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Saw The Last Airbender on Friday. I had heard that it was amazing. And I had also heard that fans of the series would not like it. I…am somewhere in the middle. I liked it. Really I did. But I also had some problems with it. Mostly nitpicky problems, which is why I still enjoyed the movie. I'll start with what I liked.

Iroh. I know he's supposed to be old and fat. I know it's wrong that I should think Iroh is unbelievably hot. But I don't even care. Iroh was just about the best thing in that movie. His personality was spot-on, just perfect. And I loved that they actually pronounced his name correctly. I even loved his dreads. All in all, I had no complaints about Iroh.

Yue. There are a lot of casting choices I could tilt my head at, but this is not one of them. This girl looks just like the animated one, and I wonder how they made her match so well. She's stunning and soft-spoken and absolutely perfect. And her eyes are just vivid. I wish they would have given the rest of the Water Tribe the same contacts. I don't remember if her hair turned black in the cartoon after she gives the moon spirit her life, but it was a nice touch in the movie.

Bending effects. The special effects in general were very good, but the bending looked fantastic. The water- and firebending especially, but then they would look more impressive anyway. On a not-very-related note, I also loved the scenery. The air temples and the city of the Northern Water Tribe were just beautiful. Even Appa and Momo looked really good, very convincing. And fuck. The dragon spirit looked amazing. AMAZING.

Fire Nation Technology. I've got a lot to say about the portrayal of the Fire Nation in general, but unfortunately most of it doesn't belong in this section. HOWEVER. I absolutely loved the accuracy of their machinery. I LOVED THE SHIPS. The ships looked just perfect, and dark and sinister. Dangerously sharp. The tanks and things might not have been exactly the same, but that was okay too. They still preserved the basic form that Fire Nation tech seems to share.

Unfortunately, there were a lot more things I didn't like, though many of them were small enough that they didn't interfere too much with my general enjoyment of the film.

Casting. [ profile] ravenpirate told me that a lot of people were boycotting the movie because they thought it was racist, because of the white people in the movie. While I thought that Katara and Sokka could have used a tan, I really didn't think they were badly cast. I did think there was some racism in the movie. The Fire Nation looks Asian in the series. But in the movie, every Fire Nation soldier we see is played by someone of either Middle Eastern or Indian descent. The Earth Kingdom was all cast as Asian, but though in the series they are generally dark complected, they seem more racially varied than that.

The Spirit World. In the film, the spirit world was given a whole hell of a lot more significance than it was in the series. The Fire Nation is trying to take over the world because they don't want to obey the spirits anymore? Really? A whole nation would actually buy into that? I can understand someone as insane as Ozai using that kind of logic, but not a whole nation following him. He'd be deposed. On the other hand, in the series the justification was that the Fire Nation wanted to take over the world in order to spread their culture and prosperity to what they saw as less fortunate nations. The people would get behind that kind of movement, even if Ozai's true motives were much more selfish. Or, it's always possible he was crazy enough to actually believe his own propaganda, especially right up near the end.

Topknots. Okay, what the hell. I know it's only a minor thing. It's probably related to the fact that in the movie, the Fire Nation was portrayed by Middle Easterners/Indians. But I don't really care about that. I want to know why the hell nearly every Fire Nation male had short hair. And no topknot. I guess maybe they didn't want to invest the money in wigs? It irks me, not because I think that they would have been prettier with long hair and topknots (though they would have been), but rather, without topknots, I wonder how they're going to symbolize Zuko and Iroh breaking from the Fire Nation later on. The scene in the series where they cut off their hair and toss it into the river is (I think) an extremely powerful one.

Moon Spirit. Another minor gripe. Really minor in this case. The moon spirit is referred to as male. I cannot think of a single mythology that portrays the moon as male. The moon is always female, just like (as far as I can recall) the sun is always male. We'll put it down to the moon's relationship to menstruation, but in any case, the argument still stands. And the series is no different. The moon spirit is female here, too. But the movie refers to the spirit as a "he". Maybe it was a typo in the script no one bothered to fix. :|

Bending in General. As I said earlier, I liked the effects for the bending. But I thought that the portrayal of the bending was a bit much. To clarify, I thought the martial arts aspect of the bending was overdone. Instead of the body's movement correlating exactly to the bending that was being performed, it reminded me of Naruto: Forming a long series of seals to perform a single act. Granted, even in Naruto I can only remember a few cases where more than three or four seals were used for one jutsu. In the movie, it just seemed like they wanted to show off their ability to choreograph martial arts techniques, with very little consideration what the resulting bending would look like or do. The waterbending movements looked like a dance, which was appropriate, but the water didn't dance with the benders. It was like they were moving to a different rhythm. The airbending was just as bad. A lot of times it looked like Aang was just sort of flailing around. I can remember one move in particular when he did an awkward sort of back flip that just looked out of place and had nothing to do with anything…and the actor didn't even do the back flip all that well, so it wasn't even a matter of still looking cool.

Firebending. What is this crap about them needing a source to firebend? That was about the dumbest thing I saw in the movie. How would the Fire Nation be so powerful if they were dependent upon their environment? Yes, having braziers and torches at their disposal would make bending easier, especially for those whose talent is weaker. But to imply that they're dependent upon those things is stupid. Besides, in the series it's clearly depicted that the fire extends from the benders' bodies. Iroh is amazing. But not for being able to manifest fire from his body. All firebenders can do that.

Aang and Waterbending. Aang is better at waterbending than Katara when they first start training together. It isn't until after they visit the Northern Water Tribe that Katara ends up better than him. Waterbending and airbending apparently have a lot in common, so it's natural that he'd take to waterbending easily. But I guess it would have taken them longer if they'd stuck to the series and spent longer in the Northern Water Tribe, so that Katara could force her way into combat training and do her drastic-improvement-thing. She also didn't get named his waterbending master, though I suppose that might happen at the beginning of the next movie. It would have been nice if they'd showed Katara getting jealous of Aang in the beginning, though. That was the first time in the series I decided she might be more than just some boring female love interest. And I would have liked to see her fight with the Northern Tribe's waterbending teacher. Though the actors might have hurt themselves with all the extra flailing they would have had to do for a fight like that.

Earthbenders. Okay, I had a few problems with the visit to the earthbender internment camp. First of all. It wasn't on the giant metal rig in the middle of the ocean. Which made these earthbenders look like total wimps. They are surrounded by their element, and the firebenders have that one brazier to fuel their firebending (dumbdumbdumb, but hey, if that's the way they want it, I'll bite), and these earthbenders haven't already beaten their asses down? It's just stupid. The firebenders are outnumbered and underequipped, and somehow they're still in charge until Aang, Katara, and Sokka show up. ALSO. I don't see the point in showing the earthbender liberation in the first place. It doesn't affect anything else that happens in the movie. Hell, I don't think Ozai or Zhao even bitch about the uprisings to their internment camps, which would have at least showed that they found it an annoyance. Freeing the earthbenders does nothing for this movie. (Yes, I understand that it's important later on, when Aang gets all his homies together for the unified push into the Fire Nation capital, but the newbies aren't going to know that.) I mean, if I hadn't seen the series first, I'd think they put the earthbenders in the movie just to show that they actually exist, and how they use their element to fight. If, however, they were included because they play a sizeable role in the third film, then I think they could have much more seamlessly been added to the second movie, because Aang and co. would be in the Earth Kingdom anyway, and it would seem less...random.

Three Years. I understand that the series rushed Aang's training quite a bit. Training in general, really. The way it's portrayed in the series, Aang, Katara, and Sokka all seem to only spend a week or so in their respective training, and it's just not realistic that they would master waterbending, earthbending, firebending, and swordplay in only a week or two. So I understand the film giving us a longer deadline. Though three years doesn't really lend the plot the same sense of urgency as the few months of the series did. But when Ozai says, "Sozin's comet will return in three years," I'm pretty sure that no background is given at all. I may have just been distracted, wanting to know what Azula looked like, but I don't remember Ozai saying how it'll make every firebender super powerful. (Azula would know this, of course, but the noobs wouldn't.)

Commander Zhao. I was looking forward to seeing his sideburns, but that's not really as significant as other problems I had. Zhao just seemed…wrong. He wasn't well portrayed at all. His motivations were skewed. In the series, he was the one who wanted to kill the moon spirit. He doesn't seem to have much contact with Ozai, being out oppressing the multitudes and such, but even if he did, I still think he would have been the one to come up with the plan to kill the moon spirit. He's very driven and ambitious, and a complete bastard. In the movie he just seemed…weasel-y. In the series, he's big and powerful and doesn't have any doubts. He knows what he wants to do, and he does it, because he's going to have the glory of killing the moon spirit and defeating the waterbenders to the man. In the film, he seemed…small. He was a lapdog, and he showed fear and second thoughts just before he stabbed the fish. It just seemed like he had more free thought in the series, and in the movie he was more of a lackey.

Fire Nation Defeat. I am so pissed off that it didn't show Aang and the ocean spirit go apeshit together. I know it's because of the flashbacks we get of Aang being told the Avatar isn't supposed to hurt people. Which is also bullshit, because the Avatar is supposed to restore balance, and it's totally okay for the Avatar to kill unjust people in the line of duty. It's Aang's personal morals that give him trouble about killing people, and it would have given his character a whole lot more depth if they'd left him that way, rather than letting him control his use of the Avatar state and simply intimidating the Fire Nation into retreating. I may also have been looking forward to seeing the fucking big water-fish smush Zhao. What a big cop-out that was.

Avatar Roku. I don't understand why they had the dragon spirit giving Aang advice instead of Roku. They show the statues of his former incarnations, and make it clear that they are his past lives. Part of Aang's ability to commune with the spirit world is the fact that he can consult the previous Avatars. If they wanted to do a dragon effect so much, they could have had Aang visit Roku and his dragon. But. I guess I really just didn't like the film's use of the spirit world at all.
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September 2010

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