Monday, July 4, 2011

What I've learned from The Last Airbender

First of all! Happy 4th of July to my U.S. friends! Hope you're having a great day.

Then, I also want to thank everyone who jumped to book Fridays. You ladies and gents are awesome.

So yesterday I (finally?) got around to watching M. Night Shayamalan's The Last Airbender.
(Incidentally, he also wrote the script, but I don't refer to him by name after this.)

And... as cool as the effects looked, I HATED it. Not a little.

A lot.

I mean... this movie had some serious potential for epicness. Huge scope. Many personalities... etc. etc. and somehow... it sucked.

Not a little.

A lot.


I got stuck on the outside of the story. I mean, when someone dies in a story and I don't care, that generally means that the writer has lost the plot.

But that got me to thinking. Why? What got me stuck outside? I mean, I did like the characters, even though I didn't really get close to them. 

I think that was the first problem. If I don't have a bond with the characters, I'm not really going to be drawn into the story.

But the story itself had a problem. It lacked focus. A lot happened in that movie. That in itself wouldn't be a problem to me. After all, I have a lot happening in my story too. I can't even see that the events in the movie didn't have a reason. (Because that would have been way too annoying.)

No. My problem is that things are dropped all over the place and I'm scratching my head as to why they're happening. Not from the character view (that's obvious) but from a writer's view.

And THAT was my problem. The events were dropped into the plot with zero blending. I.e. things happened with very little reference or thought to it later - until it was needed to push the story forward again.

Now, this (in my opinion) could have been done right in two ways:
1) The events take on such a small space that the viewer hardly notices it there until something happens as a result. This gives a viewer that awesome "AHA!" moment.
2) The events have to be mixed in with others, so that the introduction feels organic and so that the thought of that event remains in the viewer's mind.  

What you don't do is cut from scene to scene (event to event), insert narration in the bits considered unimportant (i.e. the bits not containing the events mentioned above) and then come out at an end that no one cares about because not enough time was spent on making everything count.

While we're at the narration point: TELLING me that one of the main characters cares for a new character does NOT make me care for the character too. So... that pretty much failed the ending.  

So basically, the scenes of The Last Airbender act like having clues in a mystery highlighted to say: "THIS IS A CLUE. REMEMBER FOR LATER."

Not a good way to write a story, Movie or Book.

Still, I might watch the movie again, because this has some good case study pointers on how not to write duel storyline plots.

Have you watched The Last Airbender?

What did you think about it? What movies have given you some pointers on how (not) to write?   


  1. When my brother and dad went to go see The Last Airebender, I was smart and saw a different movie. ;) I did hear it wasn't very good at all. I just watched Beastly the other night, and though I do not applaud the plot, the character Kyle was three dimensional because a different situation showed the other layers of him. Happy 4th!

  2. Poor M Night Shyamalan. Basically, he's never done anything that was loved as much as Signs and Sixth Sense. The critics hate him, and the movie-going public aren't too keen either. I, however, love him.
    The Last Airbender was not the best movie ever, but I really enjoyed it. Plans to make the rest of the series are on indefinite hold after this one flopped.

  3. I have learned so much from watching movies. It's like a writer course in 2 hours. I haven't seen this one and don't want to now!

  4. Thanks for the Happy 4th!! I have not seen the movie and I'm thinking I'm not gonna now!

    I hate movies and books that can't draw me in and make me care about the characters.

    Great tips for what to NOT do! :)

  5. Nope, didn't see it. But I think your best point was that if the reader/viewer doesn't care about the characters, then it's all over. (And I enjoy hating a character as much as loving one. Make me loathe someone, and I'm glued to the page/screen.)

  6. I didn't watch the movie, even though I loved the animated series it was adapted from, mostly because of the white-washing that went into productions. However, after various reviews popped up, I was glad I didn't see it.

    I can definitely see what you're saying, however. They tried to do too much, insert in too many scenes, that they failed to capture our sympathies for any of the characters.

  7. didn't go see it and heard it's the worst of all his movies. He needs to remember what made him successful/good; #1 great characters and #2 a fairly simple plot: kid sees ghosts, aliens arrive, a man cannot - literally - be broken, to list my 3 favs.

  8. I was unfamiliar w/ airbender and hated it. My husband is airbender crazy and hated it. Seeing a pattern here?

  9. Great post Misha! I wasn't a huge fan of the movie either, even though the special effects were great.

    One of the things I like about M. Night Shayamalan's movies (past ones anyway) is that the stories are all interwoven and make sense at the end. I love reading and writing tales like that.

    Happy 4th of July! :)

  10. I wasn't big on the movie either but loved the animated series. I'd recommend that over the movie any day.

  11. Hi Misha. Thanks for the holiday greeting. It's 107 here in the High Desert of SoCal. Staying inside till it cools off.

    I haven't seen Airbender. I like the way you nailed what the problem/problems are with the movie. If I don't like a movie, I usually won't keep watching it even if I could learn what not to do from it. Good for you for sticking it out!

  12. I heard a lot of people trash the Last Airbender before I saw it so I wasn't expecting much. It did have so much potential and it did disappoint. It looked pretty but that's like reading a book with pretty descriptions and no story. EW. Great post.

  13. I really didn't like the movie, either. I ADORED "Avatar: The Last Airbender" the cartoon that the movie was based off of. Whereas the movie version taught me ways how NOT to write a story, the cartoon had gorgeous storytelling, beautiful characterization, an amazing world, and the creators of the show blew me away time and again with their awesome skills. Not sure if you've seen the cartoon or not, but I highly recommend it to ANYONE.

  14. Yes. I agree with you. The Last Airbender sucked. Actually I fell asleep in theater after the first thirty minutes and woke to watch the last half hour. That's how boring it was to me.

  15. If you don't care about the characters, it is not a good story. The worst thing is a bad film with good actors in it.

    Hope you had a wonderful Independence day.

  16. I have not seen The Last Airbender. I have noticed that if I don't connect with the main character(s) in either a book or a movie, then I just hate it. Great post.

  17. I've been going back and forth about whether to rent TLA. I guess I won't. Too bad. When I saw Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, I thought he be such a great writer/director, but...

  18. When I first saw it, I loved it. My kids and I watch the cartoon at home and the film had a lot of potential. But in retrospect, I see what you mean... there was something I couldn't quite put my finger on, and it wasn't that the concept was bad, it was the execution of the story on film. M. Night has a tendency in carving out hollow stories... most of his films are that way... missing something you can't quite figure out.
    Someone else said the fact the cartoon characters are all Asian and the main characters in the film were not, was a total sell out.

  19. Movies that influenced my writing? I think "Pulp Fiction" taught me that cubism has a place in storytelling.

    Interesting post!

  20. The cartoon has way more depth. (I can't believe I just wrote that) I mean I only saw about half of the movie and didn't want to see any more. The script was lame. i think the beginning moved too fast. there was no time to connect with the characters.

    Also, the kid in me would have loved to seen a blue force field around Aang when he went into Avatar-state... (like the cartoon):)


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