Trashy, goofy, and surprisingly sincere, this superhero fantasy is better than you expect but not as good as it should be.
Above: What THIS scene needs is more dimensionality!
Roger Ebert says that M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender" is such an "agonizing experience" that it "puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D":
it's a disaster even if you like 3D. M. Night Shyamalan's retrofit [shot in 2-D, digitally reprocessed for 3-D] 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.
Until 3-D can be made virtually unnoticeable, it will remain what it has always been: a novelty. And even then it won't be good for much besides adding an artificial sweetener to cartoons and comic books. And jacking up the ticket price. I look at it this way: When it comes to reading, which do you find more immersive -- a novel or a pop-up book?
Every 30 years or so the gimmick comes back around. It was a brief fad in the 1950s ("It Came From Outer Space," "House of Wax," "Robot Monster," "Dial M for Murder"), the 1980s ("Amityville 3-D," "Friday the 13th Part III," "Jaws 3-D," "Comin' at Ya!") and... the last few years ("The Polar Express," "Chicken Little," "Up," "Coraline," "Avatar," "Alice in Wonderland")... But notice that, with the exception of Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder" (adapted from a stage play), none of these films were targeted toward adults. (The 1950s 3-D trend was so brief that it was over by the time "Dial M" was ready for release; it didn't come out in 3-D until the 1980s.)
Meanwhile, 3-D is the same as it ever was. Like all the most effective effects, it only works when you don't notice it's an effect.
UPDATE (07/03/10): From an article at Salon.com, "How bad 3-D is ruining movies":
Bad word-of-mouth by itself won't stem the tide of low-rent 3-D. Although Paramount would not disclose how many of "Airbender's" 3,000-plus screens were dedicated to the "premium experience," anecdotal evidence from New York and Los Angeles, among other cities, suggests that audiences in upscale areas were having difficulty locating 2-D screenings. A listings search turned up exactly one non-3-D theater on the island of Manhattan; ditto Santa Monica.
Even Katzenberg, who compares the new 3-D to the coming of sound, has warned of the dangers of cheapo three-dimensionalization; subpar releases risk killing the golden goose. At the Seoul Digital Forum in May, "Avatar's" James Cameron said that "creating only good 3D content will be critical to swelling the market, as bad experiences will only make audiences wary of spending next time." Michael Bay, at work on "Transformers 3," put it more succinctly, "You can't just shit out a 3D movie."
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