The Last Airbender Blu-ray Review

M. Night Shyamalan’s first film based on someone else’s fantastical work, The Last Airbender, makes its way to Blu-ray after sending scores of theatrical moviegoers home with an abhorrent taste in their mouth. Pre-release fears of “racebending” i.e. casting the majority of Asian heroic roles with Caucasian actors were joined by a myriad of other problems a film of The Last Airbender’s scope and price should not be associated with.

Reviews were so poor that many who passed on The Last Airbender theatrically, myself included, approach it on Blu-ray wondering if it really is as poorly made as people have said. The answer is yes, but even in one of this past summer’s biggest messes there’s still something worth applauding.

The biggest problem with The Last Airbender is either by shoddy casting, complacent direction or some misguided attempt to simply emotion for the sake of comprehension by children gone wrong, everyone in this film acts as if they’ve just stepped into the first screen test of their life. Calling the performances wooden would be an insult to trees. Only Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel as an outcast royal son of the evil Fire Nation shows seems to put forth any semblance of effort, mostly relegated to looking extremely agitated with his character’s situation.

Newcomers Noah Ringer as Aang, Jackson Rathbone of Twilight fame as Sokka, and Nicola Peltz as Katara don’t receive any help from Shyamalan’s mundane dialogue or fragmented plot. In a nutshell the Fire Nation, who can bend fire, is out to conquer the world consisting of the Earth, Wind and Water Nations. The only savior is the Last Airbender, an invincible warrior capable of bending all four elements when fully trained. Kill him and he’ll be reborn elsewhere, leaving the only real option of suppressing his abilities in capture. The Fire Nation actually achieves this rather easily and then allows a single person to break him out. Competent they are not.

For all of The Last Airbender’s failures there is a beautifully visually designed film with a sweeping scope and bending of elements effects that aren’t showcased nearly enough. The fighting is deliberately slow and unique in that respect, a change of pace from the lightning fast martial arts nearly impossible to follow. Had Shyamalan spent as much time developing characters to care about as realizing his mythical world, The Last Airbender might have actually been fun like the Nickelodeon show that inspired it.

High-Def Presentation

The Last Airbender is abundant with CGI scenery that nearly seamlessly integrates with some magnificent sets. On Blu-ray, the 1080p encode brings this world of four nations to life with great contrast between the Fire and Water Nation’s deliberate primary colors. The yellows and oranges in the fire pops, while the whites and blues in the water and ice are clear enough to see every crack and drop. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is equally impressive with balanced surround use that appropriately kicks into overdrive during the heavy action sequences and impressive bass extension.

Beyond the Feature

All of The Last Airbender’s bonus features are provided in high definition on disc one while disc two includes the DVD version and a digital copy.

Discovering The Last Airbender (58:15) This 9-part, nearly hour-long documentary is the heart of The Last Airbender’s bonus features. You’ll learn a lot more about the Avatar and his journey as described by the filmmakers here than was ended up in the final film. Show the making of the scene where the Avatar is surrounded by candles and uses his airbending abilities to blow them out, a scene not in the final film.

Siege of the North (18:32) – How the elaborate sets for the Northern Water Tribe’s battle with the Fire Nation were designed and built both for real and in the computer. This impressive set is the biggest ever built on the east coast of the United States and it’s neat to see how it was crammed into an old hangar building in Philadelphia.

Origins of the Avatar (7:18) – The Avatar TV show creators talk about how they originated the idea and designed the world of the four nations.

Katara for a Day (5:37) – This feature spends some time with Nicola Peltz when the cameras aren’t rolling. Where was the fun on display here in the movie?

Deleted Scenes (11:24) – There are a total of four scenes ranging from an awkward dance number to a training sequence to additional fight footage meant for the final act. Some of this material should have been included in the final cut.

Also included are some Outtakes (4:29) and Avatar Annotations, picture-in-picture of behind-the-scenes footage and interview snippets that pop up during the film when this mode is activated.

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender is potential unfulfilled; a beautiful, lush and imaginative world undone by an amateurish script and forgettable performances. The high definition presentation will tickle your visceral senses but the other senses will be insulted by just about everything else.

– Dan Bradley

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