Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sorry, kid, I heard it sucks. Pick something else?

Well, the arrow seems to be pointing in the right direction, at least.

Pop quiz, hot-shots: You hear a movie your kid really wants to see is bad. What do you do?

No, that isn't meant to be a belated tribute to Dennis Hopper. It's a real question in light of the collective retching that has greeted M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender, based on the much-loved Nickelodeon cartoon.

You don't have to have kids to know that parenting involves a lot of sacrificing - and for many moms and dads, that means putting up with  kids movies in which the adult appeal is, shall we say, limited.

With Airbender, however, the situation is a little different than usual. This isn't something like Marmaduke or the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, which usually don't resonate with anybody who got past middle school. For one thing, I've heard a number of adults talk about how much they enjoy the show. For another, Shyamalan has a fan base that is mostly adult.

Unfortunately, that fan base has been steadily dwindling since The Village, and the reviews of The Last Airbender indicate the spiral continues to swirl downward. Consider:

The Last Airbender keeps throwing things at you, but its final effect is, in every way, flat. - Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly.
The story is a much more serious problem, a run-on, overstuffed narrative that feels like a very long prologue for a climax that never comes. - Liam Lacy, The (Toronto) Globe and Mail
If ever a film was born under a bad sign, "The Last Airbender" is it. As the blues lyric goes, if it didn't have bad luck, it wouldn't have any kind of luck at all. - Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times. 
And those are some of the KINDER notices. Also consider:
This colossal folly, the fiasco of the summer of 2010 — gives us all a ringside seat at the sight of Mr. “I See Dead People’s” career gurgling down the drain. - (the other) Roger Moore, the Orlando Sentinel
The Last Airbender is dreadful, an incomprehensible fantasy-action epic that makes the 2007 film “The Golden Compass,’’ a similarly botched adaptation of a beloved property from another medium, look like a four-star classic. - Ty Burr, the Boston Globe.
The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. - Roger Ebert
Now, I can guess what some of you are thinking. Kids don't care what a bunch of grumpy old men critics think. Many adults don't either, alas. Still, there is a dilemma here.  With this property, and with reviews this bad, you can't chalk this up to a "kid-view vs. adult-view" dispute.

So what do you tell a child who has been chomping at the bit to see this? I expect many parents to take the kids, let them make up their own minds and hope for the best. A colleague of mine saw the movie with her family and reported that the film, while not great, was not nearly as bad as the critics have said.

But there are two sides to every story. At this time of writing, its Yahoo users grade (Read: Average Joes)  is C+. That's not too good for graders who tend to be generous. They give Knight and Day a B+, for Pete's sake.  And A.O. Scott of the New York Times wrote: 
"An astute industry analyst of my acquaintance, who is 9 and an admirer of the Nickelodeon animated series on which the movie is based, offered a two-word diagnosis of its commercial prospects on the way out of the theater: 'They’re screwed.'"

But right now, the only person who could persuade me to see the movie is an utterly charming niece of mine. Were it my own kid, though, I would gently but firmly suggest, "Why don't we see Toy Story 3 again, OK?" 

1 comment:

David M. Allen M.D. said...

The critic in the Memphis newspaper said something to the effect that it made any Jerry Bruckheimer film look like a masterpiece.