Select a piece of art (e.g., musical composition, movie, book, painting, play, etc.) that you dislike. Clearly describe the subject and offer a critique with specific ways the artist(s) could have made it better. Please also describe the effect that an improved version of the work would have on the audience and how it contrasts with the effect it currently has. (500 words maximum)
Me and my friend are both high-school seniors with a strangely ludicrous pastime: we love to watch painstakingly horrible cartoons/movies/shows just to rant and laugh about them, periodically pausing the video so as to make way for long, cynical diatribes regarding the lackluster animation, character development, voice acting, or special effects. I’ve never observed anything to be so childish and pretentious at the same time. It’s a strange paradox, really.
Being the masochistic, bored, meme-obsessed Gen-Z kids we are, we scroll through Netflix, mocking every mediocre anime that appears. As many low-quality shows as we have watched, nothing has ever been more laughable to me than the vacant, soulless live action adaptation of universally beloved animated series A:TLA, commonly known as The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Upon release, the adaptation garnered a massive amount of backlash from tons of dedicated fans and newcomers alike. Many criticized the whitewashed casting, the wooden acting and dialogue, the elementary quality CG-effects, and the endless streams of painfully numbing exposition. Needless to say, the film itself had many shortcomings. And, when compared to its source material, these said flaws are quite hard to ignore, especially given the unforgettably well-crafted narrative of the original series, to which it pales in comparison. As such, since both mediums, undeniably, work with the same plot, premise and narrative, it is perhaps vital to start from the source material, and what made it great, and, of course, what went wrong with its live-action counterpart.
I was introduced to the cartoon series as a preteen by my friend. Admittedly, I didn’t watch the entire series in one sitting, mostly due to academic responsibilities and other external events. I’d start for a period of time, The lighthearted humor, the relatable characters and the fleshed-out plot kept giving me reasons to stay. I admired the way the creators crafted such an elaborate world with such lovable characters. I admired the kindhearted, youthful outlook of Aang, the motherly kindness of Katara, and the comic relief of Sokka. Additionally, the distinct personalities of these characters created a sort of special camaraderie and balance. In short, everything just fell into place. The cartoon took me on a journey through the mishaps and struggles of the protagonists by showing it and immersing the viewer in it, and as such, I related and cared about each greatly. The film lacked everything that made the show special, and much more.
However, my scorching distaste for the film doesn’t stem from how much it differs from its source material, but rather, its ineptitude for visual storytelling and its utter lack of creativity.
First off, it is quite evident that Shyamalan struggled to cram around 20 episodes of in-depth plot development, character arcs, etc. into one feature-length film. Of course, corners had to be cut. But, whereas the original engrossed me in its quick-paced fighting scenes and storytelling, the movie did the exact opposite. Instead of showing its audience the lore, action, and depth behind each of the characters and plot, the movie explains and narrates it. It did absolutely nothing to ensure that the characters were fleshed-out and multi-faceted. It had no personality or character, if you will. Much of the movie is instead spent explaining endless streams of exposition meant to fill the void of action. The characters are reduced to talking heads. I can’t bring myself to relate nor care about them.
Honestly, the original series got it right the first time, and it was perfect. Nothing could add or detract from its genius. As a filmmaker, one should know the best possible way to communicate their vision visually. In the early 20th century, when sound was integrating into film, many silent film actors and directors resisted its influence, holding that film was a strictly visual medium. Such an exposition-filled bore-fest would have most likely been their greatest fear, given that Shyamalan was unable to effectively communicate the intricacies many canon details visually, choosing instead to explain them. Should the future see such film adaptations of other artistic works, hopefully they treat the source material with utmost respect with the same high quality storytelling and visual communication.