Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Last Airbender

           The special effects crew for the Avatar: The Last Airbender had a very difficult task placed in front of them. The problem arises from taking an animated series that is essentially limitless in terms of special effects, and translating those same effects into a film. This becomes very costly and takes very creative minds to accurately portray the effects with the same emotional and thrilling impact. Not only does it require extensive expertise, it requires a hefty budget, stunt doubles and vast sets. In order to please the fans of the show, they also had to stay true to the series in terms of how the bending of the elements should look in real life. While The Last Airbender as a whole was a dud, many of the special effects put into place were truly engaging.
            What seemed to pose as the biggest issue for the producers was how to portray the bending of the elements on film. This includes everything from Aang flying through the air, to huge waves of water and throwing fire. In order to make the bending more realistic, Aang and other benders featured were required to learn martial arts for the making of the movie. As for the actual appearance of water, fire and earth being moved, that was digitally added after the film was made. The scenes where Aang is air bending, he is attached to bungee cords that are able to lift him swiftly, as if he was actually air bending. The producer, M. Night Shyamalan, was indecisive of whether or not to physically show the bending of the elements, or leave that amount of detail up to the viewer in order to avoid poor special effects. Once he started watching the special effects crew work on scenes, the fighting scene at the fire nation in particular, he was sure that the special effects used was the right direction to take for the film. The intensity from showing the actual bending is felt within viewers and allows them to fully grasp the division between the Fire Nation. 

            One of the most amazing details to watch was the scenery. In The Last Airbender, there are four different nations that vary greatly- causing such a drastic change in scenery. What’s truly amazing is that almost all of the sets are made within a warehouse on the east coast. The accuracy of the special effects from the scenery, such as the snow at the Southern Water Tribe and the fire nation’s empire, add to the credibility of the film. Fans of the show are shown that the producers really did take into consideration the minor details that make up each nation. The opening scene was actually filmed on location in Greenland. The producer is quoted saying, “This is something that happens to actors on location- they’ll start to think it’s real. And it’ll come off on film” (Shyamalan interview). By having the actors believe in what they are acting allows for the viewers to grasp the same sense of believability in what they are watching.

Water tribe set that was made in a warehouse.
            While the special effects for the scenery were extremely effective, the animals shown were far from realistic. The animal breads on the show are fictional crossbreeds between two real species, creating some strange combination such as a turtle seal. This would be an obvious hurdle for producers because of its unrealistic nature. Viewers are bound to be at least a little skeptical based off their logical reasoning. The animals that are featured in the movie look extremely digital and out of place. Their movement takes away any believability that viewers might have had for the creatures initially. If the animals shown were a little more realistic looking, maybe viewers would be able to ignore their logical thinking and go along with the fictional animals.

            Unfortunately, the quality of the writing and the character development lacked throughout the movie. According to Giannetti: “Film artists interested in F/X material need to be just as talented as artists in any other style of genre or technology. It’s what they do with the technology artistically that counts, not the technology per se” (Giannetti p. 35). The Last Airbender uses the technology to its full advantage, creating beautiful sets and exciting action scenes; however, it fails to connect the use of the technology to the rest of the storyline. This overshadowed the amazing effects and ultimately left the viewers dissatisfied with the quality of the film. Solely based on special effects, I would give The Last Airbender 2/3 tickets based on quality and effectiveness. 

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