Bottom of the Barrel: Falling Skies and The Last Airbender

Perhaps Newton’s third law applies to movies as well as motion: for every good movie or show, there is (at least) one equal and opposite bad one. Falling Skies, a TNT show now entering its second season and the M. Night Shayamalan adaption of Avatar: The Last Airbender, both definitely fall into the latter category.

First out of the bin: Falling Skies.

Quick plot summary: it’s about survivors of an alien invasion in a post-apocalyptic Boston fighting for their survival.

I get why some people like this show- it has the whole “sci-fi adventure” thing going, with a big story, lots of characters and generally an all-around epic feel. But, that’s about it, everything else is pretty shoddy. The dialogue and characterization is cringe worthy- similar to the cut scenes from a well-made video game, like Halo for instance. Cowboy-esque characters shoot from the hip and produce testosterone-filled speeches. There is just enough emotional depth and interpersonal development  to get your toes wet and keep some people interested… but barely. The last scene of the finale sealed the deal for me. It was like watching a mock remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Here is how it played out….

*Tom approaches alien spaceship and friend calls out to him as he goes*

“Tom. Tom! Tom?”

Cue big horns and fade to black


Instead of watching this, check out the new Battlestar Galactica which is excellent and deserves it’s own review in the near future.

Now compared to The Last Airbender, Falling Skies is like a work of art. I mean, at least its creators had the dignity to keep the series a self-contained mess and not mess up someone else’s source material. On the other hand, Shayamalan’s The Last Airbender was not only one of the worst movies I have ever seen, but it desecrated a beloved T.V. series, perhaps ruining its chances of being adapted into a good film series forever. Think I am being mellow dramatic? Because there is definitely more.

I really have nothing positive to say about this movie, literally nothing. Not about the graphics, or the music, or the costumes, or the sets, or the cinematography, or the acting, or the lighting, or the dialogue, or the casting. Nothing. It is worth watching only as an example of how not to make a film. Put another way, only watch this movie if you want to learn how to make millions of people angry and decimate the tattered remains of respect you had in the film industry (I’m talking about you M. Night!). It is that bad.

For those who don’t know, Avatar: The Last Airbender was originally an anime- inspired cartoon that debuted on Nickelodeon a few years ago. I was hesitant to watch it but ended up getting hooked on the series within a few episodes. The world that the series is set in, the characters that inhabit it, and the adventures they have captivated me in a way that I hadn’t been by a series in a long time (and this is a children’s cartoon you say?). It pretty much blows the new Star Wars movies out of the water. Needless to say, it found a committed audience and became a cult phenomenon.

Then “Mr. Sixth Sense” man had to stick his nose in it and spoil the party.

Some of the ways he ruined the movie below:

Graphics/ FX: From the first second of the first scene, things were already going downhill in the film. The first thing I noticed was how fake the graphics look. Out of all the things they could have gotten wrong, I definitely would have thought that this would be an easy one to get right. Strike one.

Dialogue, acting, and casting: This movie is primarily a kids movie about kids. They really needed to get it right when choosing who played these roles. In the original show, the personality of the characters and the interactions between them was a huge reason why it was so successful. Imagine if Macaulay Culkin had played Harry Potter and the kid from Star Wars Episode 1 had played Ron… that is the equivalent of what happened here. Strike two.

Turning a magical world into a boring, dull, and lifeless one: Making a live action movie based on a cartoon was sure to be a challenge, but if done right, it could have shown viewers a new perspective on the world of Avatar. Given the 100 million dollar budget, the opportunities were endless.  Instead of converting this opportunity, they failed miserably and turned what could have been on screen magic into a shade of gray (was it slate-gray or taupe… I’m not sure?). Strike 3.

Do yourself a favor: skip the movie and watch the show instead.

Much more could be said, but it doesn’t really need to be, so I am going to be finished.

Oh and…

To be upfront, I didn’t waste my time watching the entirety of both of these; I only watched the season finale of Falling Skies and the first and last part of The Last Airbender. For some things, it’s important not to judge too hastily, as I pointed out in my “Why Critics”  article, but these dregs of film and t.v. didn’t deserve any more of my (or anyone else’s) attention. It seems like their creators didn’t care too much, so why should I?

Posted on October 1, 2011, in Movies, Shows and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I had the fortune of watching the Avatar movie before I watched the show, so perhaps I didn’t hate it as much as I should have. The best thing it has going for it is that because of the outcry, I started watching the show, and it has become probably my favorite show of all time. How a cartoon can have such a depth of characters, with a good plot, and a feel good story… It’s very rare. I think if I watched the airbender movie now, I would simply walk out of the theatre within the first few minutes. Did you watch Eragon? I loved the Inheritance series, and started the Eragon movie, and literally turned it off within thirty seconds it was so bad. This is the same kinda deal.

  2. Yep, the show is pretty much amazing. Even more amazing is that is children’s programming. It’s going to be interesting if they can pull it off again with “Legend of Korra.” I haven’t read the Eragon books, but I did unfortunately watch the movie- yep, totally like the Last Airbender adaption. Have you finished the last book in the series btw?

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