In their haste to convert The Last Airbender to 3D, Paramount cut around 30-minutes of the film, desperate to keep the cost of the last second conversion to a minimum. If anything, it shows how all of the art has been sapped from these productions as the 3D fad continues to take over Hollywood.
It’s a shame too, because Airbender shows potential, and M. Night Shyamalan needed something to get him back on a respected level with audiences. This won’t be the film to do it, and who is to say whether or not it’s his fault. There is a good, even great movie here, the mountain of visual effects intriguing, the world enticing, and the fights remarkable considering the Avatar is merely 13-years old. The martial arts skill on display is mesmerizing, and from a variety of styles.
Those fight scenes are now the remnants of the film’s better aspects, this tale of four warring factions convoluted and confusing in this hastily shortened form. Even the aspects of the Avatar (Noah Ringer), the only person in the world with control of all four of the elements, is rather neglected. As we are told, the Avatar is reborn when he dies, eliminating the “Last” portion of the title. The Avatar in this sense is infinite.
Even for a kid’s film, this one moves at a hasty clip, the first 15-minutes or so the only ones that seem to have been left alone. Character motivations and actions go unexplained, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) turning against his father for reasons that are rather unclear, siding with his uncle but still trying to complete the task given to him by his father… none of which makes a lick of sense. A self-sacrifice is also mundane, that character presented with narration as to speed up the developments and continue onto the next fight.
There is some stunning CG-aided cinematography on display here, the valleys and mountaintops jaw-dropping in their beauty, even if the actions inside of them make no sense. Last Airbender sets up the sequel, a misguided move since the first installment is always the most important for any franchise. Short-sightedness ruined any future chances for this otherwise noteworthy series.
Paramount’s AVC encode for The Last Airbender seems to have been given more attention than the film itself. While this one begins with a rather rough start, the myriad of visual effects that take over the opening segments seemingly causing facial details to flatten, Airbender takes off around 10 to 15-minutes in. Facial detail begins to shine, clothing textures become dominant, and the sharpness doesn’t flounder.
It’s a transfer you need to give a chance. Counting it out early isn’t very fair, although some of the establishing shots of the Water Kingdom’s icy floor are impressive. Once out of these opening scenes and into the various villages, the transfer takes off. A close-up profile at 10:37 is the first one of note, and from there it’s a stunner Everything becomes resolved, clean, and naturally film-like. The barely noticeable layer of grain is well rendered, compression a non-issue here with the exception of a brief pan through some clouds at 18:13 that passes so fast you’ll barely notice (or be unable to miss it now that you know).
Colors vary throughout, each of the kingdoms taking a predictable turn for their element, i.e., Earth Kingdom full of orange and browns, Water deeply saturated blues, and the Fire cloaked in reds. Across all of them, the black levels are exceptional, a scattering of shots lightly letting up without much of a distraction. This is a fine, dimensional image with or without 3D.
All of the effects, from the massive warships the Fire Kingdom adores to the various elemental powers on display, are meticulously presented. Flames being strewn about the frame carry some wonderfully hot whites, the various heated hues surrounding them impressive. The ice created by the Water Kingdom glistens and is typically brimming with detail. Dev Patel is sealed inside an icy trap at one point, the texture of it all truly a hi-def feast for the eyes. Some moments of meditation take Aang into a spiritual realm where the video is intentionally and heavily diffused, rather obviously the intent.
This is a DTS-HD mix that simply adores how much bass it can push out of a subwoofer. From the moment the ice cracks at 4:30 and sucks in as much air as your equipment can handle, this is a tour de force for bass fanatics. Airbender doesn’t let up, from the simple act of someone ringing an alarm bell at 1:09:05 rattling the room, to the constant hum of the ship’s engines driven by the Fire Nation, there isn’t an action scene that doesn’t throb on the low-end, and even some dialogue scenes can’t resist.
Importantly, it’s not overpowering, just a hefty jolt that home theater enthusiasts should appreciate. All of the elements have their own showcase, the score carrying some weight in the front channels and creeping into the surrounds when it picks up steam.
The surrounds are just as aggressive, each time an elemental power is unleashed it tracks freely and accurately through the available channels. As some powers are called upon around 20:58, wind and debris begins swirling through the soundfield in an wondrous pan effect. Everything is tracked precisely in each channel. The simple effect of footsteps can be presented in the rears when called for. This is a tremendously accurate audio presentation across the board.
There’s not much here in terms of bonus features, the best being Origins of the Avatar, a sit-down chat with the creators of this fantasy realm. While brief at a bit over seven minutes, this describes all of the inspirations for the series. A selection of four deleted scenes run shy of 12-minutes, followed by a mildly amusing gag reel.