Cedar Springs, Michigan
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
I went to the movies this evening with two of my grandsons. They’re 13 and 6 years old. We saw The Last Airbender which, for those of you without young kids (boys especially) or grandkids, is a live-action film based on a popular television cartoon show called The Avatar. And as some of you certainly know, the movie title Avatar was already glommed, last year, and given to an elongated version of the Blue Men routine, so that this, the real Avatar story, had to choose another name. The TV program, from my superficial knowledge of it, features a young boy of indeterminate race, but leaning toward Asian, who possesses supernatural powers and is, somewhat against his own will, the Chosen One, or something like that. He’s sort of like a young Dalai Lama, with liberal doses of ninja fighter and magician thrown in. Basically your typical reluctant boy-hero-demigod, on whom the fate of the world hinges. Sound familiar? It should.
In the movie I sat between my boys, offering grandfatherly comments, as is my duty. To the thirteen-year-old I whispered, “If he’s an Airbender, does that mean he can fart around corners?” With the six-year-old I kept it more on the up-and-up. “Are you cold? Do you want any more popcorn?” As we were exiting the theater I asked for first impressions, since both are avid followers of the cartoon. The little guy loved it. The big guy, being older and more discerning, thought the movie lacked the requisite blood, mayhem, and high body count of a quality production, and was thus unable to give it the Ebertian thumbs up. So, mixed reviews.
My own impressions are as follows. The dialogue was about a millimeter deep and the acting was amateurish. The little kid who played the Avatar was pretty good at conveying that quintessential amalgam of angst, fear, and anger you see on the faces of actors either in the kabuki theater or in choppy-choppy movies, but with a bit more gentleness and perplexity, since he was only slowly coming to the realization that he was destined to master the bending of all four elements (air, water, earth, and fire, for those of you who didn’t take medieval chemistry in high school). The young man who starred in Slum Dog Millionaire, Dev Patel, had a key role, and was probably the most professional member of the cast. The movie also featured a large woolly beast on which the good guys rode, which resembled a cross between a gigantic fat musk ox and the creature played by John Candy in Spaceballs. (“Hi, I’m Barf. I’m a Mog—half man and half dog. I’m my own best friend!”) M. Knight Shama-lama-ding-dong directed this dubious offering, confirming that he is truly a one-hit wonder whose only decent movie was The Sixth Sense, and that probably more because of Bruce Willis and the kid than because of him.
My other impressions were, I suppose, equally superficial. For instance, I noticed that all the principal good people were very white, and that many of them had blue eyes. Not everyone to be sure—the Avatar himself had brown eyes. But the most virtuous character, a beautiful and slightly cross-eyed young princess who sacrificed herself to reinvigorate a carp, no less (all right, a spirit in the form of a carp, but most definitely a fish) had the bluest eyes of them all. And all the bad guys, the fire benders, looked like Arab Elvis impersonators, with jet black hair and long pointy sideburns and stylized costumes. And brown eyes. As brown as shit. As dark as crude oil. You expected them to all fall prostrate facing Mecca at any moment.
So what does that tell you? Well, if it isn’t already obvious to every American, it should be. It’s not bad enough that they knocked down the World Trade Towers. Now they’re trying to look like our most sacred icon, the King himself. When is someone going to do something? For the answer to that we’ll have to wait for the sequel to the Airbender movie or for the end of the seemingly interminable war in Iraq/Afghanistan. Until then, keep supporting our troops, who, I’m pretty sure, are over there for the express purpose of fighting these fire-bending, would-be hunks of burning love, 8,000 miles from Graceland.