Friday, 13 August 2010

The Last Airwhat?

In a lesson for us all (linguistics? cultural imperialism? economics and hegemony?), M Night Shyawhatever's latest film has been released in the UK. It is, by all accounts, mind-numbingly boring (the Irish Times called it a 'North Korean adaptation of the Bhagavad Gita' and 'so misconceived and shabby that it comes as a surprise when they actually make it through to the end credits') and apparently racist (good people - white, bad people - Asian, just like that Indiana Jones one set in India).

It's called The Last Airbender.

Oh dear. Oh dearie, dearie me. For UK English speakers, is that 'bender' is a rather old-fashioned and/or Northern term for homosexuals. Not the worst one, more a playground term.

This makes watching the film a very different experience for British people than it does for Americans.

Have a read of this review in the Guardian by the excellent Peter Bradshaw - one of the funniest I've ever read.

For a British audience, the film's language is inadvertently flavoured by associations and nuances that are vulgar, abusive, and very, very unfortunate indeed.

At the cinema showing I attended, the British crowd reacted derisively at key dialogue moments. One wise old lady says solemnly to a young man: "I could tell at once that you were a bender, and that you would realise your destiny." One character tells another wonderingly: "There are some really powerful benders in the Northern Water Zone." Another whispers tensely: "We want to minimise their bender sources." A key figure is taken away by brutal soldiers, one of whom shouts cruelly: "It's a bender."
And so on, for almost two hours. Each time, the response from the auditorium was deafeningly immature, and brought many of us to a state of nervous collapse. By the end of the film, I felt like a bit-part player in some feature-length adaptation of Viz comic – Springtime for Finbarr Saunders, perhaps. This scene will inevitably be repeated in every cinema in the land showing The Last Airbender. For Friday and Saturday night showings, the police may have to be called.
But at least this linguistic lurch provided some interest in a film that is mind-bendingly boring, with an utter lack of narrative drive, an absence of jeopardy or anything at all being at stake, or of interest, in any way whatever.
It is incredible how awful the once feted director M Night Shyamalan has become and how he is still allowed to make big-budget films. I didn't think it was possible for him to make something worse than his Lady in the Water or The Happening. But he has managed it.

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