DISCLAIMER: I am not writing this because I don’t like anyone or any group personally. I am simply writing this because I disagree, and frankly this movie deserves it. Feel free to agree/disagree in the comments (and give your comments on the prompt; it’s part of why I’m doing this).
Special disclaimer: THESE CRITICISMS ARE NOT PERSONAL. I have never met any of the cast, and am not criticising them personally. I’m sure that if any of the cast came over to my house for brats and root beer, they would be sociable, well-adjusted, good-natured, perfectly likable people. These criticisms are aimed at their performances and acting, and are not about their personal lives or moral conduct.
ANOTHER Special disclaimer: I do not support the concept of “racebending”, or the fact that several main cast members have been “whitewashed”. Not only do I believe this is a post-facto complaint and rather poor excuse to hate the movie (seriously, there are a plethora of other actually legitimate reasons dislike it; take your pick), but I believe the fact is that the race of the characters is irrelevant to the original series, seeing as their race is only hinted at, is completely irrelevant to the story, and in the end doesn’t matter anyway, seeing as white American actors/actresses voice a lot of the cast members that are supposed to be Asian or Samoan or whatever.
Now, seeing as this is a discussion topic and not a bill for healthcare (seeing how many disclaimers are in it), I’ll get on with this 3-part topic of why the characters in the movie are absolute tripe sandwiches with a side of ca-ca and a diet soda.
I had three general expectations with the characters going into the movie, two of which I’ll focus on now: that the casting was solid and if the actors would deliver solid, credible performances.
It wasn’t, and they didn’t.
It’s hard to adapt cartoons to live action, because cartoon characters, when compared to real, human characters look... well, cartoony. Features like noses, eyes, ears, and body proportions like head size, hair volume, and others are exaggerated to allow for better facial expressions and such. In fact, if you look at Dragonball: Evolution (another infamously terrible anime-to-film adaptation), one of the bigger problems was that it was haneously miscast because the actors looked practically nothing like their anime counterparts; a Jonas Brothers clone for Goku, some brunette chick for Bulma, an Asian Surfer-Dude (who, quite frankly, I had no idea existed) for Yamcha, and so on. Some characters simply can’t be translated from cartoon to live-action. Like could you imagine Mario being adapted to live action? His nose is huge, his head is the size of his body, his hands are enormous, and he looks nothing like Bob Hoskins (obscure movie reference). And that problem is blatantly obvious with the casting. The actors/actresses look nothing like their cartoon counterparts at ALL. And with this sort of thing, you have to be kind of lenient because of the aforementioned reasons, but it still seems like they could have tried harder. I just don’t believe that these actors are the characters they are supposed to represent; they don’t look right, they don’t seem fit for the part. It feels like impostors have taken the place of the characters on the screen. This is not Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter, this is not Jack Nicholson’s or Heath Ledger’s Joker, this is not Daniel Craig’s James Bond; it’s not even Julian McMahon’s Dr. Doom; it’s just off. I know that’s obscure and not very detailed, but it’s hard to accurately describe why the casting is off other than they don’t look or behave like their counterparts (more on that next time). Aang looks off, Katara doesn’t seem right, Sokka seems too old, Iroh is too skinny, Zhao is Asif Madvi, Haru is too young, Taro doesn’t look grizzled or strong, I could go on for a long old time but won’t.
For the first part of the movie, I thought the worst-cast actor was Dev Patel as Zuko. I didn’t like the casting for any of the other characters (as evidenced above), but Dev Patel as Zuko was just wrong for me. I said that I didn’t care about the race of the actors/actresses (and I still don’t), but this really got in the way for me. The characters of the show had this quality to them that didn’t make their ethnicity specific; you could see the characters as whatever you wanted to see them. For instance, M. Night’s kids saw Katara as Indian, even though she was supposed Samoan. And I can totally see that; they were whatever you wanted to see, and were however you imagined them to be. That said, I just can’t picture Zuko as Indian. I’m not sure what I could visualize him to be in reality, but not Indian. It’s the big difference between the show and the movie; it went from “He is whatever you want him to be” to “His race is set. Deal with it”. In fact, that may be why the casting seems so off to me: the actual race of the characters was left ambiguous, so it really didn’t matter. In the movie it’s much more pronounced, and therefore draws more attention to it, which shouldn’t be done. Anyway, Zuko is terribly miscast: I did not believe for one moment that Dev Patel was Zuko. His hair seemed off, his face too pointed, and his scar looks more like a mild, peeling sunburn than a hideous disfiguration on his face that serves as a daily reminder of his struggle that he must overcome to restore his honor. It was clear to me that this was definitely the worst casting in the movie, and one that could not be topped.
And then the fire lord came.
The film already has a strike against it for showing the fire lord in the first place: there is a reason why you never see him until the third season. His face was always obscured in fire and shadows: he had a veil of fear and mystery wrapped around him that made him incredibly intimidating, and the scene where he is finally revealed to be just an ordinary human has a lot of power to it. (Plus he was voiced by Mark Hammill, which is pretty awesome). In the movie... he’s a chubby Indian dude (no offense to Cliff Curtis). That was my first thought when I first saw him in the movie: “Wait, what?... No... (despairing) NO... that’s not the fire lord, THAT’S A CHUBBY INDIAN DUDE!” I mean... look at him! He’s chubby! It might just be his costuming, but... God, I don’t know. What was the casing department thinking?!?! Does this look like the fire lord to you? Does he look like the most powerful fire bender in the world? Or the leader of the most advanced, dominating nation in the world? I think not. He doesn’t even get an entrance: he just appears in one of the scenes and then it slowly dawns on you that the random dignitary Zhao is talking to is actually the fire lord after all. It’s arguable who is worse cast for their roles, but to me Zuko and the fire lord are pretty much even when it comes to sheer, crushing disappointment and miscasting.
I guess the best cast actor/actress is Seychelle Gabriel as Yue. I’m not sure that she’s the best look-alike for the part (even though I can’t think of a better one off the top of my head), but she’s really not bad. But would it have killed them to dye her hair all the way white, not just the outside layer? And her eyebrows, too? It looks really tacky, especially when she goes on about her hair being naturally colored.
But casting is nothing compared to a good performance well played, right? For even the worst casting can be made up for with some strong acting to compensate for it, right? Well, to bad most of the main actors aren’t even remotely up to the job.
Noah Ringer is just pitiful as Aang. It’s his first performance, and he was even the first actor to be cast strictly via an internet-posted audition. And man, does it show. I’m more inclined to be lenient because of those reasons, and I believe that the nature of his acting has a lot to do with bad direction, but it’s just not a good performance. He’s not expressive, he’s not emotive, his inflections are flat (if present at all), and his acting doesn’t fit his character. He has exactly two readily used facial expressions: stoic and constipated (when he’s not staring down the actors with his poker face, he looks like he didn’t study for his algebra exam that’s in an hour). I really hope he can find something better than this: he’ll probably go somewhere in the future (look at Jennifer Connelly or Leonardo DiCaprio), I just hope he can find something better than this.
Noah does not have the only banal performance. In fact, most of the actors have the same problem; they are stale and vapid, and in a way that they seem to be mimicking each other. This may have to do with the direction and the writing certainly doesn’t help, but even they seem like they’re just running their lines without any conviction. The acting differs only slightly from actor to actress, and none of them are good. They all seem to be stuck on one or two emotions throughout the whole movie; Nicola Peltz looks like she’s going to burst into tears in every other shot she’s in as Katara, Jackson Rathbone either looks baffled of like he’s going to snap as Sokka, Cliff Curtis... ugh... Aasiv Mandvi seems to be building up the punch line of a really funny joke but never actually delivers it as Zhao, etc.
The only performances that are passable are Shaun Toub as Iroh, Seychelle Gabriel as Yue, and (strangely enough) Dev Patel Zuko. I say strangely enough not because he’s not a good actor (Slumdog Millionaire, anyone?), but because of the juxtaposition of Dev Patel being the worst cast person (arguably, anyway) also being the best actor in the movie. His acting is fine, but with the severe limitations of the script and direction, his performance is really just okay, never rising to anything great. The same is true with Shaun Toub and Seychelle Gabriel: they can act just fine, but can’t really succeed with the script and direction.
Well, that’s all for now. Stay tuned for part two, where I tackle the major differences between the character traits from the movie and the show.
So, what did you think? Was I right on the money, or do you think I’m nuts and don’t know what I’m talking about? Who do you think was the best cast in the movie? Who do you think was worst cast? Who gave the best performance? Who gave the worst? Sound off below, if you please!
Last edited by The Blue Cinic
on Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.