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Many fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender have demanded and expressed interest for a remake or reboot of the Film:The Last Airbender. While waiting for a reboot that may not happen, at least in the near future, Avatar wikians can work on reboot fanon using tips, resources, and samples from this page. These are my suggestions for the reboot, with most my points taken from my blog. Feel free to voice your opinions and suggestions at the commenting section below.
The Adaptation Process
I understand M Night's intentions to put everything from Book 1 into one movie but Mike and Bryan wants him to cut down stuff. Then again, M Night's method of adapting into a 2-hour plus movie does not sit well with fans of the series. He should follow the example of Steve Kloves, who penned the Harry Potter movies. In an interview, David Heyman (the producer) briefly explained the book-to-film transition. He commented on Rowling's involvement in the series, stating that she understands that "books and films are different" and is "the best support" a producer could have. Rowling has overall approval on the scripts, which are discussed by the director and the producers. Heyman also said that Kloves is the "key voice" in the process as he "breaks down" the novels and, as of the third film, the filmmakers decided to focus on Harry's journey as a character, giving the film a structure which meant that certain things needed to be left out. However, he stated that "there is a reason why these things are left out" and some fans "don't necessarily understand the adaptation process". He went on to say that the filmmakers would love to "have everything" from the books in the films, but noted that it is not possible as they have "neither time or cinematic structure" to do so. He finished by saying that "there's always tough decisions on what we leave in and what we leave out" and that "it's a really considered process." So therefore, the best way is seek Mike and Bryan to have their say rather than write the entire script by yourself. However, make sure the time-frame is neither too short nor too long. Otherwise, you can cut some scenes and place them as "deleted scenes" or release an "extended edition".
M.Night once suggested in this Mike/Bryan interview video that the trilogy will be 6+ hours. The A:TLA story has already been in audio/visual format in 30+ hours for all 3 seasons. To make a film trilogy with 6+ hours means you have to take pieces that are important to you, and rearrange and modify them so it all fits together. Anything else is a mathematical impossibility. Speaking of which, the first movie is 103 minutes (including screen credits). Multiply that by three, we get about 300+ minutes or 5 hours. So it looks he is one hour short of delivering this unless he makes a fourth movie. One suggestion is that the first book will be done in one movie, with Books 2 and 3 being adapted into two movies each. Each movie will have a running time for at least 2 1/2 hours each.
Narration and Exposition, Good or Bad?
M Night tried to make up for the short time by using narration and exposition. While a narrator is good for certain works (like Fight Club, Sin City and Haruhi Suzumiya), the series is not known for this. M Night did explain that the movie is based on Katara's point of view, so it is natural for Nicola to narrate. However, many reviews argued that they rather see the thing happen, rather than let Katara explain to the audience. The worst example is the scene where Sokka falls head over heels with Yue (like in the cartoon). Rather than give time for them to establish their relationship, Katara concludes, "My brother and the princess became friends right away". After a few scenes, Sokka suddenly volunteers to be Yue's bodyguard, for god knows why. Another major complaint is the extensive use of expository dialogue. For example, Zhao talks to Fire Lord Ozai about the scrolls which may contain the location of the Moon and Ocean Spirits from Wan Shi Tong's library in the movie. He went on to repeat the subject a few more times throughout the cause of the movie. It would be nicer for him to talk about it that one time with Iroh, using visuals to show the audience how he did. Another example is how Aang got encased in an iceberg. Rather than have a flashback like in the series, this becomes a subject to Katara and Aang's first conversation together. Katara went on to remind the audience one more time once the Gaang depart to the Southern Air Temple. So, the only solution to rectify these is to "show, don't tell", where the audience sees with their very eyes, rather than listen people explaining what is going on.
One of the major complaints about TLA is that M Night focused too much on visuals, he completely forgotten about the one crucial thing about a story: character development. Let's recap about the characters, shall we?
- Aang is a boisterous, light-hearted, fun-loving twelve year old that is in denial of the war, who displays desire to enjoy life to the fullest ("Free and joyous" as an Air Nomad). To quote Katara, "Don't you see? Aang has brought something we haven't had in a long time; fun." However, due to the movie's serious tone, the movie Aang is quiet, reserved and somewhat sad. He showed no care or compassion, even so far as a lack of connecting to those closest to him such as Katara and Sokka. He never grew out of his lack of responsibility toward the war in the same, believable fashion as series Aang did at the Northern Water Tribe.
- Katara is a bold, self-assuring, brave, motherly character who is wildly headstrong in her beliefs. Sadly, the movie Katara is somewhat closer to the Ember Island Players actress. She always look like she is going to cry, always desiring for hope but requiring it from someone else. She shown no personal interest or struggle for the events around her, and mainly took a backseat to the story. She even went as far as going, "I knew you were real. I always knew you would return." to a meditating Aang, even though earlier in the film, her grandmother had to teach her what the Avatar was and why his return was significant.
- Sokka is described as the witty and sarcastic comic relief of the group. However, when M Night that he is going to "ground" Sokka, many fans feared the worst. While his intelligence is somewhat displayed, his sarcasm and wit are sorely lacking. Worse, he has zero believable brother-sibling moments. He was close to beating Katara up when he got splashed. He also had a desire to kill Fire Nation soldiers if his sister was to be taken away.
- Zuko is somewhat close to his series counterpart in the movie. However, he doesn't display the same intelligence as he did in the series. For example, we understood why he was asking for elderly in the series, but not in the movie. As a further example, we don't know/were never shown why he suspects the Avatar is at this random village. He is not as hot-headed as season one Zuko. He is shown as feeling remorse for others, something he is blind to as of now in the series. This is shown when he apologizes to an unconscious Katara in the movie, whereas in the series he smugly rubs in his victory over her.
- Iroh is the closest to its series counterpart. However, his wisdom is not as believable, and he lacks his wise sayings. They replace his true intelligence and depth with an Avatar Test, which in itself is not believable as these are not the mechanics that define what either the Avatar or bending really is. This can confuse viewers. When Iroh shows his strength in the first season, he really lets loose and there is no stopping him. However, the only thing he ever does in the movie is make fire from nothing and not even fight with it. The craving for tea is not as frequent, and appearance-wise, he is rather tall and thin for a retired general.
- Zhao is a highly ambitious, power-hungry narcissist, noted for his arrogance and temper. His more straightforward villainous nature stands in sharp contrast to that of the conflicted Prince Zuko. While Zuko desires to capture the Avatar for personal reasons (i.e. the restoration of his honor and love of his father), Zhao is not motivated by higher ideals and seems to act only in his own interest. However, movie Zhao is more of a follower to Fire Lord Ozai. He seems more interested in scrolls than capturing the Avatar. His insults come off as insult comedy (perhaps because the actor is a Daily Show correspondent) rather than genuine hurtful ones. Like Iroh, he is underused when it comes to fighting.
- For all of Season 1, Ozai is portrayed as a shadow silhouette. He is the equivalent of the Emperor from Star Wars, who does not reveal his identity until the later movies. However, movie Ozai is exposed. Not just his face, from head to toe. He is not as hateful and cruel as series Ozai, but is rather contemplative and decisive. He even shows remorse for Zuko, his son's, banishment by warning Zhao that Zuko will be over him when he returns.
- As far as team pets go, Appa and Momo are underused. Very underused. Appa's only role in the movie is as a mode of transportation and Momo is just...there. Aang was supposed to share a bond with his pet flying bison, but apparently M Night decided not to put this in the movie because he's entirely CG? Hey, it works for Aslan and Lucy in Chronicles of Narnia! As for Momo, his name is only mentioned once and the audience did not get to see how that flying lemur (bat) is named. As for their designs, they are somewhat passable, but not as cute as their animated counterparts.
- Yue is somewhat similar to her cartoon counterpart when it comes to personality and looks. However, movie Yue is stuck with horrid lines ("We have to show them that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs.") and her entire betrothal arc got canned.
- Pakku is underused in the movie. A snarky sexist dick, movie Pakku is reduced to "generic wise guy". His theory of waterbending is false ("To master water, you must release your emotions, wherever they may lead you. Water teaches us acceptance. Let your emotions flow like water." instead of "Push and pull").
- Kanna looks more like a typical Caucasian "auntie" rather than a dreary Inuit old lady. How she manages to know so much about the Spirit World is beyond me. Why on earth did Katara call her "grandma" rather than "gran-gran", a direct translation of how Asians call their grandmother (e.g. po-po in Chinese). According to the official cast list, she is listed as "Katara's Grandma" rather than her given name.
- Haru and Tyro are not only underused, like Kanna, they are also unnamed. All the Earthbending boy did is throw tiny rocks from behind a tree ("it really hurt!"), hide behind others and speak only one line throughout the entire movie. He did not even contribute to the Earthbender prison fight. Eartbending Father did not start the rebellion against the Fire Nation right after breaking out of the prison. Both the boy and his father are mysteriously ignored after the fighting scene. Also, rather than let the Earthbenders fend for themselves, Sokka was the one who suggested the rebellion and let Aang get rid of the remaining soldiers, as opposed to departing to the North Pole right away. The boy's mother does not appear in the movie.
- Azula is too early to judge, since she only appeared in the end.
Another thing is the lack of "foil" in the movie. A foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight various features of that other character's personality, throwing these characteristics into sharper focus. One example is Doctor Watson, a highly intelligent man, if lacking in Sherlock Holmes's insight, he serves as a perfect foil for Holmes: the ordinary man against the brilliant, emotionally-detached analytical machine. So if for most of Season One, Zuko is a driven, humorless, rigid and angry character, then it makes sense for Aang to be an easygoing, positive, joyful and humorous character, wouldn't you say? So why did Shyamalan feel it was necessary to make Aang as much like Zuko as he could without outright giving him the scar? Because it seemed like he "wasn't upset enough" or something? Aang's not exactly "over" his pain or guilt (The Southern Air Temple, The Storm and The Guru prove that), but part of what makes him work as a hero is because he's working to try and fix things despite his shortcomings AND because he's ultimately an unflappably positive person. God forbid there should be a protagonist who's genuinely in awe of and enthusiastic about the world he's apart of. It's also part of what makes Zuko's journey stand out so much by comparison. Regardless of which hero you feel is "best", the fact is that not only do BOTH of them need to be there, but BOTH of them have to portray these two vastly different worldviews and personalities, in order to hold each other up as characters. In much the same way that the differing tones of drama and humor have to be intact in some degree to elevate the film and make it work. So therefore, in order to make the characters connect to the audience, their personalities should be emphasized.
The Balance of Humor and Drama
Throughout the production of TLA, Shyamalan repeatedly brought up his decision to diminish the comedic elements that pervade ATLA as a series. For the most part, I can understand the decision to excise some of the zanier moments of more "cartoony" humor, which rarely translate well over to a live-action format. That said, Shyamalan choosing to take as much of that away as he could and make it as "serious" as possible is a sign that he might not have been just the 'wrong director', but that he may not have ever gotten a key element of why ATLA worked as well as it did. See, ATLA is certainly not without its serious bits, but it never forgets that it's a children's cartoon first and foremost. And especially by the standard of most children's cartoons (not to mention the ones that the show shared a network with), its humor is surprisingly well-written and character-oriented. The important thing is that it understands how to find a happy medium between these two very different tones, along with a keen awareness of when to include it. ATLA manages to be funny but not so much that the narrative tension is sacrificed because of it, or dramatic without losing its generally lighthearted spirit. One of the major complaints of TLA is that it was too serious. Book 1 is noted for being the least serious chapter of the series. The movie winds up being a little too serious for the audience (not counting the unintentionally funny bits). A lot of epic adventure movies such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings can cover some pretty heavy ground, but they don't cut out their humor for the sake of being taken more seriously. Hell, even the Dark Knight, one of the darkest superhero movies ever, has Heath Ledger with his dark comedy. A healthy dose of humor can also end up doing wonders for the serious bits themselves. A big laugh after a particularly harrowing moment can be an effective catharsis for the audience, and it helps to keep them on their toes. Sometimes if your movie is too grim or takes itself too seriously when it doesn't need to, it can actually end up desensitizing the viewer and making them lose interest, despite the intriguing and amazing things that may be occurring onscreen.
From TLA Revealed, his test-screening audience apparently do not have a sense of humor so he cut the humor and other goofiness. And that is why we are stuck with a personality-less Sokka and very little to no humor.
Another problem I had with the movie is the actors cannot improvise. It seems even the least serious characters like Aang, Sokka and Iroh has to stick with the script 24/7. Improvisation and ab-libbing is one way to make the dialogue more natural and believable. Jack DeSena, Sokka's original voice actor, turns his otherwise serious character into the Sokka we all knew and love thanks to these. Movies like Iron Man lives and breaths ab-lib. Likewise, even the actors have their say on discussing with the director and scriptwriter to improvise their character a little. I was shocked to learn that Shaun Toub was refrained from watching the original series for background and character understanding in order to focus on M Night's own vision, and considering that Iroh is one of the most important characters in the story it stands to reason that if he "encouraged" Toub in this course of action than he probably took on a similar tack with as many people unfamiliar with ATLA as possible so as not to pollute the purity of his creative control with pesky things like "suggestions" or "legitimate criticism". So therefore, not only we have to keep the equal ratio of comedy and ratio in the movie, all the cast and crew must watch the entire Book 1 before filming to get a better understanding about the series.
Shyamalan leaned more towards Hinduism concept of the Avatar, a Godly entity incarnated in a mortal form. This is closer with Christianity's concept of the Holy Trinity, especially with the Dragon Spirit (who was seemingly connected to Aang in the Spirit World) playing a role similar to the Holy Spirit. In the movie, Aang did not communicate with Avatar Roku and other personalities from his Avatar "stream", just the Dragon Spirit. Everyone treated the Avatar more like a God incarnate than an epic hero, so he is more of Jesus Christ than say, Superman. The return of the Avatar was like the Messiah who has returned. They even bowed before him, even when he was not merged with the Ocean Spirit as Koizilla. Sparing the Fire Nation fleet from the wave was a show of mercy, or, turning the other cheek. In the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew according to the New Testament, Jesus says:
- You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. — Matthew 5:38-42, NIV
While a refreshing change to the epic destruction in the series, many fans felt cheated when Aang did the giant wave. Disappointed that the Ocean Spirit did not merge with Aang (once the Moon Spirit got killed, all Aang did is recall what the Dragon Spirit told him earlier), many expected Aang at least damage a few ships with the wave. However, once the wave was brought down, the ships left the North Pole untouched. Also, ever noticed that the Avatar State was done somewhat voluntarily in the movie? Well, the Avatar State might be eliminated, so it is implied that the wave is the result of Aang unlocking the Water Chakra, which proivides an immense Waterbending chi and blocked by guilt. The Dragon Spirit told him to let of his guilt, i.e. "You are not dealing with the loss of your people and your responsibilities for their deaths" ... "you must let this go". This chi glowed bluish white when Aang tapped it to create the gigantic wave. Similarly, when Aang was overwhelmed by his grief for the loss of his people at the Southern Air Temple, he actually unlocked the Air Chakra, which provides an immense Airbending chi and blocked by grief. This chi glowed pure white. However, when Aang refused to let go of his guilt, the Dragon Spirit said "You are stopping yourself from grieving." The Avatar State should have been kept as it is so that non-fans will be more familiar with it.
Also, the role of the Avatar is radically changed. For example, when Aang told Katara and Sokka the reason why he ran away, it is because the Council of Elders told him that he could not have a family and lead a normal life. okay, not only this is a rather strange reason why he ran away (as opposed to being separated from Monk Gyatso like in the series), this contradicts with a major plotline in the later books. As revealed in The Avatar and the Fire Lord, Zuko discovers that Roku is his maternal great-grandfather. However, the definition of "family" may be ambiguous. Remember part 9 of the documentary (the Finale)? M.Night talks about family in the movie: Ozai put his imperialistic agenda above family matters, while Aang is all about protecting his newfound family, i.e. Sokka and Katara. Aang ran away because he was to be separated from the closest thing he had to a family, his father figure Monk Gyatso, which is aligned with the series. The monks told something similar to Aang: "The day they told me I was the Avatar, they also told me that I couldn't have a family.
They warned me never to fall in love. They said it can't work with the responsibilities of the Avatar." M.Night reshot the scene without that struck out line. The "family" now referred to Monk Gyatso and his friends, and his new family Sokka and Katara, as he strongly suggested in the video documentary. Note that in the novelization, Aang said that the monks warned him not to fall in love and the Dragon spirit said he had to choose between being the Avatar and being with Katara (i.e. to let go of "worldly attachments" to unlock the Seventh Chakra).
- At the Northern Air Temple: I can tell you that the one called Katara will be very important to you... but be careful your feelings and actions. You have struggled with this in all of your lifetimes, Avatar: the balance between your desire your love and family, and your responsibility to the world.
- At the Spirit Oasis: At some point you will have to make a difficult choice... between Katara and being the Avatar.
However both lines were cut in the movie. Perhaps it is because both Noah and Nicola are first-time actors, so they can't develop the Kataang relationship that well. Likewise, due to this, the layman's viewer will think that Aang ran away for such a mundane reason. Therefore, Aang's reason why he ran away can be rewritten as "The day they told me I was the Avatar, they said that my relationship with Gyatso is affecting my responsiblities. It was at that very moment they decided to separate me from Gyatso and send me to the Eastern Air Temple for further training." I don't think the monks in the Avatar world would follow that no-falling-in-love tradition because there wouldn't be anymore airbenders if they stopped reproducing. If Aang dies before siring a child (whether that child is an Airbender or just carries the potential for a child of its own to be an Airbender), then after the Avatar reincarnates through the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, and Fire Nation, there will be no one from the Air Nomads for the spirit to choose.
Likewise, another change of the Avatar's role is that, to quote the Dragon Spirit, the Avatar is not meant to hurt others. Not only kill, even hurt. As we all know, the Avatar's duty is to master the four elemental disciplines, and use such power to keep balance amongst the four nations of the world, even if it means killing others. If M Night was to allude to the series finale, where Aang was in full control of the powers and abilities of a Fully Realized Avatar; he could finish off Ozai if he wanted to, but he chose not to, then it was too early to do so. Hell, even his previous incarnations actually persuade Aang to kill Ozai! Also, this "no killing" is more of an Air Nomad belief. Aang's refusal to kill is because he is "just one kid". If all Avatars, even the ones from the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation, cannot harm a human being, what about the story of the once-great Avatar Kyoshi, who now apparently "likes games"? The omission of the Avatar State means that Koizilla will be omitted as well. M Night once said in an interview:
- "Mike and Bryan were really heavily influenced by film called Princess Mononoke for the ending of the show. Basically they borrowed from the movie, and then made their TV show. I can't make it back into a movie again, because then I'll be like "stealing" from another movie, so I took the idea of what he [i.e. Aang] was going to do and make it more symbolic."
Princess Mononoke is a 1997 epic Japanese animated historical fantasy feature film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The design of Koizilla closely resemble the Forest Spirit from that film in its gigantic "Nightwalker" form. As for the "symbolic gesture" in the movie, it should be noted that unlike in the episode The Siege of the North (Part 2), Aang was fully aware and in control of his immense Waterbending ability, so this means his will was not overpowered by his past personalities and other entities with the Avatar State. Personally, I would have preferred Koizilla doing the wave over Aang. All it needs is the power of motion capture and CG. While I somewhat understand the movie's concept of the finale, having Koizilla do his dirty work would have been a more epic and awesome finish. Imagine that scene with Flow Like Water playing in the background. Also, while M Night thinks that using the element from Princess Mononoke is "plagiarism", I felt that it is more of a homage, like what Mike and Bryan did to their series.
Arranging The Story
When adapting a story, there are times where you can't follow the story 100%, so the best solution is to rearrange the story and remove the unimportant bits. I don't if this is a result of poor editing, but there are times where some plotlines are jumbled to the point that even non-fans got confused. Here are the examples:
- When Aang got captured, Katara kept pestering Sokka to rescue the boy (which as of right now is not named), because he is "their responsiblity". okay, number one, we still have no idea of WHO he is or even what his NAME is. Number two, Katara did not share a great bond that convinced herself to save that boy. At least in the series, Aang actually revealed himself as the Avatar. Likewise, Katara already knew that Aang was an airbender and he might be the Avatar. In the movie, it was not until after that conversation that Katara found out he was the Avatar. Not by herself, but through Kanna. Also in the series, Katara actually established an early relationship with Aang through penguin sledding. In the movie however, the only time the two actually had a conversation prior to the capture is this:
- Katara: How did you get all the way out here?
- Aang: I ran away from home. We got in this storm. We were forced under the water of the ocean.
- Katara: Oh... I see.
- Aang: It wasn't very smart. I was just upset. Thanks for saving me.
- Katara: (smiles) Lucky.
- Aang: I should probably get home. They'll all be worried.
- Katara: You're not still upset? ::Aang: Not as much as I was.
- The awkward timing of revealing that Aang needs to master all four elements, starting with water. In the series, Katara pointed this right after Aang's escape from Zuko's ship. It was then that Katara suggested that they should go to the North Pole, so that they can learn together. However, in the movie, all Aang said right after escaping is the Fire Nation is "up to something" and he has to go back... why he didn't just STAY is anyone's guess. Sokka offers to go with him. Aang ignores him and offers to take them back to the village. Katara insists that they're going with him. okay, aside from knowing that Aang is the Avatar, the audience has no clue on why Katara and Sokka wanted to follow Aang. Also, even after the shenanigans at the Southern Air Temple, Katara and Sokka still don't know he's the Avatar. Aang revealed to them twice, once after Sokka asked him if he's the Avatar (according to the novel) and the second time during Aang's speech at the prison camp (a speech that should have been given to Katara). It was not until rescuing the prisoners, that Aang finally revealed the Avatar's duty. Not only that, Sokka was the one who suggested going to the North Pole. He did not even mention that his sister needs to learn waterbending too. Rather than depart straight away, a montage is shown: featuring Aang getting rid of the remaining villagers (as opposed to letting the earthbenders start their own rebellion) and Katara busy putting up posters announcing the Avatar's return (which is a stark contrast to the low profile of the Gaang like in the series).
- Zhao's intentions. In the series, he is more interested on capturing the Avatar before the banished prince for personal gain, but suddenly lost interest and focus on killing the moon instead. However, in the movie, it seems that capturing the Avatar does not matter to him. Instead, he decided to chat with Ozai regarding scrolls which may contain information about the Moon and Ocean spirits from the great library. Not only that, it was referenced way too early into the film. Therefore, his conversation with Iroh, which was supposed to be the only one time where he mentioned about this, winds up as repetition in the movie because he mentioned it twice before. Then again, since he was based on his younger self when he was General Shu's lieutenant but still...
- M Night decided to choose a weird time to reveal why Yue's hair is white. In the series, Yue explains how the Moon Spirit gave her life as a baby and how she received her name; Yue – for the Moon (which in turn caused her hair to turn white) during the capture of the Moon Spirit. In the movie, this is placed as a conversation topic during the only on-screen date between Yue and Sokka. However, rather than emphasize on how the spirits saved her life, it emphasizes on her white hair.
- The time where Aang decided to the spirits during the Fire Nation's invasion. In the series, this takes at nighttime, where the Fire Nation decides the cease the attack as Waterbenders draw strength from the Moon and it is nearing its full phase. Aang has just came back from fighting the Fire Nation navy, but retired early because there were too many. It was then that Aang decides to consult the spirits after a conversation with Yue. In the movie, it was broad daylight and the Fire Nation has not attacked the city. At this rate, the audience assumes that Aang has completely no clue on how to defeat the Fire Nation. Note that during the conversation, it was also the same time where Zuko enters the city. While no one noticed him in the series because it was nighttime, he is clearly seen climbing on the roof in the movie so it is easy to spot him when everyone is still awake.
- Right after he got rescued from Zuko, rather than rush to save the spirits, he decided to go and join in the fight while the others rescue the spirits. I don't know about you, but this is an awkward time to think about joining a battle. Also, note that Yue sacrificed herself way too early into the film. Rather than have the Ocean Spirit join with Aang, the Ocean Spirit does nothing and let Aang stand there being ignored by everyone in battle. Because of this, Zhao's death in the movie is not a karmic death, but rather a pathetic one where he got his butt kicked by four unnamed waterbenders (who possible got their powers from the moon, I don't know). And also, as mentioned above, Aang's gigantic wave is a result of Aang's own will, rather than the anger unleashed by the Ocean Spirit.
- I also noticed some awkward placement of the dialogue. For example, right before Aang sits down and meditate in the Spirit Oasis, he starts talking about how he got his airbending tattoos. This topic can be easily placed in one of many conversations with Katara and Sokka. (On a further note, movie!Aang said that the tattoos is a result of meditating for long periods of time without losing focus, rather than mastering an Airbending technique.) Also, remember when Aang got rescued by Katara right before the Moon Spirit's capture? Rather than have Aang to turn his head to look at a frozen Zuko with Katara going, "Aang, we have to go!", that piece of dialogue was placed before Katara and Aang leave.
- Remember that little speech from Zuko about comparing Aang to his sister and that he does not need luck because that made him who is? While in the series, we got to hear the whole thing when Aang is still in the Spirit World, in the movie, once Aang exited the Spirit World, we only hear half of that speech. Just as Zuko was about to finish, Aang starts to flee. On a positive note, the addition of saying his father cannot even look at Zuko because he reminds too much of Ursa is a nice addition to that speech.
- Also, remember the forest scene right after the Blue Spirit events? It seems that M. Night didn't even know what he was doing with Aang and Zuko's stories. It's painfully obvious during that scene: a) That scene lasts less than one minute in the show, and yet it accomplishes so much. I doubt it would have taken up more than a minute of the movie's time, so why wouldn't M. Night write Aang's dialogue in?, b) M. Night seemed like he was trying to focus on how Aang felt about the loss of his people, and yet he missed a perfect opportunity for Aang to bring it up (instead of just talking about his friends), c) M. Night said Zuko was his favorite character, but he missed the point of that scene. Having Zuko unconscious for the entire scene (sound familiar?) and showing no reaction whatsoever to anything that happened makes me wonder whether M. Night really understands Zuko's story as much as he thinks he does. In the show we get to see Zuko calmly listening to Aang, attack him (reminding us that he wasn't trying to save Aang), and later symbolically turn his back on the Fire Nation and whatnot. In the movie...nothing (though the time where Zuko attacks Aang is filmed but eventually cut). And d) Not including the connection between the two characters at the end completely defeats the purpose of the Blue Spirit sequence...of all the scenes to have the characters shut up, he picked the worst one. Therefore, because of this, the line "We could've been friends, you know." right after Aang partially unfreezes Zuko loses that impact which makes it work.
One solution is to arrange the scenes in such a way that the movie flows smoothly. Otherwise, everything will be jumbled up to the point the audience got confused. Likewise, you cannot just jump from one scene to another.
The Asian Elements
Series Head Writer Aaron Ehasz described the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender as "clearly Asian inspired with obvious Chinese influences." So this means that the show is set in an ancient, fantastical Asian environment that is primarily Chinese. East Asian culture is infused in the animated series–it is even part of the series' official logo, which incorporates traditional East Asian calligraphy. The series hired East Asian calligraphy expert Professor S. L. Lee to help with the language in the show. Chinese calligraphy influenced several different written languages in East Asia, including Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Rather than use the modern simplified Chinese characters, Lee opted to use traditional characters and calligraphy styles to reflect the series' pre-industrialized setting. Adding an additional layer of authenticity to the fantasy world, Lee would tailor the calligraphy style from standard script (Fire Nation decrees) to grass calligraphy (decor in homes) to ancient oracle bone script (ancient artifacts).
In the film adaptation, M. Night Shyamalan opted against using the East Asian calligraphy used throughout the animated series, instead choosing to use an "Asian-inspired pictorial language created just for this movie" that accounts to nothing more than a few scribbles". Compare this poster in the series and this one in the movie. The first one clearly reads, "Wanted - The Avatar. This fugitive knows Airbending, can create whirlwinds, and flee like the wind. Hunters be extremely cautious! By decree of the Fire Lord." The second one however, I don't know. That is because the writing consists of a bunch of made-up hash marks and doodles. The opening credit of the animated series uses Oracle Bone Script, the oldest form of East Asian writing. Take this example introducing the element of Water. The opening sequence from the film adaptation however, replaces the animated series' accurately translated ancient Chinese calligraphy with completely meaningless curlicues. This is how the element of Water is introduced. Then again, this is coming from the same director who denies the series' cultural roots, claiming that the cultural backdrop of the animated series is "intended to be ambiguous," while at the same time "fighting like crazy" to change the pronunciations of the character's names to an "Asian pronunciation." The Asian elements in the series must be respected when adapting it into a movie because bastardizing Chinese calligraphy alienates the East Asian community who also happens to be fans of the series.
Another major issue with the film is above-mentioned "Asian pronunciation". A more comprehensive look on the pronunciations is in the main movie wiki page. While I don't mind Soh-Ka or Agni Ki Duel, pronouncing Aang as "AH-NG" spells trouble, especially when Westerners pronounce it (it comes off as "Ong" instead). "E-roh" is also bad, as even the Chinese pronunciation is "Ai-Luo". So it's okay for the name to be said as "Ai-Roh" or "Ai-Lo". Likewise, the pronunciation of Avatar is inconsistent. Some actors said the standard pronunciation ("Air-Vuh-Tar"), while others opt for a more unique pronunciation ("Ah-Vuh-tar"). I don't care how you want to pronounce the names, but at least try not to alienate the fans of the series.
A composite character is a character in a fictional work (or, in some cases, a non-fictional work) that is composed of two or more individuals. This helps save running time, minimize the cost of casting and hiring many actors, reduce character clutter, and enhance the importance of otherwise minor characters. Some minor characters with no further roles were reduced to unnamed characters, as done with Kanna (credited as Katara's Grandma), Earthbending boy (Haru), Earthbending father (Tyro), etc., etc. Otherwise, the minor characters may not be in the film long enough to justify their presence, like Aunt Wu (credited as The Fortuneteller) and Suki and her Kyoshi Warriors (even though they were apparently merged with Jet and his Freedom Fighters in the movie novelization):
- "It was like introducing these great characters who had nothing to do with the third act. That's what happens in the series, but in the short form of the movie, it becomes blatant. Where did they go? Why aren't they in the third act? So I made the very difficult decision of pulling them from the movie and introducing them in the second movie if we have the opportunity."
- — M. Night Shyamalan, on why the Kyoshi Warriors were cut
However, bare in mind that these supporting characters can useful despite their brief appearance in Book 1. For example, the Kyoshi Warriors will keep their oiriginal roles from the series, but this time as the protectors of the mining town from Imprisoned, now mergd with Kyoshi Island. And Jet plays an important role in Book 2, so flashbacks of him can be used to show the audience what really happened to Katara and Sokka when Aang leaves to get the message from Roku. Kanna can still be named just to clarify her importance in Pakku's backstory, while the fortuneteller can either be cut entirely or be placed as a deleted scene just like M Night's movie.
The most drastic composite character is Dragon Spirit, taking over on the roles of Roku, Koh, Fang, and Guru Pathik. Creating a composite character of this nature is not unprecedented for a feature-length adaptation of a long series. For example, Superman: Doomsday, a 2007 American direct-to-video animated film adaptation of the popular DC Comics storyline The Death of Superman, has the Superman clone that was a composite of the four fake Supermen from that storyline: Superboy (as a clone of Superman), the Eradicator (who killed criminals), Cyborg Superman (who attempted to convince everyone he was the genuine article), and Steel (who wanted to protect the people). However, one suggestion to let Roku and Koh be separate characters, but Roku can teach Aang about chakras, taking over the role of Guru Pathik, by Book 2.
Some composites can be confusing to fans of the original fictional work, like Ozai, who is a composite of Firelord Ozai and Admiral Zhao. On the other hand, Zhao is a spun-off character, personifying a younger Zhao who served as a junior Lieutenant under General Shu (and then found the hidden library), and apparently an illegitimate son of Ozai/Zhao composite, turning the relationship dynamics between "Zhao Jr." and Zuko similar to Edmund and Edgar in King Lear. However, many felt it would be best for the original series Ozai to appear in Book 3, while Zhao in the first movie keeps his original personality to be the perfect foil for Zuko.
Firebending, From The Breath or A Source?
Now let's get into one of the big liberties Shyamalan decided to take with ATLA when he brought it to the big screen, the fact that Firebenders now require an active, external source of fire in order to do their thing. This is admittedly a small detail at first glance, and it may seem like nothing more than a case of knee-jerk fan reaction, but the more you start to think about it the more it actually threatens to bring the movie down on itself and crush its own internal logic. To be honest, I can't think of a single good reason for this to be made part of Shyamalan's "reimagining" in the first place. First off, let's look at what we know of the Fire Nation itself based on ATLA:
- They're highly trained, well-organized, and fight without hesitation in almost all cases.
- They're walking flamethrowers.
- They're apparently going through a sort of pre-emptive Industrial Revolution that the rest of the world hasn't yet caught up with, leading to a huge advantage in military arms/technology.
- They have a strong nationalist/imperialist mindset.
- They consider Firebending to be a superior discipline because, well, that sort of thinking kinda comes with being able to shoot fire out of your fucking hands as opposed to manipulating the naturally occurring elements such as Air, Water and Earth.
It's important to understand that all these factors play a part into both why they were driven to start taking over the world in the first place, as well as why they were able to largely succeed in the Avatar's absence. While the Fire Nation in TLA seems to have points 4 and 5 down, with 1 and 3 being a bit more dubious but passable, 2 is the absolutely crucial point. In ATLA, the Fire Nation is ruthless, persistent and because of their abilities, they can conquer opposition through a combination of sheer numbers and firepower. But since this "firepower" literally came from themselves, it made every single one of them a potential danger. Some of those in the Army weren't Firebenders to be sure, but even they were adequately trained in melee combat and thus a valid threat. But if Firebenders in TLA are completely dependent upon external sources of fire in almost all cases (Iroh and Zuko apparently being the lone exceptions, and probably Ozai), it raises the question of why none of them have with them personally.
Granted, later in the movie we do see that some of the projectiles shot from Fire Navy ships are basically destructive sources of fire for ground troops, but considering all they seem to have in terms of their "scary machines" are the ironclad battleships and considering they were attacking the ocean-oriented coastal settlement of the Northern Water Tribe, that seems like more of a special instance than anything else. Those ships might be powerful, but the problem is that by its very nature a battleship is most effective at sea and thus doesn't do much to help with attacking mainland targets aside from troop insertion and suppression. And in order to have been as successful as they (supposedly) were conquering most of the world, they'd need an effective way of pressing an advantage over unprepared or smaller towns, and especially bigger cities like Omashu and Ba Sing Se. Like, say, a tank. Anyway, if we're going by the logic that Firebenders can only manipulate their determined element based on their surroundings, and if the only supposed way of supplying them with Fire on their side isn't effective in most of the Earth Kingdom (the LARGEST of the Four Nations), then it doesn't make sense for them to not be prepared for the possibility that their souce of power isn't available. Katara managed to counter the potential unavailability of water in ATLA by keeping a waterskin with her, so it stands to reason that Firebenders would logically need to have something they could carry with them as a source of Bending in similar situations. Maybe some sort of lighter, or even a small pouch of flammable liquid they could conceal easily. Hell, even just some flint and rock would help.
The other side of this equation is that it makes every other Nation look remarkably stupid. If they've been fighting for 100 years with these guys who can control FIRE but only by means of a physical source, then the grand solution for what to do becomes obvious. PUT OUT ALL YOUR FIRES. Bam, problem solved. Yes, they'll still have armed close-combat troops, but come on, you can still Bend/fight/do something to them. Hell, they'll probably be too shocked upon realizing that somebody actually caught onto their pattern to be able to fight right away. Are we really expected to believe that this Nation that can only control an element that DOESN'T naturally occur in the world was able to take over almost the entire planet without any clear tactical or technological advantage in the movieverse? Or that NOBODY even considered pre-emptively cutting off their only source of offensive power? This also brings up the crucial question of how exactly the Fire Nation was able to wipe out the Air Nomads at all. In Southern Air Temple, Aang suggests that the only way to get to an Air Temple at all is by air travel (specifically skybison-travel, but whatever). But since non-Air Nomad air travel is nonexistent before the War Balloon gets introduced, there doesn't seem to be a way that the Fire Nation could've attacked the Air Temples... until we get a solution in the Tanks introduced in Northern Air Temple, which in addition to being able to instantly right themselves also have grappling hooks strong enough to actually pull this gigantic hunk of metal up a sheer cliff face. But since the Fire Nation tanks don't exist and neither does Zeppelin/Balloon travel yet, there is simply no feasible way the Fire Nation could have killed all the Air Nomads. Actually, now that I think about it, are we even absolutely certain that the Fire Nation was at the Air Temples at all in TLA's continuity? After all, there was actual evidence of their presence at the Southern Air Temple in the show (old armor, bodies, scorch marks and so on) but here we literally only have a field of skeletons and whatever Katara said that the Fire Nation is responsible for all of this.
In ATLA, the Fire Nation seemed like a valid threat and their actions against people throughout the series confirmed this on a regular basis. In TLA, we have no real reason to believe that they'd be this supposedly powerful fighting force that subjugated most of the world in the 100 years Aang was indisposed. So it's not just our main villains that seem questionable in their validity as baddies, but the entire enemy force as well. And yet again the question becomes: if there's no tension and no danger, then why should we care about this "planned series" in the first place? Remember that message regarding Sozin's comet? Well Roku...oops, I mean the Dragon Spirit did mention about this in the novelization. However, it is cut and is shifted as part of Ozai's speech right before giving Azula a task. Why? Because M Night decided to make Iroh's firebending out of nothing a surprise. Uh-huh. Look, the surprise here is that Iroh, who is always pictured as this wise old geezer, starts kicking everyone's ass right after the murder of the Moon spirit. Likewise, in this continuity, the comet makes everyone make fire out of their own chi, which is basically what everyone does in the show. Also, it seems that fire Iroh created did not really set the cherry blossoms behind him ablaze. okay, now that fire you created "out of nothing" cannot physically harm others? One suggestion is plain and simple, keep the concept of Firebending as it is.
The Earthbending Prison
In the movie, when the Gaang got arrested and are led into a village, little Haru runs up to his dad, sitting on a blanket out in the open. The dad explains that the firebenders came, the earthbenders defeated them, and then they "sent their machines," and it's at about this point that I begin to suspect Shyamalan is a technophobe. The dad then reveals that they're imprisoned. In a village. With no walls or bars or anything. They're not even cuffed like Aang was! These are EARTHBENDERS sitting on great big gobs of EARTH and surrounded by mountains made of EARTH and they're whining about being IMPRISONED. Apparently the Fire Nation expects to hold hundreds of powerful benders hostage with the cunning use of one gate. This is a major contrast to the series, where all of these earthbenders were kept on a METAL SHIP. In the middle of the OCEAN AWAY FROM ANY EARTH. That said, although they have the ability to form earth into formidable weapons and are surrounded by the means to break free, the movie Earthbenders choose not to fight back until the Avatar stumbles upon their impoverished ghetto. The film's novelization narrates the hero's reaction to this situation: Aang could not believe that the Earthbenders were not fighting back. And it takes this speech from Aang (not Katara) to lift their spirits up a little:
- "Earthbenders! Why are you acting this way? You are powerful and amazing people! You don't need to live like this! There is earth right beneath your feet! The ground is an extension of who you are! If the Avatar had returned, would that mean anything to you? My name is Aang...and I'm the Avatar. I ran away, but I'm back now. IT'S TIME FOR YOU TO STOP DOING THIS!"
The implication is that the Earthbenders could have fought back if they had really wanted to. It takes the arrival of the fantasy world's child-messiah to point out the obvious to them, that their means of escape is "right beneath their feet" and to motivate them to help themselves. Wouldn't it be better to place the prisoners in a metal rig by simply modelling it, then shoot it in a factory floor? This fan art by Rufftoon points this out. Also, Aang's speech is somewhat poorly written. Compare that with this speech with Katara:
- "Earthbenders! You don't know me, but I know of you. Every child of my Water Tribe village was rocked to sleep with stories of the brave Earth Kingdom and the courageous earthbenders who guard its borders. Some of you may think that the Fire Nation has made you powerless. Yes, they have taken away your ability to bend, but they can't take away your courage and it is your courage they should truly fear! Because it runs deeper than any mine you've been forced to dig, any ocean that keeps you far from home. It is the strength of your hearts that make you who you are, hearts that will remain unbroken when all rock and stone has eroded away. The time to fight back is now! I can tell you the Avatar has returned! So remember your courage, earthbenders, let us fight for our freedom!"
See? That speech proves to be a major character development for Katara, something which is completely ignored in the movie. All Katara did in the "prison" is shoving a soldier in the chest for mocking Aang and simply stand there trying to encourage the remaining "prisoners" to fight. Speaking of which...
Avatar: The Last Airbender was praised by fans for it's strong female characters, particularly Katara, the "other main character" of the series. Mike Di Martino said that he and Bryan wanted to have a strong female presence as well, so that's where Katara's character came in. In Season One, viewers followed Katara from the show's first scene, where she angrily cracks open the iceberg containing Aang while arguing with her brother about sexism, to the season finale episodes where she defies the chauvinistic customs of the Northern Water Tribe and demands to be taught the martial arts of Waterbending. Katara is never idealized or marginalized, nor is she merely a stepping stone for the male hero to pursue his destiny. The first season challenges sexist attitudes directly in several episodes, including The Warriors of Kyoshi and The Waterbending Master. Through observing the actions of strong female characters, men in the series (including sympathetic characters like Sokka) grow to recognize and reject sexist attitudes. Viewers are shown that women characters can be strong in many ways (rather than simply as a "tough girl") For example, Katara's grandmother is depicted as the head of the tribe and family, Princess Yue is passionate about her people and has a strong sense of duty, and Suki is a skilled warrior and strong leader. Viewers also learn that one of Aang's past lives was as a woman, the formidable Avatar Kyoshi.
M. Night Shyamalan's script excises the feminist themes woven throughout the first season of the series. The characters of Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors are not depicted, and the female characters that are depicted are greatly watered down from the original series. Katara's frustration with society's sexism, culminating with her challenge in the Northern Water Tribe, does not even get a mention. In the movie adaptation, a woman never gets to show herself the equal or better of a man in any act that both are capable of doing. Katara doesn't really get to be a hero or even have much of a personality. "Racefail" is one thing, but the thing that was most disappointing was how weak Katara's character was. I wasn't expecting such a failure on a gender balance level. Katara was really cool in the series. She had ambitions to become an expert waterbender, and character. In the movie, all she talks about is Aang. In the series, the first scene we see Katara, she's yelling at Sokka for being sexist. In the movie, the first scene we see Katara, she's nervously apologizing to him like a battered wife, with "I'm sorry. I'm sorry! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, sorry, sorry! I'm sorry!" being her first lines. Through Season One of the animated series, viewers follow Katara as she develops from a novice Waterbender to a talented Master, with skills to rival the Avatar's. The animated Katara is a skilled fighter who holds her own in battles. In the movie, Katara is a bystander in most fights. Actions that Katara takes in the animated series, such as rallying imprisoned Earthbenders, are instead given to Aang. She is depicted as far less powerful and coordinated than Aang, clumsily splashing Sokka when she does try to fight. In contrast to the intelligent and strong-willed character in the series, the film's Katara is also spacey and inconsistent. And thus, the above-mentioned "I knew you were real" speech.
The character of Princess Yue does not fare much better. In the series, she is a betrothed Princess living in a male-centric society, ruled by her father, Chief Arnook. In the movie, the Northern Water Tribe's sexism is not mentioned; viewers are told that Yue rules over the Northern Water Tribe after her father's death. (Sokka exposits: "It's led by a princess, because her father died.") Even though Shyamalan elevates Yue to the leader of her Tribe, she is depicted as even more disempowered in the movie. Yue is never depicted as a leader in anything but name, so why name her as leader at all? In fact, when the Fire Nation invades, Yue does not have a leadership position; the logistics are completely run by Master Pakku and some other nameless Water Tribe men. Yue provides no input; she is simply told that she is the Tribe's "inspiration" and quickly assigned a bodyguard. The only leadership decision Yue gets to make is the decision to kill herself. In the series, Yue makes a courageous decision to sacrifice herself to save her country, despite being involved in a romance with Sokka. She comes to this decision on her own. In the film, Yue must be told by Iroh how she can save her people, rather than coming to that conclusion herself. After being prodded in both directions by two men (Iroh and Sokka), Yue says the frequently-mocked "believe in our beliefs" speech without providing context as to what those beliefs are, and tearfully makes out with Sokka before going to her death. (Though to be fair, the depiction of her sacrifice is better than the series. Just wish that she turned to the moon, though.) Hence, females must also play an important role in both ATLA and the movie adaptation. This is not strictly an "Aang and Zuko" movie, characters like Katara need some time in the spotlight as well.
The Filming Process
This is basically how the film should be filmed.
As we all know, the casting of White actors in the Asian-influenced and Native American-influenced Avatar universe triggered negative reactions from some fans marked by accusations of racism, a letter-writing campaign, and various protests. M Night did an interview over at io9 and in it he extensively addresses one of the long-running controversies of the film: the races of its lead stars. Actually the initial question didn't mention the word race at all, but asked Shyamalan to "address the fan concerns about the casting" of Airbender. Shyamalan had clearly been thinking about this one because he launched into quite the talk: the overall gist of it is that the races for each group came from whoever he cast as its primary representative. Shyamalan suggests that his Aang, Noah Ringer, has a "mixed" look, so all of the Airbenders are of mixed race. His favorite Katara, Nicola Peltz, "had a lot of Russian qualities," so the Water Tribe became very Russian/European. And when Dev Patel was cast as Zuko, the Fire Nation was developed with an Indian and Middle Eastern look. But according to an interview:
- "Here's the thing. The great thing about anime is that it's ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It's intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No that's just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that's what's so beautiful about anime."
Hmmm. Setting aside that he jumps right into "Airbender = anime", it's true that there are plenty of anime that are racially ambiguous (particularly titles set in other universes). But even titles set in Japan don't necessarily have characters that look strictly Japanese. Unusual hair colors, excessive height, huge breasts, and of course, those enormous eyes, none of these are characteristically Japanese traits, but they sure pop up a lot. On the other hand, there are also plenty of shows that aren't ambiguous at all: Naoki Urasawa's manga and anime Monster are a great example of an anime where characters' races are carefully depicted and a significant chunk of their background. Then there's Black Lagoon, in which the primary characters all have very specific races as a part of their backgrounds, and almost everyone else is split into different crime syndicates based on their nationalities.
The casting of Noah is understandable because he has that Eurasian look in him so it's easy to see him as Aang. But really? A girl as pale as Nicola playing a somewhat tanned Katara? Surely there are no real dark-skinned, blue-eyed Inuits around, but at least get someone who looks like Katara. Like this girl. The casting gets even weirder when we have a pop star as Zuko and a Twilight cast member as Sokka. Jackson Rathbone's character, Jasper Hale, is well known for being pale and bug-eyed. So how in the hell did a 25-year old man get the role of a 15-year old boy with the skin color as Katara is beyond me (he once auditioned for Zuko, believe it or not). He is funny (pity all of these when into the cutting room), but appearance-wise, he is just not Sokka.
The role of Zuko right after Jesse McCartney left the project is given to none other than Dev Patel, the Slumdog Millionaire. While he is considered to be one of the few saving graces on the movie, he is just not Zuko. Aside from being Indian, he is not given the trademark ponytail like season 1 Zuko, instead he is given the crewcut from season 2. A lot of people complained that his scar is too small. Then again, with his dark complexion, what is there to judge. A young East Asian kid should play him, so why not Aarif Lee, who recently played a young Bruce Lee in a recent biopic? Dev Patel, on the other hand, can play Sokka. He is a genuinely funny guy, but all he needs is the perfect comedic timing like Jack De Sena. Although he was known to play a funny guy Anwar Kharral from Skins in the UK, he was not well-known stateside.
Here's the scenario about the casting so far minus Aang. It that makes sense that Dev might have auditioned for both Sokka and Zuko. Twilight just came out then so M.Night cast Rathbone to leverage his potential popularity. When the racebenders got to him, he had work things out with Jesse McCartney's (the pop star in question earlier) agent to drop out with a "scheduling conflict" excuse. M.Night was not willing to lose Noah, Rathbone and Nicola (especially when she was paired with Rathbone). Slumdog then came out and became a hit so he just had to sign up Dev but Zuko was the only part open to him. So here's the thing, the newcomers aside, M Night decides to cast actors with rising popularities for the major roles in the movie. Personally, it's not the popularity of the actors that count, it's how the actors execute their roles well. Noah managed to have that Aang-like personality, but M Night suddenly decided to make the movie more "serious", and as a result 75% of his original personality disappeared in the movie.
And then there's the rest of the Fire Nation. M. Night Shyamalan approached the casting of the villainous Fire Nation with a sense of interchangeability, lumping all people with brown skin into a singular group. Dev Patel's father is portrayed by Maori actor Cliff Curtis, his sister by mixed Caucasian/Indian American actress Summer Bishil, and his uncle is portrayed by Shaun Toub, an actor of Persian descent. Aasif Mandvi, an actor of Indian descent, plays Commander Zhao. Extras with darker skin were also sorted into the Fire Nation.
- First off, while Shaun Toub is well known for his wise uncle kind of roles (like in Crash, Iron Man and The Kite Runner), Iroh is always envisioned as a short fat old man, whereas Shaun himself is tall and thin. Many thought he might gain some weight or wear a fatsuit for the role, that is until we saw this (he is at the lower right corner of this Entertainment Weekly photo). The hair department decided to ditch the Fire Nation's topknots for...dreadlocks? This somewhere gives a strange message about his retirement (he decided to smoke weed instead of drink tea?). However on a positive note, he is probably the closest to his animated counterpart than the others.
- Next, we have Aasif. While he has done serious roles in the past (like in Jericho), he is more of a comedic actor. Well known for being a correspondent on The Daily Show, I remembered him as the pizza shop owner Mr Aziz in Spider-Man 2. So it is hard to take him seriously, even if he is playing someone like Zhao. Rather than go for a Lucius Malfoy-like approach (Zhao is after all, once played by Jason Isaacs, Lucius Malfoy himself), he opts for a Raul Julia-like approach, a hammy villain. While Zhao was hammy at one point in his life (ZHAO THE INVINCIBLE!), this Zhao is basically more of a comedic kind of guy. His insults are basically similar to comedic roasts ("Today we will let him wear his uniform, like a child wearing a costume!") or heckling ("Again I offer my condolences on your nephew burning to death in that terrible accident").
- And then there's Cliff Curtis. He is a character actor, and has played a number of roles, ranging from a Latino gangster in Training Day to a doctor in Sunshine and even a daredevil paramedic in the sadly-cancelled NBC drama Trauma. So casting him as the fearful Fire Lord is a challenge. But cast him way too early into the game? Note that Ozai is pretty much faceless for most of Season One and does not reveal himself until Book 3. So why did M Night think is a great idea to cast him early? I don't know about you, but that destroys the suspense of his reveal. Also, he speaks with an English accent in the movie (he is a New Zealand Maori in real life), which is ironic considering the actor playing his son speaks in a standard American accent despite being British. If I was to cast Ozai, I will wait until Zuko is welcomed home as a hero, where Ozai will be played by Russell Wong.
The reason why Katara, Sokka, and their grandmother are white while the other members of their tribe are Inuit is never explained in the film. (Were the backstory in the animated series applied to the characters, Katara and Sokka would still have been 3/4ths Southern Tribe. Regardless, none of the people portrayed by Inuit actors play a significant role in the film; significant Inuit characters were cast with white actors.) The Inuit children appear in a handful of village scenes. Some older adult Inuit extras also appear when Zuko demands that the town bring him their elderly. The film features two Water Tribes, a southern one populated by Inuit people with nonexistent leadership, and a northern one populated by a bunch of Europeans who follow a princess, played by a Hispanic, Seychelle Gabriel. Circumpolar indigenous people are rarely depicted in movies, but in TLA, they are voiceless, depicted as disempowered and terrorized. The helpless Inuits cower. Aware of an impending attack by the Fire Nation, the Inuit Southern Tribe does not even take simple precautionary actions to defend themselves; such as putting out fire pits so the firebenders cannot use the pits to attack them (as opposed to the series Firebenders who does not get their bending from a source). In contrast, the Northern Tribe, populated by white people, assisted by the white heroes, launches a formidable defense against the invading Fire Nation and wins the film's climactic battle. Although the Southern Tribe is also depicted as more decimated by the war than the North in the animated series, both Water Tribes were populated with Inuit-inspired characters in the show.
The casting of all white people to play the citizens of the advanced Northern civilization, while casting all Inuit people to play the "primitive" citizens of the South (except for the important ones with dialogue!) puts these scenes in a different context in the film. While getting everyone entirely Inuit is hard, it would easier to pick actors who have the similar skin tone. We have Polynesians, Native Americans, Indians, Filipinos, Thais, Indonesians, Malays and Hispanics. Seychelle is casted correctly since she actually resembles her cartoon counterpart, but everyone else looked so...white. I recommend several prominent actors to play the Water Tribe characters. Bollywood actress Waheeda Rehman as Kanna, Johnny Tsunami co-stars Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Brandon Baker as Pakku and Hahn respectively, Native American actor Wes Studi of Dances With Wolves fame as Arnook (a character mysteriously killed off in TLA) and Jamaican British actress Mona Hammond as Yugoda.
While some scenes require outdoor sets (like the villages), certain scenes can be shot using a digital backlot. The film can use a Sony CineAlta high-definition digital camera, having the actors work in front of a green screen, that allowed for the artificial backgrounds (as well as some major foreground elements) to be added later during the post-production stage. Several sets can be constructed by hand, like the Spirit Oasis, Zuko's ship and the North Pole. While the use of a green screen has become quite standard for special effects filming, the use of high-definition digital cameras will also be emphasized. The combination of these two techniques is used in films like Sin City, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and 300. This technique also means that the whole film was initially shot in full color, while the scenes right after the capture of the Moon Spirit will be converted to entirely red, then black-and-white. Colorization is used on certain subjects in those scenes, like Yue's blue eyes, the flames from Zuko, Zhao and Iroh, the blue color of the Ocean Spirit's flowing as well as Koizilla and Aang's Avatar State (aka Aang's glowing tattoos and eyes). One notable mistake in the original movie is that the time when the moon turns red, it looks as if the set has a red light shone through it. Another mistake is the interpretation of the Spirit World, which resembled a forest with lanterns hanging all over. It should replicate the one shown in the series.
3D or No 3D?
As for the 3D, well, it is best to avoid it. 3D may be an in-thing for this generation, but the conversion of 3D will cause the movie to be shortened, which is what happened to M Night's movie. Just like James Cameron himself suggested, filming in 3D is a new form of cinematography. You can't do the same pannings, depth of field effects and so on that you would do normally. A lot of movies were slammed for the last minute 3D conversion (like Clash of the Titans and TLA itself). So, to be safe, try not to film or convert to 3D unless you are making a short movie.
It is best to respect the bending as they are, and not try to make it look like "charging your chi". The original movie's interpretation of bending is based on "leveling the playing field" and it is only given to a chosen few. All the actors should be trained in terms of bending, even the actors for Zhao and Iroh, as well as ALL the extras. The problem with the training in the movie is that it is limited to only the main actors. Aasif Mandvi only got to firebend right until the very end, as opposed to his character who firebends frequently. Shaun Toub looks as if he wasn't trained at all. When his character, Iroh, was outraged when the Moon Spirit was killed, he displays true firebending in front of everybody. Rather than use the fire to shoot at Zhao's men, he simply displays until Zhao and his men walked out. The extras, well, they were trained but in the wrong way. Right after being hit by a rock, the Fire Nation soldiers flails his arms and it took 5 seconds for the fire to react. As for the earthbending, the much-ridiculed "pebble dance" consists of six Earthbenders creating a barrier by doing a dance (which many misinterpreted as a dance for that tiny rock), another Earthbender raising a rock and accelerates it toward another soldier (who willingly waits for it to hit him). He blocked an incoming fire attack with an smaller Earth barrier. The waterbending is indeed based on Tai Chi (which is the only martial art form mentioned in the Blu-ray documentaries). However, some moves do not go in sync with the flowing water. Case in point, this move from the Katara v. Zuko fight. As for the airbending, there's too little to comment, expect the fact that it does not take a few arm movements and several backflips to create one tornado. The actors should be trained based on what their style of bending represents (arranged based on priority):
- Tai Chi for Waterbending (Katara, Pakku, NWT soldiers involved in Siege of the North)
- Hung Gar for Earthbending (Tyro, Haru, other prisoners)
- Northern Shaolin for Firebending (Zuko, Zhao, Iroh, The Warden, Fire Nation soldiers)
- Ba Gua for Airbending (Aang, Gyatso)
Other skills should be given priority as well, like dual swordfighting (Blue Spirit), fans and shield (Kyoshi Warriors) and how to throw a boomerang (Sokka). Any fight scene from the series should be replicated and not changed to its entirety. I realized that most of the fight scenes in the movie are dumbed-down versions of their cartoon counterparts. Cases in point:
- The Katara v. Zuko fight, where the opponents willingly wait for their turns rather than shoot and splash at each other almost immediately. While in the series, Katara manages to take the lead as a result of the moon and her improvement due to training, Katara was beaten instantly. In the series, Katara manages to freeze Zuko and Zuko manages to unfreeze himself when the sun rises. It was then Katara got beaten and got shot into the tree like in the movie.
- The Aang v. Zuko fight. Unlike the series where it took place in Zuko's ship, this duel took place at a Northern Water Tribe building. However, unlike the series, the fight consists of hand-to-hand combat, similar to movies like Casino Royale and the Bourne series. It does not help that the fight coordinators in charge are involved in those movies. Bending does not appear until the very end, right before Katara freezes Zuko.
- The Earthbending prison camp. Aside from the above-mentioned "pebble dance", majority of the prisoners in background simply watches rather than join in the rebellion. Katara, who was supposed to be a major contribution to the rebellion in the series, simply goes "Don't be afraid!" and watches as her brother and Aang kick everybody's butt.
- The Blue Spirit. While it was closer to the series version, the focus is mainly on Aang, rather than equal amounts of attention for both Aang and the Blue Spirit. As shown in this Blu-Ray documentary, there's too much focus on Aang and the "practice area". Only a few shots of the Blue Spirit are shown, but it looks as if the stunt double is not well-trained in dual swordfighting. Perhaps the biggest offence is the addition of slow-mo. This battle scene was supposed to be fast-paced. While I like the background music, it does not blend with the scene.
Likewise, there are other iconic fight scenes from Book 1 which are omitted for "time constraints". For example, both Agni Ki duels between Zuko and Zhao. The first one was supposed to be after Zhao taunts Zuko and the other happens directly after the murder of the Moon Spirit. In the movie, rather than challenge Zhao for a duel, Zuko whispers at Zhao's ear, "One day, he (Ozai) will bring me back and you will bow down before me" and simply walks out of the door. Also, right before Zuko faces Zhao at the bridge, Iroh stopped him from fighting. And thus, Zhao never got a chance to prove to the audience that he was a Master Firebender. Other notable omissions include the one before Aang's capture (where Sokka attempts to fight with Zuko and Aang reveals himself as the Avatar) and Aang's escape from Zuko's ship. For the latter, Aang simply flies with his glider all the way to Appa in the movie. The series interpretation of this manages to showcase Katara's waterbending skill, Aang waterbending for the first time under the Avatar State and Aang creating an avalanche which in turn damages the ship. Isn't that exciting? One suggestion is to keep the fight scenes from the series and try not to change too much out of it.
Another suggestion would be to hire Yuen Woo-Ping to choreograph the movie. He is a well-known fight coordinator who did several movies ranging from Chinese (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Kungfu Hustle) to Western (The Matrix, Kill Bill) and even Indian (the recent blockbuster Endhiran). He can handle big battle scenes like the Crazy 88's in Kill Bill, so he can be responsible for scenes like the Blue Spirit. He also needs assistance and that comes in the form of Sammo Hung, a candidate to play Iroh. He can handle duels, like the ones in Ip Man.
The whole point of bending is that it reveals a connectivity between a person and the element. When one bends, at least in the show, the element moves in the same motion as the bending move. The bending in the film is so disconnected. Aang's tornado dance does not evoke the movement of a tornado itself; it's just a bunch of miscellaneous moves, and poof: tornado. For every "dance bend", there was at least one scene in which the bending corresponded at least passably. Aang's spar with Pakku is one example in particular. Then again, in Katara's deleted scene spar, she gets the water out of the channel fairly quickly as it moves around, but then it seems to laboriously move in Pakku's direction, so perhaps it represents a former novice becoming more of a master, exercising absolute control over the corresponding element and at other times still being slightly a few steps behind its power?
The bending moves to create the wave didn't bother me like the tornado did; what bothered me about the wave was that in it not being used to destroy the Fire Nation fleet, Aang now has already resolved the internal conflict that he went through in seasons two and three. That fundamental conflict for Aang, having to reconcile his pacifistic beliefs with the world's expectations that he use force, deadly if necessary, to stop the Fire Nation, is now void because Aang doesn't fear the Avatar State, has no guilt over harming the people in the Fire Nation fleet, and has no drive to master the Avatar State as his creating the wave demonstrated he can enter the Avatar State whenever he wants to. And am I the only one who thought that Aang's controlling of the tides at the end of the movie seemed to follow a pretty straightforward "back and forth, push and pull" rhythm? I'm thinking of the close-up shot of his face and fists in particular after he pulls up and pushes the waves back.
ATLA is notable for its famous soundtrack. All the background compositions, character themes, and songs in the world of Avatar play an important part in molding the atmosphere of each episode. Feelings of happiness, suspense, regret, love, action, and many more are projected to the senses through music, making the soundtrack an important aspect of series production. The Soundtrack of ATLA has many eastern influences, considering that the show contains many connections to eastern culture. The various instruments used in the series include the Mbira African Thumb Piano, Taiko Japanese Drums, Armenian Duduk (which is the basis of the Tsungi Horn), Dizi Chinese Flutes, the Guzheng and the Pipa, which happened to be the most difficult instrument for Jeremy of the Track Team to learn. The soundtrack for the Last Airbender is done by James Newton Howard, a famed collaborator of M Night and composer of movies like Batman Begins and King Kong. While his soundtrack for TLA is critically acclaimed (check out a sample here), fans of the series slammed the soundtrack for sounding like another generic fantasy movie, a hybrid between Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Personally, I liked it overall, but it definitely wasn't as good as it could have been. Some of it was beautiful, but none of it was that memorable. A good score doesn't have to be memorable to be good, but I was hoping for something extra special for this movie. A lot of it sounded really repetitive too, and I don't mean repetitive as in recurring themes. I enjoyed it a lot more when I listened to it on its own. It didn't go with the movie very well, and it failed to establish a mood most of the time, which is usually what James Newton Howard is really good at. Compare the series Blue Spirit and JNH'S Blue Spirit. Therefore, it would be nicer for the Track Team to collaborate with the composer in charge with the movie. If James Newton Howard can't work, I recommend his Dark Knight partner Hans Zimmer. Listen to his score forKungfu Panda and The Last Samurai. Another recommendation is Joe Hisaishi, a frequent collaborator with Hayao Miyazaki. Check out some of his brilliant work here. If Tan Dun is still available for movie composing, then it'll be great. And what about John Powell, Hans Zimmer's collaborator in Kung Fu Panda. His recent score in How To Train Your Dragon earned him his very Oscar nomination. Check it out.
Casting should be open to mainly Asians (be it East, South or South-East Asian), Polynesians, Hawaiians, Latinos and Native Americans. The whole Racebending controversy happened when Caucasian actors are cast as the heroes. M Night then added salt into the wound by making the entire Fire Nation "brown" to blend in with the casting of Dev Patel. It gets worse when the East Asians cast are either reduced to nameless extras or cut from the movie entirely. Then he added an "African-American" village because he wanted to cast this entire movie in this color blind way where everyone is represented, even though Caucasians and Africans are obviously not in the show. Likewise, the once Tibetan monk Gyatso is now an African man. So to rectify all these, here are some suggestions for the casting.
- Aang - Noah Ringer, who also played Aang in M Night's TLA (he's perfect as Aang, he just need to be more flexible).
- Katara - Celeste Paramo, a previous candidate for Katara through fandom.
- Sokka - Dev Patel, previously Zuko in M Night's TLA.
- Zuko - Aarif Lee Rahman (Bruce Lee My Brother) or Rhydian Vaughan (Monga)
- Young Zuko will be played by Isaac Jin Solstein, previously Earthbending boy in M Night's TLA.
- Iroh - Sammo Hung (Martial Law, Ip Man 2)
- Zhao - Collin Chou (TThe Matrix)
- Suki - Hayley Kiyoko (Scooby Doo, Lemonade Mouth)
- Kanna - Waheeda Rehman, a veteran actress in Bollywood.
- Tyro - Gordon Liu (Kill Bill)
- Haru - Sean Michael Afable (Akeelah and the Bee)
- Pakku - Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Johnny Tsunami, Tekken)
- Arnook - Wes Studi (Dances With Wolves, James Cameron's Avatar)
- Yue - Seychelle Gabriel, who also played Yue in M Night's TLA.
- Hahn - Brandon Baker (Johnny Tsunami)
- Yugoda - Mona Hammond (10000 BC)
- Roku - Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood's no. 1 veteran actor.
- Ozai - Mark Hamill (voice only, since he will not appear fully until the later movies)
- Koh - Christopher Lee (voice) and Andy Serkis (motion capture)
- Azula - Suzuka Ohgo (Memoirs of a Geisha), appears briefly in the end.
- Gyatso - James Hong
- Pasang - George Takei
- Tashi - Sab Shimono
- Haru's mother - Tan Kheng Hua (from Singaporean sitcom Phua Chu Kang)
- Oyaji - Randall Duk Kim
- Cabbage Merchant - Ken Jeong (The Hangover)
- Lead Yu Yan Archer - Dante Basco, A:TLA's Zuko in a silent role.
- Shinu - Harith Iskandar (Malaysian comedian)
- The Warden - Ian Anthony Dale (Tekken, The Hangover)
- Appa and Momo - Dee Bradley Baker, the voice actor for both characters from the series.
- Lieutenant Jee - Robin Shou
- Extras for Southern Water Tribe (local Inuits from Greenland), Northern Water Tribe (Polynesian, Hawaiian, Native American, South-East Asian descent), Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation (both East Asian in general).
- Director: Choice between Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), Rob Minkoff (The Forbidden Kingdom), Mike Newell (Harry Potter 4, Prince Of Persia), Chris Columbus (Harry Potter 1 & 2), Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter 3), Andrew Adamson (Chronicles Of Narnia), Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), David Yates (Harry Potter 5 onwards), Matthew Vaughn (X Men First Class), JJ Abrams (Star Trek), and Jon Favreau (Iron Man).
- Screenplay: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
- Music: Choice between Hans Zimmer (Dark Knight, Inception, Last Samurai, Kung Fu Panda), Joe Hisaishi (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), John Powell (How To Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda) and Tan Dun (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), with The Track Team as supervisors.
- Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie (Lord Of The Rings) or Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon)
- Casting: PoPing AuYeung (Forbidden Kingdom, Karate Kid)
- Art Direction: Eric Lam (Forbidden Kingdom)
- Set Direction: Timothy Yip (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon)
- Costume Design: Shirley Chan (Forbidden Kingdom, Kung Fu Hustle)
- Fight Coordinators: Yuen Woo-Ping (The Matrix, Kill Bill, Kung Fu Hustle, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and Sammo Hung (Ip Man)
- Martial Arts Consultant: Sifu Kisu
The first movie should be done by adapting the first three episodes as a whole, put bits from The Warriors of Kyoshi, Imprisoned, The Storm, Avatar Roku and The Blue Spirit in between, and end the entire Siege Of The North (including The Waterbending Master). Only remove bits that are really, really not important. Some bits from the original summary of the episodes are taken and changed to match the 2-and-a-half hour timeframe.
After the production company logos, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies presents - THE LAST AIRBENDER. Basically, the same introduction as the series pilot, but in graphic form. The opening sequence (along with the four elements intro) will be animated in style of the opening of Kungfu Panda. After "A hundred years have passed...", the scene shifts back to live-action. As Katara's narration ends, "Book One: Water" will be flashed on the screen, as the camera shifts to an overhead shot of iceberg laden waters. The screen pans left and rotates showing footprints in the snow, then fades to soaring pan shot from the air of the icy waters. As if the shot were taken from the outside of an airplane, the camera banks left as it moves forward. It comes to rest and slowly zooms in on a two-person canoe out among the icebergs. Cut to a closer shot of the canoe.
It may be almost similar to the series, at least it does not contradict with the show's continuity. As long as majority of the people who watch the movie, fans or non-fans, enjoy the movie as a whole.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
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- ↑ Rick Marshall (2010-07-02). M. Night Shyamalan Reveals 'The Last Airbender' Deleted Scenes. MTV Splashpage. Retrieved on July 13, 2011.
- ↑ Dan Kaufman (2010-06-02). It's All Geek To Me — Mandvi on Fire — An Exclusive Interview with Aasif Mandvi from M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. 30ninjas. Retrieved on July 13, 2011.
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