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Filmgoers beware: 'The Last Airbender' is NOT like 'The Last Emperor'

July 1, 2010 |  1:29 pm


I have a confession to make: I've always had a fondness for http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001EOQCMG?ie=UTF8&tag=latimes-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B001EOQCMG"The Last Emperor," the sweeping movie about the life and times of the royal Pu Yi of China. Bernardo Bertolucci's masterpiece, the last foreign-language film to win best picture (and eight other Oscars)," is one I associate closely with my discovery of art-house cinema in the late 1980s. 

So you can imagine my excitement at hearing that Hollywood had decided to reboot the franchise.

The story in this new movie, which Paramount had cagily renamed "The Last Airbender" (you don't want to scare anyone off -- smart devils) seemed similar, only better. A young anointed one would face trials and tribulations while wars between civilizations swirled around him. A look at some of the studio marketing material, included above, confirmed that this was going to be a very comparable filmgoing experience to the one I had more than two decades ago. There would be a new "The Last Emperor"!

Anticipation filled my mind and excitement ran through my heart when I received an invitation to a "Last Airbender" screening this week. This movie was going to bring back all that was once good about moviegoing. Character nuance, striking cinematography, a parable of the modern world -- all would be present. I eagerly scooped up my 3-D glasses, certain that when I looked through them I would see a new world -- and, perhaps, a new soul.

At first things seemed to be going smoothly. I watched as Zuko the Fire Lord captured Aang the Airbender, which struck me as very similar to when the Red Army put China under Soviet rule and captured Pu Yi. I was equally enthralled thinking about how Pu Yi was installed as a puppet ruler of a Japanese state, and realized it was being perfectly re-created here when Fire Nation Commanders kill the Moon Gods and drain the life force out of the Waterbenders.

I also thought about the anarchy and cultural uncertainty Pu Yi faced in the early days of the Chinese Republic, and realized it was much like when the Waterbenders Katara and Sokka find themselves in a prison riot with the Earthbenders. This was a great remake!

The visuals were just as exciting. Many of the "Last Emperor" shots of the Forbidden City, shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, were expertly re-created on the sets in Reading, Penn., and remastered in a 3-D conversion laboratory.

AirbBut as the movie went on, it became clear that the people who made this movie weren't very faithful to the original at all. There was almost nothing, for instance, about Pu Yi's upbringing in the royal court of the Manchu Aisin-Gioro ruling family, or of his proletarian transformation during Mao's Cultural Revolution.

And where was Pu Yi when he realized he was complicit in atrocities against the Japanese? I'm all for artistic license, but did the people who made this film even read Long-hsuen Hsu's "History of the Sino-Japanese War"?!

I decided to find out more about the people who made this movie. Who is this "M. Night Shyamalan," I wondered? I went back and looked at what else he had directed and realized he had tried to remake Bertolucci before -- and failed. This "M. Night" had made "Lady in the Water," about a troubled young woman who seeks solace and refuge with an older man. But as I started watching it I realized it wasn't like "Last Tango in Paris" at all. "M. Night" had completely botched it.

I tried another one, taking a movie Bertolucci only wrote, thinking it might be easier for "M. Night" to remake that. I looked at an "M. Night" movie about a man who tries to protect innocents from an outside threat. But no matter how you design the marketing poster, Touchstone Pictures, you're not going to convince me "Signs" is as good as "Once Upon a Time in the West."

Sure, you can go see "The Last Airbender" this weekend. But don't let the analogous plot points or the very similar marketing fool you. It is nothing like "The Last Emperor."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photos: "The Last Emperor" and "The Last Airbender." Credits: Columbia Pictures and Paramount Pictures


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Comments () | Archives (22)

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Last Airbender is a tv series, not a remake of the movie The Last Emperor.
Do your research. Or at the very least Google it. And you should not be doing movie reviews if you dont even know who M. Night Shyamalan is who made the Sixth Sense.

The only thing i have to say about this review is that it's author is a complete and utter idiot. The movie was based on a cartoon called "Avatar: the last Airbender" not "The Last Emperor" The references that are being used in this review have absolutely nothing to do with the movies over all story arc. The show "Avatar" in Nickelodeon is one of the BEST kids shows on the market right now and could be placed in the halls with some of Japans best anime. Obviously the Author of this review had no idea what he was watching at all. IT IS NOT A REMAKE OF THE LAST EMPEROR. Jesus, do your research for once.

Steven, FYI, this movie is NOT a remake of "The Last Emperor," but rather an adaptation of an animated TV series called "Avatar, The Last Airbender", which ran on the Nickelodeon network. That series was quite good. Watching it in reruns was an enjoyable nightly ritual for my 10 year old daughter and me. The movie did suck, nonetheless.

I'm not entirely sure where you heard that 'The Last Airbender' was a re-make of the classic 'The Last Emperor' but that source was mistaken. The movie is in fact based on Nickelodeon's animated series 'Avatar : The Last Airbender,' to be exact it covers what happened in the first of three seasons of that series.

you do realize this was made after the cartoon series "Avatar: the last airbender" right?

Excuse me, but are you really that stupid? Avatar: The Last Airbender was a completely original concept that never did or tried to have ANYTHING to do with the Last Emperor. The fact that you couldn't deduce this from the trailer itself is astounding, and really makes me question your sanity. Yes the Last Emperor was an amazing movie, but it was not a FRANCHISE or even a series! It's a historical life story, and there would be no reason to remake or add on to the first movie! I guess what I am trying to say is, quite frankly, you are too stupid to be alive.

Steven Zeitchik,

I don't think you have any idea what The Last Airbender is really about. And how do you NOT know who M. Night is?!

Do some more research...

Um, people, this was (obvious!) satire, and in case that word is too difficult, let me make it more clear: IT WAS A JOKE. How much more broad and obvious could the author have made it?

Man, there are a lot of people with broken sense of humor boxes out there. Frightening.

I never comment in these things but I just have to say I am amazed how all of the previous remarks fail completely at picking up the subtle sarcasm in the article. Of course he knows who Shamalan is, what the source content is for Airbender, etc!

Personally I'm a big fan of the animated series, and even though I've read all the negative reviews I'll still see it because of that. It's just refreshing to read a review that still manages to be critical of the movie without rehashing the criticism of every other review in the news.

Dude, your an idiot. Go back to school... And please don't review any more movies!

yeh i was also surprised at how STUPID these people are that didnt realize this was a joke.. frighteningly stupid, but then again, thats just another day on planet earth

btw - this joke review is also painfully not funny.. its like listening to some whiny nerd talking about "delicious puns" and "totally awesome stuff, guys" .. truly horrible

this made me lol

Well, yes, I could also say that this joke wasn't all that funny by itself, but the troll effect of so many people thinking it was serious was quite amusing. :)

Some of these people had better never read 'A Modest Proposal' by J. Swift.

No, I'm sure all of these people have read that piece - it's just this article was such poorly written it actually fooled people into beleiving it was true.

LOL!!! At least Google the title before you write an article about it...

I apologize. I had just come back from seeing the film, and was blinded w/ anger towards lack of faithfulness to the series. I had Googled "the last airbender remake" to see if anyone had started a petition yet. Beautiful Satire.

I know this is probably a joke, but watch Avatar: The last airbender. The story might make more sense...

"The Last Airbender" isn't supposed to be like "The Last Emperor". It's supposed to be like the first season of the Nickelodeon animated series "Avatar: The Last Airbender", and it fails miserably.

"Avatar: The Last Airbender" is a terrific story, dealing with themes like honour, courage, love, betrayal, and has interesting characters. The series is an example of great story-telling. "The Last Airbender" movie is just bad story-telling. There was simply too much material in an entire season to try to make one movie out of it. M. Night gave us the basic plot but removed everything that would make us care about it.

Bad acting doesn't really bother me but bad story-telling does.

HOLY GOD. I can not BELIEVE that people took the 'review' at face value. He was being SARCASTIC! To all the posters who are blaming the critic for being stupid, anyone who understands what he's doing is just shaking their head at you fcuking clowns. If these are your responses, the human race (no wait, I mean America) is doomed. Please stop embarrassing yourselves and stop posting.

This review was as bad as the movie.

woops... get the joke.... sort of, would help if i had known more about westerns


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