Why I Won’t Be Seeing The Last Airbender
I’m going to step out on a limb and guess that you, like me, were not in line last night for the midnight screening of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, The Last Airbender.
You’re also probably not rearranging your Fourth of July plans to drop 10 bucks—or more, if you want some 3D action—to catch it, either. But if you’re one of the few fans who’s still desperately hoping that his next flick will bring back that rush you felt when (spoiler alert!) Bruce Willis turned out to be a ghost, let me make a suggestion.
Want to see an action-packed spectacle with a satisfying finale this weekend?
Go see some fireworks. Skip this movie.
If I sound a little bitter, that’s because me and M. Night—we’re officially over.
See, it’s not that I haven’t given him a chance (and approximately $100 of my income, when you tally up movie tickets—saw Sixth Sense twice—a DVD, and more large buttered popcorns than I care to remember). His second, and undoubtedly greatest, film was a global blockbuster. It’s slipped a bit in the box office tallies, but is still the 36th all-time highest-grossing movie in the U.S. There was even a feeling of civic pride as Night, the Episcopal grad, became the most sought-after director in Hollywood. The It Kid was our guy in Hollywood.
Then came Unbreakable. As a lifelong geek, I was juiced to see what M. Night would do with Bruce Willis, Sam Jackson, and a tale about real-life superheroes. The movie held my attention, but the payoff never came. Next was Signs. Night, Mel and aliens? How could this go wrong? When it turns out the aliens have one little weakness—and two-thirds of the Earth is covered by it. Not the surprise ending I was hoping for.
Still, I believed in Night. Hollywood needs a new Hitchcock, one of Night’s idols, and I had faith he’d bounce back. But The Village was an even bigger letdown. Fans expected a great Shyamalan Twist in every movie, and none were living up his Sixth Sense moment.
With Lady In The Water, he wisely scrapped that gimmick and played it straight. The film was still a mess. Critics savaged it. Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black as a monk turned Mexican wrestler, sold twice as many tickets.
That’s when I broke up with Night, cinematically speaking. My Sixth Sense collector’s edition now collects dust. The concept and cast of his 2008 film, The Happening, was intriguing, but you know the saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me five times—I must be an M. Night Shyamalan fan. I was glad I waited for the reviews before buying a ticket. The movie bombed. I still haven’t seen it.
To be fair, there’s a glimmer of hope for those who still haven’t defected from the Night fan club. The Last Airbender marks the first time Night is directing someone else’s story—the movie is based on a Nickelodeon animated series. Some critics have said Night’s problem is that he thinks of himself as a writer first. Now, with proven source material, the director can focus on the visual story, which has long been his artistic strength.
There’s also cause for concern. Airbender has been retrofitted for the 3D format, an experiment that failed miserably for Clash of the Titans. It’s also facing stiff competition this weekend—Toy Story 3 is a juggernaut, and Twilight: Eclipse is a cultural phenomenon (at least if you’re under 20 years old). So with kids and teens already occupied, even if Airbender is worth the price of admission, who’s going to see it?
Not me. Maybe if the reviews are stellar or the box office is gonzo, I’ll consider adding Airbender to my Netflix queue. Maybe then Night and I can leave the past behind and start over. Until then, I’m saving my money—and the 1,220 calories in my buttered popcorn—for someone else.