M. Night Shyamalan seems doomed to be a hack for the rest of his days. Nothing new there, I suppose…

  • Katie

    I’m a fan of your Nostalgia Chick reviews, but I find it a little disingenuous that you spend so much time fighting for feminist values in the media while you “don’t really care” about racism.

  • L

    Aha, I think I finally found a good comparison to the mis-casting (at least in the view of the Asian communities):

    Say it’s the 1970s, and the Wonder Woman tv show is coming out. (For the purposes of this argument we shall say you are female and, you know, born.) She’s the only heroine to have her own comic title, so it’s cool to see her getting the same treatment as Batman and Superman. Then you watch the show and, inexplicably, Wonder Woman’s a dude. The director argues that it’s still the same character, just male instead of female, which shouldn’t matter because the genders are equal right? But because people are complaining the director points out there are still women in the show, they’re just not main characters, and they are still free to give aid to or be rescued by Wonder Man, so controversy ended, right?

    Depending on your interest in the character and/or feminism, the reactions range from simple WTF to “kill it with fire and bury the remains under a crossroads”. The racial controversy for Airbender is very similar, especially since until now the Asian communities’ media flagship of “Asian leads who weren’t caricatures or playing second fiddle to white heroes” has been, like . . . Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.

  • Kaarina

    Just one thing, Firelord Ozai is played by Cliff Curtis who is Maori, not Indian. 🙂

  • LN

    I think it would be nice to think about M. Night’s intentions as having a multi-racial cast to acknowledge that the “sprinkling” of different races perhaps can be seen in films/shows more often now.

    I also think that since minorities are already having a hard time being “the main cast” in large productions or just the general media in America, it would be so much more difficult for mixed-race people to be acknowledged.

  • I want to say something about the race issue too (first time reader/poster, btw… although I love your NC stuff!!)…

    It makes sense in the context of the movie that the Sokka and Katara are the only white people in the tribe of Inuit.

    In the series, they touch upon this (so uh… spoiler alert!):

    Katara and Sokka’s grandmother, is from the Northern Tribe (which is white in the movie). It’s the big “reveal” in one of the episodes in the first season. Kanna moved to the southern tribe because she didn’t like the sexist attitudes they had there regarding women and bending (in the Northern Tribe, only men are allowed to use their bending for combat. Women use it solely for healing purposes).

    So she ran away to the south. Pakku (the old guy in the Northern Tribe, whose name they probably didn’t eve mention in the movie) was actually engaged to their grandmother. The necklace that Katara wears was made by him. That entire connection is a somewhat major plot point that was left out of the movie.

    Sorry for the novel… but there are MANY times to call “racism” in Hollywood, but IMO, The Last Airbender isn’t one of them. His casting actually added more diversity to the project than if the entire cast had simply been “Asian.” Plus, as you say “Hollywood does love its white kids.” If it had a strictly Asian movie, it wouldn’t have drawn in as much of an audience as it did. I mean, not saying that’s right, but that’s the world in which we currently live. Besides, IF a second movie gets made, Earth Kingdom is said to be cast as Asian and African. Everyone gets represented lol.

    As for the “bad guys” being Indian… I think it’s because M. Night really liked the fire nation guys and he’s Indian. I mean, tbqh, if I would have been set with the task of casting for this movie and assigning races to the characters anyway I wanted to, I would have made “the bad guys” Black (I’m Black, btw), because they’re also my favorite characters as well! The most dynamic characters in the series are from the fire nation. You can tell because he actually made *somewhat* of a half-assed attempt at giving Iroh and Zuko a little bit of personality, unlike every other character in the movie.

    • Elly

      But if that entire connection wasn’t even mentioned in the movie, then it wasn’t technically “in the context of the movie,” and, therefore… can’t make it make sense. @_@

      >>’His casting actually added more diversity to the project than if the entire cast had simply been “Asian.”’

      On the one hand, there’s aesthetics. TV and film are visual media, and the animated series’ aesthetic was heavily (though by no means exclusively or simply or strictly– you should have known this,) East Asian. Changing that aesthetic is not necessarily disrespectful to creators, or offensive to the audience… until maybe it starts to chafe on the suspension of disbelief, a thread on which the whole of a fiction especially a fantasy must hang.

      And it seems to have chafed a lot, if you’re the one who has to explain the water tribe’s family tree and not say Mr. Movie Voiceover, and Lindsay starts to wonder about recessive genes.

      >>’If it had a strictly Asian movie, it wouldn’t have drawn in as much of an audience as it did.’

      Crouching Tiger did all right, and they didn’t even speak English.

      Besides, an audience could be drawn in by kickass action sequences, an intense and nail-biting plot with events that barrel along, or… a smart and heartfelt script acted out by prodigious or even just competent talents that make the audience relate to the characters’ situation and feelings no matter what their race, and appreciate each character’s unique personality no matter what their race.

      … None of which The Last Airbender had. How in the world did this even get past the test audience? =S

      >>”Besides, IF a second movie gets made, Earth Kingdom is said to be cast as Asian and African. Everyone gets represented lol.”

      Meh, if it’s going to follow the same plot as the animated series, but without the jokes, awesome fight scenes, character relations and development, and plot twists… why would I bother? I already know what’s going to happen, and it’s not likely they’ll one-up the hows of it happening from the original series.

      On the other hand, represented is kind of a strong word. I think they’re just gonna be decoration. This promised recasting of extras sounds to me as gimmicky as 3D– and while I did make out that aesthetics is essential, it’s insufficient.

  • Reum

    Cliff Curtis is not Indian, he is from New Zealand.

  • david with a small d

    Seriously. This film should have had an Asian cast. I can’t comment on whether it’s a good film or not as it’s not out in Britain yet, but even when it appears I will not be giving it my money.

  • Zeal

    There’s no such thing as a “race.” Not biologically, not socially, and not truly culturally either. It is a construct from a gone (but not forgotten) age when it was believed that humans really were grouped into “races” denoted by skin tone and other physical features which had some sort of relevance as to how “evolved” they were. “Ethnic groups” is the term now used that does not imply racial biology; however, this too has been criticised as simply being a cover-up word meaning essentially the same thing. I still don’t like to see people say “race” because it implies there is such a thing, like there are breeds of dogs, which is untrue and nurtures a separatism I dislike.

  • Zeal

    *Sorry that should be not culturally, and not truly socially either.

  • Jim

    I realize this is an off-topic post, Lindsay, but… have you ever considered shaving your head?

  • Kat

    Stop flippantly saying “whatever” to critiques centred on race! Either don’t engage with them or refute them with proper arguments – don’t just dismiss them like they’re not an issue.
    Hollywood is notorious for subscribing to the unfortunate untested hypothesis that films with white (preferably male and heterosexual) leads are the only ones that will draw crowds into cinemas. This means there are very few desirable or lead roles for non-white actors and hence the upset when a film casts white actors as leads in a film based on an animation where the characters were ostensibly non-white (I accept the character designs for the animation may have been ambiguous).
    And why are these utterly conspicuous white kids there? Is it just because Hollywood thinks it’s audience are a bunch of easilly entertained racists who won’t watch an Asian Aang but not worry about logic? So they’ll make jarring casting decisions just to placate an idiot audience?

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