Upon release, the film adaptation was near-universally panned by critics, fans of the original animated series, and even viewers of the film who were unfamiliar with the series, though it did receive some praise for its visual effects and design. It ceased to be on the big screen and went into limbo just two months after its release. It is currently commercially solid with a $319,123,021 intake worldwide. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 16th, 2010, which were advertised on Nickelodeon before reruns of the series were shown between November 2010 and March 2011, though copies had discontinued to be printed by March. It made its only premiere on the network in early April 2011 and after the TV failure it was sold to a movie channel and aired on January 21, 2013, which received minimal praise.
The film tells the story of Aang, a thirteen-year-old[nb 2] airbender who runs away from his destiny as the Avatar. After a hundred years in suspended animation, Aang travels to the Northern Water Tribe on the other side of the world with his newfound friends, Katara and Sokka, to find a master to teach him waterbending. In his absence, the Fire Nation, now ruled by Fire Lord Ozai, has been waging a seemingly endless war against the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribe, having already destroyed the Air Nomads. As the Avatar, he is hunted by Zuko, an exiled prince of the Fire Nation seeking to redeem his honor, and the Fire Nation itself, led by Commander Zhao.
Noah Ringer as Aang: The 13-year-old[nb 2] Avatar and the last surviving airbender. Ringer is a Texas taekwondo champion, who won the part in an open audition. He was cast after submitting a homemade DVD of himself practicing taekwondo and was 12 years old during the shooting of this film. This was his debut.
Nicola Peltz as Katara: A 15-year-old[nb 2] waterbender, the last one from her Southern Water Tribe. Peltz was highly praised at her audition by Shyamalan and was fourteen years old during the shooting of this film. Shyamalan said that he did not want to do the movie without her.
Jackson Rathbone as Sokka: A 17-year-old[nb 2] warrior from the Southern Water Tribe, and brother to Katara. Rathbone is primarily known for his portrayal of the vampire Jasper Hale in the Twilight films.
Dev Patel as Zuko: An eighteen-year-old[nb 2] firebending prince of the Fire Nation, banished by his father. Patel replaced Jesse McCartney for the role of Prince Zuko as the latter was unable to take part due to conflicting scheduling. Shyamalan was impressed by Patel's acting performance in Slumdog Millionaire and so cast him in the role. Young Zuko was played by Rohan Shah.
Aasif Mandvi as Zhao: A high-ranking general of the Fire Nation who led the Siege of the North. Mandvi is an Indian-born, British-raised actor and comedian. He is regular correspondent on The Daily Show.
Shaun Toub as Iroh: A former general of the Fire Nation, brother to Ozai, and uncle to Zuko and Azula. Toub is an Iranian-born television and film actor of Persian Jewish background with previous roles in films such as Bad Boys, Iron Man and Crash.
Cliff Curtis as Ozai: The Fire Lord, the monarch of the Fire Nation. Curtis is a New Zealander with Māori heritage. He previously had starring roles in New Zealand films such as Whale Rider.
Francis Guinan as Master Pakku: A master and the leader of waterbenders for the Northern Water Tribe.
Damon Gupton as Gyatso: A senior airbending monk from the Southern Air Temple, and a guardian and father figure to Aang.
Summer Bishil as Azula: A firebending prodigy, daughter to Ozai, and sister to Zuko. Bishil is an American-born actress. Her mother is White American, and her father is a Saudi citizen of Indian ancestry. She rose to fame by starring in the movie Towelhead.
The novelization was released on May 25, 2010, before the film was released in July 1, 2010. Curiously, there were differences in the novelized story from the movie itself, including scenes not included in the movie (e.g. the Kyoshi Warriors), newly added scenes in the movie (e.g. the Azula epilogue), and alternate outcome of the story (e.g. some Fire Nation ships were crushed by the wave). Very likely, the novelization was for the movie before it was announced to be revised for 3D purposes after the printing and distribution of the novelization was underway. Indeed, test screening reviews from AICN contained elements covered in the novelization but not in the final cut such as Zhao punching the fish to death instead of stabbing it with a dagger. The theatrical version of the movie is estimated to be 20-30 minutes shorter than the novelized version, which may be what Shyamalan alluded to when he said "I'm dying to make a two-hour movie, I just haven't earned it yet", and has been suggested to accommodate the limited availability of 3D screens.
In the video "interview" of M. Night Shyamalan conducted by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, the film trilogy was planned to be 6+ hours long, which gave 2+ hours for the first movie (though the final running time is 103 minutes). Due to the short allotted running time, the film does not cover the entire first season of the original animated series, even though the film was titled "Book One: Water". With such rich and complex story elements, rather than a "comprehensive adaptation" like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, essential elements were selected and rewoven into its own story and direction, similar to a "selective adaptation" approach with a long series like Spider-man and X-Men.
On January 8, 2007, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies announced that they had signed M. Night Shyamalan to write, direct and produce a trilogy of live-action films based on the series; the first of these films was to be a faithful adaptation of the main characters' adventures in Book One. The film was in a dispute with James Cameron's film Avatar regarding title ownership, which resulted in the film being titled The Last Airbender.
The Last Airbender has received a nearly universal negative response from critics, on the tomatometer receiving 7% from Top Critics and 6% from All Critics. The film was nominated for eight Golden Raspberry Awards, which is a parody of the Oscars by doling out accolades to the worst films of the year, and won five: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actor (for Jackson Rathbone), and Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3-D. The Worst Sequel, Remake, or Adaptation and Worst Screen Couple/Ensemble were lost to Sex and the City 2, while Worst Supporting Actress went to Jessica Alba. It was nominated with several other awards including Choice Summer Movie for the 2010 Teen Choice Awards, International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA), the 32nd Young Artist Award, the 2011 MTV Movie Awards,, and the 3rd Annual Coming of Age Movie Awards of which, Noah Ringer won for the Best Actor. Many fans of the original series have demanded a remake or reboot of the film, which is discussed in Readapting Avatar: The Last Airbender. Fans of the film itself, however, have banded together in support of the movie at various sites, many of them asked to release an extended cut of the movie.
The DVD/Blu-ray Combo Pack was released on November 16, 2010, from Paramount Home Entertainment of the film. It boasts over two hours of in-depth, behind-the-scenes special features including a nine-part documentary on the making of the film, a featurette entitled "Origins of the Avatar", which documents the creative transformation of the hit animated series to the big screen, picture-in-picture insights from the cast and crew that deconstruct some of the amazing action and visual effects sequences, deleted scenes, outtakes and more. A 3D Blu-ray version was also released on the same day, but as a Best Buy exclusive release.
M. Night Shyamalan's adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender was originally a good half hour longer than the final released cut. This footage consists of more scenes from the series and more development for the characters. Much of this can be seen in the early trailers, which feature several clips from the original edit. Many of these scenes can also be seen in the manga released at the time of the film, as well as the film novelization.
This was done for various reasons; one was a rather unfavorable early test screening, and the other was the film's last minute 3D conversion. To minimize the effort required for the conversion, many scenes were re-shot to both shorten the amount of time necessary for the story to be told. Additionally, some of the original cinematography was replaced by more basic shots.
It should be noted, before this, that nearly every scene had something cut out from it, or some little change enacted. These are the main large bits that have been cut.
Originally the film opened with a near-exact recreation of the show's introduction, with even more exposition of Sozin's Comet and Katara's origins, this replacing the narration played over their trek in the theatrical cut.
The first scene was cut down slightly as well. Katara and Sokka originally had a brief ride in their boat before Katara began her practice.
Kanna originally tended to Aang before Katara entered the hovel. They and Sokka had a brief conversation as well.
Katara and Aang's conversation was cut down briefly. The conversation at one point shifted to Katara's necklace as well as her mother.
Like the series, Zuko originally had a suiting up montage before invading the Southern Water Tribe.
As the Fire Nation arrived, Aang originally played a small game with the children of the Southern Water Tribe, to keep them calm. This is in the final film to an extent, the children are still huddled around them when the Fire Nation guard bursts in.
Katara, Kanna, and Sokka's conversation was re-shot for the theatrical cut. The dialogue of the original scene dwelt more on Katara and Sokka's urgency to get to Aang, and the tying together of their destinies by their finding of him, as seen in the Japanese trailer. This includes the trailer line "He will need you. And we all need him."
Aang's rescue had a bit of dialogue cut out. Originally he was to pet Appa's head upon reuniting with him. Additionally, Aang also talked to Sokka about airbending.
As Katara's narration was entirely a post-production element, all occurrences of it were originally dialogue scenes.
The Dragon Spirit's dialogue was redubbed. Additionally, Aang originally fell into Katara's arms upon exiting the Spirit World.
Katara originally lost her necklace during the prison break. Zuko later found it during his search.
Aang visits a medium in a village, where the Dragon Spirit possesses her and tells him that he must save the Northern Water Tribe should he expect victory in the war. Additionally, as Katara, Sokka, and Aang leave the village, Sokka spots the Kyoshi Warriors shadowing them.
As Aang left the campsite, Katara and Sokka are attacked by Fire Nation guards. They are saved by the Kyoshi Warriors, who stay with them until Aang returns from the Northern Air Temple.
Aang's visit with the Dragon Spirit was greatly cut down. The spirit originally explained Sozin's Comet and warned Aang that his feelings for Katara must be controlled, and that it will conflict with his duty as Avatar.
Zhao originally tempted Aang with a bucket of water, which informed him that he could not bend water yet.
As Zuko lay unconscious, Aang finds Katara's necklace on him. Zuko promptly awakens and chases Aang away with firebending.
Aang gives Katara's necklace back to its rightful owner as he arrives back at the campsite.
Zhao and Ozai's conversation was re-shot with a very different ending. Ozai, in the original version, ordered Zuko's death.
The arrival at the Northern Water Tribe was completely dubbed over with narration in the final version.
In the original version, Katara is seen sparring with Master Pakku before Pakku's 'flow like water' speech.
Sokka and Yue's conversation was cut down slightly as well.
Once again, the Dragon Spirit's dialogue was changed.
Katara, Sokka, and Pakku's involvement in the climax was cut down quite a bit. All three had scenes of battle, and Pakku was shown to be captured by Fire Nation soldiers.
The ending was re-shot. Originally, a messenger was to inform Ozai of the fail at the Northern Water Tribe. Ozai sets the field around him ablaze to prove a point and the film cuts to black as he walks against the fire. This was replaced with Azula's epilogue in the theatrical edit.
↑ 2.02.12.22.32.4According to the movie novelization, Aang was biologically thirteen years old, Katara was fifteen, Sokka was seventeen, and Zuko was eighteen. In contrast with the original series, Aang was biologically twelve years old, Katara was fourteen, Sokka was fifteen, and Zuko was sixteen.