The critics – ours included – had a field day with M. Night Shyamalan’s clunky kids’ flick and Jimmy Hayward’s chaotic comic-book adaptation.
Released within weeks of each other over the summer, they were both held aloft as object lessons in how not to make a movie. But in retrospect, we’ve worked out what the problem was.
Not bad casting, poor scripting and incomprehensible action, though these played a part. No, the problem was they should have swapped directors.
Think about it. Who better to bring DC Comics’ revenge-seeking bounty hunter Jonah Hex back to life than Shyamalan, a self-confessed fanboy who, in Unbreakable, created one of the cleverest, most sophisticated superhero films of the noughties?
And if you were going to make a big-screen, live-action version of a popular Nickelodeon TV show, wouldn’t a former Pixar animator who co-directed Horton Hears A Who! be well placed to pull it off?
Hayward could have brought the sense of wonder so woefully absent in Shyamalan’s fantasy adventure, a distressingly literal affair set in a mystical world of element-manipulating ‘benders’, yet wholly bereft of magic or fun.
Given his knack for measured, thought-out storytelling, meanwhile, the Sixth Sense man could have imposed a muchneeded discipline on Jonah’s messy mix of Old West mayhem and supernatural shenanigans, not to mention rein in John Malkovich’s demented turn as a former Confederate renegade out to disrupt America’s centennial celebrations with a weapon of mass destruction.
OK, we won’t labour the point. But it does suggest that some films are doomed before a single frame is shot simply because the wrong man is behind the camera, and that twinning the right guy with the right project is at least as important as getting the right star for the leading role.
In that department, incidentally, Jonah gets it spot-on, Josh Brolin filling the leather chaps of his facially disfigured, perma-snarling anti-hero as if to the manner born.
It’s fair to say also that Dev Patel does far better as The Last Airbender’s princely villain than the material deserves, the Slumdog dude providing a charismatic relief to the film’s otherwise wooden ensemble of talentless child actors and multi-ethnic no-marks.
The Airbender extras were not available at time of writing (the movie’s one long gag reel as it is…). Hex, meanwhile, boasts a few deleted scenes that clarify some of its convoluted narrative and explain what happens to Michael Shannon’s itinerant vaudevillian.
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