In case you didn’t get the memo last year, James Cameron’s 3D blockbuster with blue aliens wasn’t the real Avatar. That honor fell to an M. Night Shyamalan film called The Last Airbender, which was a live-action adaptation of the wildly popular Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon. I was among the people who didn’t realize that small fact prior to the films’ releases on the big screen, nor had I heard of the cartoon until a coworker mentioned that his kids loved it. So, I went into The Last Airbender with no expectations or preconceived notions, a mindset that followed me into the review of The Last Airbender on Blu-ray. As far as I knew, The Last Airbender was just some fancy kung fu film.
If only it had been. Instead, the fantasy/action movie is the last piece of evidence in Moviegoers vs. Shyamalan, a court case I wish someone would file to force Mr. Sixth Sense from making any more movies. The Last Airbender just tries to do too much, cover too much ground and be the next Lord of the Rings in scale — but it fails miserably because of those attempts. It’s also not exactly helped by the fact that the lead actors are all kids, each of whom is in need of more seasoning before taking the reins of a major motion picture. Between the bad acting, schizophrenic filmmaking and frayed narrative thread, all The Last Airbender has left is CG effects. At least those are good.
But this isn’t a review of The Last Airbender the movie; it’s a review of The Last Airbender the Blu-ray release. And the Blu-ray release of the film gets much higher marks than the film itself. On the video front, The Last Airbender’s 1080p AVC transfer does a great job representing the subtle but tolerable grain of film while still maintaining crisp imagery and good light/dark contrast. The film itself, because it takes place in differently themed and thus differently colored lands, provides great opportunities to show off its diverse color palette as well, which it does to great effect. At times the skintones carry a bit of a red tone, but generally speaking the colors are well balanced and really show-off the pristine transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio is even better, and in fact The Last Airbender on Blu-ray has some of the best audio I’ve heard this year. The surround channels are used with particularly great effect, and the dialogue never comes off as faint or shallow, even though the rest of the effects are absolutely booming. It’s the subtle audio nuances that really steal the show, though, as leaves rustling past the camera or wind swirling around the main character deliver a sense of aural immersion like few other Blu-ray Disc releases in 2010.
The bonus features seem sparse at first, but they’re surprisingly long in duration and are all presented in high definition, a nice touch for most recent releases. The first bonus feature is Discovering The Last Airbender, an almost-hour-long feature divided into nine parts that explores various aspects of production. It really comes across as a nuts and bolts making-of feature, but the depth it goes into with regard to unique obstacles for this film (such as filming in Greenland) provide some nice context. Continuing the “in depth” theme, the 18-minute Siege of the North goes into the utmost detail about creating the film’s final scene both digitally and literally.
The remaining features are all relatively short, although one of them in particular (Origins of the Avatar) provides good background information about the “Avatar” cartoon series for newbies such as this reviewer. In Katara for a Day (5:37), Blu-ray owners get to see what life on the set of a major motion picture through the eyes of the teenage girl who plays Katara, while the Deleted Scenes (yes, in HD) and Outtakes round things out.
I won’t sit here and lie to you; The Last Airbender is not a Blu-ray release I’d recommend buying. As a Blu-ray presentation it does extraordinarily well, from video all the way down to bonus features, and the audio is perhaps the best we’ve heard this year. But it’s hard to justify dropping money on a movie just for the sake of its multimedia and bonus features. The meat of any Blu-ray release is always the film, and sadly in this case, no amount of tenderizing is going to make The Last Airbender palatable.
Click here to buy The Last Airbender Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack.
— Jonas Allen