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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Roger Ebert on 'The Last Airbender': Phony 3-D at its worst

July 1, 2010 | 12:08 pm

Dev_patel It's no secret that Roger Ebert hates 3-D movies. The dean of America film critics took to the pages of Newsweek recently to make his case, calling 3-D "a waste of a perfectly good dimension." It has also dawned on Ebert, as it has others of us, why Hollywood studios have been falling over each other to convert their films into 3-D, even when it was something of an act of artistic suicide, as with the awful-looking "Clash of the Titans." As Ebert put it, the studios' mania for 3-D "is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets."

So I guess it's not a surprise to see Ebert come out swinging again in his new review of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender," which opens at theaters around the country Friday. The film, based on a popular Nickelodeon TV series, takes place in a dystopian future when man survives only in the form of beings endowed with magical powers that enable them to control air, earth, water and fire. (Dev Patel, pictured here, plays Prince Zuko.) Ebert ends his review by saying that he hopes the film's title will prove to be prophetic, but not before taking a whipping stick to the whole misguided project, especially its quasi-3-D elements. You can read the whole review here, but this is the core of Ebert's brief against the film:

" 'The Last Airbender' is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that. Let's start with the 3D, which was added as an afterthought to a 2D movie. Not only is it unexploited, unnecessary and hardly noticeable, but it's a disaster even if you like 3D. M. Night Shyamalan's retrofit produces the drabbest, darkest, dingiest movie of any sort I've seen in years. You know something is wrong when the screen is filled with flames that have the vibrancy of faded Polaroids. It's a known fact that 3D causes a measurable decrease in perceived brightness, but "Airbender" looks like it was filmed with a dirty sheet over the lens.

Ebert isn't alone on this one. "Airbender" currently has earned an abysmal 6 at Rotten Tomatoes, which if that number holds could make it the worst-reviewed major studio film of the year. The critics have dinged it for its incomprehensible plot, laughable dialogue and -- oh yes -- horrible 3-D effects. My favorite jab came from the Detroit News' Tom Long, who got so worked up about the film's general overall stupidity that he said the picture looked as if it "could have been made by the spoiled son of a studio mogul willing to waste gobs of money."

We'll see what audiences think, but I fear that this cheesy attempt to exploit higher 3-D ticket prices will only put another nail in the 3-D coffin by generating even more public cynicism (or justifiable skepticism) about the real motives behind the 3-D revolution. Either way, the film represents another critical drubbing for Shyamalan, whose stock has continued to plummet after the phenomenal success of "The Sixth Sense," which is looking more and more like a flukish bolt of inspiration from a Hollywood hack, not a polished gem from a game-changing filmmaker.

Photo: Dev Patel at the premiere of "The Last Airbender" in New York earlier this week.

Credit: Peter Kramer / Associated Press