Monday, July 5, 2010

Discussion on "The Last Airbender"

Note: Believe it or not, this is one subject about which I don't have particularly strong opinions. That said, a lot of my friends are big fans of the TV show "Avatar: The Last Airbender", and I do frequently read movie reviews, so when I heard that the cinematic adaptation of the highly-acclaimed anime franchise had become a box office hit despite having been pilloried by critics, I felt the need to bring this up on my Facebook status. Below is the dialogue which followed.
According to recent reports, "The Last Airbender" managed to gross more than $40 million this weekend. While that doesn't make it the week's box office champion (a distinction that, unsurprisingly, went to "Twilight: Eclipse"), it FAR surpassed box office expectations. In short, despite being derided by critics as one of the worst movies of the year, "The Last Airbender" is a hit.
Any theories?

Cliff Smith
Umm, the fact that critics don't drive box office receipts doesn't seem to be a terribly controversial notion to me.

Cliff Smith
Anyhow, the film looks exciting, weird FX, and people generally like Shyamalan even if critics are a lot more divided or hostile (particularly on his last few films).

Ashley Robinson
i saw it this past weekend and it's because the show is one of my favourites. let me tell you, it was terrible. it won't make much more money, because most people who have seen it are warning others not to bother wasting their money and because the fans of the tv show are so disgusted with what m. night has done to something to beloved.

Ashley Robinson
this video is exactly how i felt:

Matthew Rozsa
To Ashley:
Unfortunately, the question of whether or not it will make money is off the table; it is already a box office hit. The money has been made.
To Cliff:
I agree that critics don't "drive" box office receipts, but if you study the history of cinematic grosses, what you find is that films which are either widely acclaimed or overwhelmingly panned by critics do experience correlative effects on their overall intake. That isn't my opinion; it's a widely-acknowledged fact within the industry (and I should know, I take a far greater interest in movie grosses than I really should - some people read "People Magazine" or tabloids as their guilty pleasure, and I go to
My speculation, by the way, is that the movie is doing so well because (a) many fans of the TV show will see it simply out of loyalty to the franchise and (b) Shyamalan's reputation from his three masterpieces ("The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable", and "Signs") has overshadowed the disasters of the subsequent eight years. I think you and I agree on (b), but you didn't mention (a).

Ashley Robinson
well, yeah, it made money this weekend, but the thing is, i doubt it will continue to make massive amounts of money. my theory: curiosity & fans of the show made the movie a hit, financially speaking, but speaking in terms of actual response to the film, it was still a flop.

Matthew Rozsa
Do you think there will be sequels? What's more, do you think the notion of a "Last Airbender" film franchise can be salvaged if Shyamalan is dropped from the helm?

Cliff Smith
I actually use to pay a great deal of attention to box office receipts although that basically went out the door with law school starting 3 years ago. I think that "universally panned" rule only applies if the film doesn't already have a built in audience, as this one obviously does both for the show (I didn't actually know it had a show,) and because of Shyamalan. And even the universally panned rule can be overcome by a really good trailer. I didn't think the trailer made the film look great, but it looked like a film that I could see a lot of geeks liking, even if they don't end up liking it.
Anyhow, I'm a weird one on Shyamalan. I love Signs and Unbreakable like everyone else. However, I think Sixth Sense is insanely overrated, although it's decent, and I'm a huge fan of The Village, which I think is badly misunderstood by people who get caught up in the so-called "twist" which was obvious in any event and totally irrelevant to what the film was about. Anyhow, to round it out, Lady in the Water was an unmitigated disaster, I still don't know what the heck he was going for, while The Happening...had some big problems but I thought was more interesting then the critics gave it credit for. Anyhow...that said, I the film looks awful and I suspect Ashley is right that it's box office will drop off quickly.

Matthew Rozsa
I agree that the "universally panned" rule didn't apply in this case because of Shyamalan and the fan base from the TV show. Then again, that doesn't mean that the rule doesn't normally apply (indeed, to paraphrase a cliche, there wouldn't be exceptions in the first place if there wasn't a valid rule).
Believe it or not, I share your opinion of "The Sixth Sense"; I thought it had a genuinely clever ending, and the quality of the dialogue and character development was pretty strong, but I don't think it reached the transcendent levels of storytelling seen in "Unbreakable" and "Signs" (although the sheer shock value of its ending is enough, in my mind, to qualify it as one of his "masterpieces"). That said, I share the critical consensus about "The Village". Fortunately, I don't need to explain why I feel that way - Roger Ebert captures my thoughts and sentiments quite perfectly in his review.
I doubt there are many people who don't feel that "Lady in the Water" was an incomprehensible mess. Even though I "watched" the film, I'm not sure I can say I "saw" it, since I have no friggin' clue what Shyamalan was trying to show me. Quite seriously, after a while, I just started daydreaming.
I haven't seen "The Happening", and I'm not dying to change that.
Obviously I haven't seen "The Last Airbender" either, although if it is as bad as everyone claims (and I haven't encountered one person who hasn't echoed that judgment), I also hope Ashley winds up being correct.

Sean Davis
I'm a big Avatar fan, I loved the cartoon and am not ashamed to admit it. I just got back from seeing the movie and from everyone's reaction you'd think it was the biggest piece of shlock since "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Let me tell you, he didn't deviate as far from the story as people would have you believe, and the effects were not too shabby. My only real complaint was the terrible casting of Sokka and Katara. Maybe my expectations were really low because of all the negative press, but I left the theater not feeling ripped off.

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