Grossing an estimated $70,500,000 in its long first opening weekend, The Last Airbender is doing well for a film hated by critics. Watching The Last Airbender at a well attended viewing, packed with families during the Independence Day weekend, I asked parents why they would come to a film rated poorly by critics; their reply was because their kids wanted to see it. Other people said very simply because they just wanted to see it. Mentioning the reviews to a couple, they said, “They see films because they are fans of the genre.” What I didn’t hear, was that people were coming for the train-wreck factor.
In comparing The Last Airbender to a film like Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, financiallyAirbender is doing quite well in the domestic market. Only grossing $88,768,303 domestically, Percy Jackson only made $31,236,067 in its opening weekend. The numbers are skewed, however, as Airbender’s numbers consist of its July 1 opening, the weekend, and Monday, July 5, which was a holiday for many. In theaters worldwide for 20 weeks, Percy Jackson’s grand total was $226,057,663, with 60 percent of those ticket sales in foreign markets.
Only receiving a 50 percent Fresh Rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Percy Jackson, paid off its production costs and still made about a $100 million to boot. Appealing to young audiences, the long-windedly titled Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, a book adaptation, had decent acting not hindered with anime-stilted dialog. Logan Lerman, who played the title character, was free to play a modern-day version of the Greek Myth of Perseus in any style that director Chris Columbus wanted.
M. Night Shyamalan, on the other hand, took the Nickelodeon TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, and is working with the show’s co-creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The two serve as executive producers and serve as Shyamalan’s bosses, want him to make their anime characters, with their anime dialog, to come alive within the scope of a live action motion picture. As of this writing, Rotten Tomatoes has an 8 percent Fresh Rating, meaning it is rotten.
More comparisons to a period film, for example, this season’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the seven-word title is shy two words of the Percy Jackson title. Once again, we have a film set in ancient times, similar to the world of the Four Nations of The Last Airbender. Prince of Persia made $30,095,259 in its opening weekend, and, in the last 39 weeks, Prince made $88,374,000 in domestic sales. Overseas, Prince of Persia brought in $226,000,000 sales for a grand total of $314,374,000. Critics gave Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time a 37 percent fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been in theaters for about 39 weeks.
Doing better than either Percy Jackson or Prince of Persia domestically is the Jackie Chan film The Karate Kid. The Karate Kid, which is making over $155,023,000 estimated domestic sales, has only been in theaters for 25 days, and is still bringing in revenue. With a production budget reported at $40 million, Sony / Columbia and director Harald Zwart have made back executive producer Will Smith’s money, and enough sales and respect to do a sequel. Reaching a 69 percent Fresh Rating, Karate Kid succeeds where the other films fail.
Without getting into a complete film review of The Last Airbender, I can tell you that many of the kids 16 years and younger found the film to be fun and exciting. I asked around the crowded theater for opinions from the kids; their response was “great,” “awesome,” and similar descriptions. The parents shook their heads with a smile, and you could tell that they came not to see the film, but to see the smile on their kids’ faces. The film hasn’t opened in the UK yet, but it will on August 13, just in time to boost the inevitable slumping in sales that The Last Airbender will face.
As far as the critics are concerned, they use words like “race-bending” (Prince of Persia had the same charges leveled at it too). Roger Ebert’s opening line described it as an “agonizing experience,” and even Associated Content’s own Kyle Greggory said about the film, “It is my humble opinion that Shyamalan should be done with filmmaking.” The Washington Post said that, “Ringer brings less than zero gravitas to the role.”
It is easy to bash Shyamalan for his films, as each film hits certain notes with fans and stabs certain nerves with critics. Starting with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, his directorial choices are uneven at best. Right now, the lambasted director is suffering a 44 percent fresh rating overall. He made hits with the two films just mentioned, and additional hits with Stewart Little and Signs. However, films such as Lady in the Water fared badly, with only a 24 percent rating, However, I have friends who just love that movie, and Paul Giamatti’s acting in the film. If anything, with The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan put his finger directly on his target audience, and in their parent’s wallets, and is now laughing all the way to the bank.
Box Office Mojo