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Why There Will Never Be A Good Live Action ATLA/LOK

Republic City with vines and portal
     Hey. Raiden here again. I know its been a while since my last blog. Anyways . . . last time I really put a genuine blog with my thoughts in it on the wiki was a few years back. It became  a featured Blog, that discussed why the fanbase should continue to support Korra despite its flaws. Apparently that paper wasn't enough to convince enough people to support the show, because now the show has officially been made an internet exclusive. Maybe it's for the best, or not who can say.

I'm typing this blog up as a response (sort've) to Hasdi Bravo's blog discussing who is to blame for the Last Airbender failing. I'll post a link to that blog here.

I have nothing Nice to say about Hasdi these days. He's pretty loathsome.

Bottom line, regardless of who was to blame for the movie. Majority consensus is that the Last Airbender movie was a terrible movie for so many reasons. From the possibly racist casting, to the  bad acting on the part of the majority of the Child Actors, to the choppy cinematography, the poorly budgeted CGI, the exposition filled script, and the removal of any sort of fun and humor the original series had. It Alienated the audience, and may have indefinitely crippled M Night Shyamalan's Career as a director in the process.

Needless to say, many of us, myself included would like to see a reboot of the Airbender franchise, and see it done right.

But I also believe that nothing short of a miracle would be able to give the Airbender Franchise the movie it deserves. There are many, many, factors keeping a live action remake of the franchise from not only getting off the ground, but also from being a good movie, and making back its budget.  (At least for the foreseeable future.)

This is just me listing the biggest factors and getting this chip i've been carrying on my shoulder about the movie off for good. I don't want this to be me wallowing in despair and anger at the franchise like many of us have and still are. We've done enough of that. This is meant to bring closure, let the wound heal, and allow us to move on.

1. James Cameron: Name And Copyright Issues

Mover production set
There are two issues associated with the Name of both Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Legend Of Korra. As most of the fans of the show are probably aware of, a few years back director James Cameron created his own Avatar. Which while completely different from our Avatar in every way shape and form, made billions at the box office to become the biggest and best selling blockbuster movie of All Time, only being rivaled by Cameron's previous big budget epic Titanic.

So the name AVATAR, is associated withJames Cameron's Science Fiction Epic, (and potential billion dollar cash cow franchise if his upcoming sequels are just as successful as the first one). And the Subtitle, the Last Airbender is associated with one of the most universally terrible andcritically panned movies ever made. James Cameron would sue Paramount and Nickelodeon if they used the name Avatar. But if a remake used the Last Airbender, as a title for a reboot. People who's only experience with the Airbender Franchise is through the terrible Shyamalan film will likely be turned off. It'd be like Disney or 20th Century Fox being forced to call Star Wars something different due to a dispute with Star Trek over a similar sounding name. But who is Luke Skywalker outside of the context of the Star Wars brand? Who is Korra outside of the context of the Airbender Franchise?

That's a big issue for a live action Airbender adaptation to overcome. Because a franchise needs a big name, a universally recognized brand for the fans rally around, and more importantly, for the studio to merchandise and market to their target audience.

This may be why Korra didn't become as popular as it's predecessor. Legend of Korra, sounds generic. Avatar: Legend Of Korra, sounds unique and tied to a brand. The company was a lot less willing to spend money on merchandising and publicity because they didn't know if the series would make back the money they invested in it.

If a hardcore fanbase is big enough, it may be able to guarantee a movie and it's merchandise break even. But if a casual fanbase doesn't know that a movie is based upon a property they were fans of as kids then the property will likely never be able to truly take off and be a huge hit.

There are ways to overcome this however. One is to change the name of the movie to something that would connect it to the brand, while at the same time not tick off James Cameron and make it different from The Last Airbender name that the movie unfortunately tarnished. How about Airbender: Legend Of Aang?

But branding is at the bottom in terms of importance, because we also have to over come. . .

2. Unmarketable: The  Lack Of Well Known And Profitable Asian Actors

Ember Island Players

Fire Nationer's playing Other Nations is close enough

Given I've harped on this issue multiple times. To the point of it being a dead horse trope at this point. I'll will attempt to keep my discussion of this topic brief.

For those of you who are new to the fanbase, or were introduced to the fanbase through Korra. Let me explain a major controversy surrounding the live action film. Namely the lack of Asian and Inuit actors. For those of you who already know this, consider this a refresher course.

It is well documented and even celebrated that both ATLA and Korra are steeped in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Inuit and Native American cultures. From their traditions, andreligions, to their history, clothing, written language, andcuisine. Furthermore Bryan and Mike have cited various films from Asian Cinema such asCrouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, House Of Flying Daggers, Princess Mononoke,Spirited Away, and Japanese Animated TV Shows such as Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Fullmetal Alchemist, and FLCL as their biggest influence on both Series.

What is most remarkable about the Airbender Franchise is also one of the few all-ages franchises that shows characters of Color in complex, interesting, strong, non-stereotypical roles that are seldom seen in most other American productions, animated or otherwise.

There’s nothing perfect about me or my work, but I am proud of it and the diverse, inclusive, atypical-for-American-TV world it portrays and the characters that populate it, and what it means to many people all over this globe.

-Bryan Konietzko

So being aware of the context the franchise was built upon, Bryan and Mike's original intent, and the culture the show was steeped in. Many of us were expecting that Paramount would cast at least a few Asian and/or Dark Skinned actors in the roles of the lead heroes. But despite the context of the source material, Paramount, Shyamalan and Frank Marshall recruited an almost entirely white cast for the lead roles (with the exception of the three main "villain" characters). While regulating almost all actors and characters of color to background roles. More Information on thatHERE, Here, and HERE.

Many protestors, including the MANAA, spoke out against this. Claiming racism. While I agree racism on the part of Hollywood towards Asian actors may play a part, I believe its far more complicated than that.

I believe there is a craving, by the American audience for Asian Culture in their movies. If only for exotic appeal. But Hollywood simply put, isn't willing to risk money on an unproven Asian or Asian American actor in the lead role of their summer blockbuster. So Asian actors are at best given supporting roles, and outright excluded at worst. Even from starring in the lead roles of movies and tv shows that so clearly celebrate Asian cultural heritage. Like almost every lead role in Last Airbender. Gene Yang published a comic strip on his website commenting on the same thing.


The American Audience has seen movies about Samurai (The Last Samurai, 47 Ronin), Ninjas (Ninja Turtles), Giant Robots in Asia (Pacific Rim, Transformers 4), Buddhist Reincarnation (Cloud Atlas), and even a giant monster that attacks Tokyo (Godzilla). All starring white actors in the lead roles, with Asian actors either being reduced to playing supporting roles, extras, or being excluded from the narrative altogether. This also extends to properties that originally featured Asian Characters (Edge Of Tomorrow,Dragon Ball Evolution, The upcoming Live Action Ghost In The Shell Remake), or were set in Asian Culture (47 Ronin, ), or were based on real world Asian people who contributed to society (21, Come See The Paradise). Despite the fact that Asian actors, who have history in the cultures these works are based upon, could draw upon those experiences to give us a much better performance than any White American Actor ever could. Including anything we had in the Shyamalan film.

Film - The Last Airbender poster 4
    But studios aren't willing to risk money, because there supposedly aren't any Asian actors that could carry a big budget live action Special effects heavy movie, and as much as I hate to agree with them. . .  How many Asian actors can you think of, off the top of your head that you and a friend would go see? Five? Maybe six if you're lucky? Now take away all the Icons of cinema everyone knows like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Lucy Liu. Not many left huh?

That's a big part of the Issue, a lack of Asian or Asian American Icons that could sell a movie like a Live Action Airbender to the masses. According to Hollywood there aren't enough well known Asian actors who could carry a movie like this. Even ones with fans and devoted followings. Such as George Takei, Lucy Liu, James Hong, or even Steven Yuen, would not guarantee a movie starring them in the lead would turn a profit.

Hollywood is motivated by money, and given the economy, the big studios simply  do not want to risk any of said money on risky gambits. So they stick to tried and true formulas, that guarantee that a movie will if not succeed at least not flop at the box office. Regrettably, that Formula includes white actors in the lead roles, and almost everyone else with a different complexion being excluded. Personally, I think it's BS, but it's Hollywoods way of reasoning. Nobody had even heard of Daniel Radcliffe before he played Harry Potter, and now he's a multi-millionaire, and one of the biggest Icons of Cinema and Pop culture since Mark Hammil as Luke Skywalker.

Is there any reason Hollywood could not do the same with an Asian or Asian American actor playing Aang or Sokka? Well, yes actually, and this spins off into my next reason.

3. Foreign Audiences and Censors: Hollywood's Addiction To Chinese Money

(Warning: Some Links In This Section May Be Too Graphic For A Younger Audience.)

Awaiting Zuko's coronation
Spinning off the last reason, the Chinese market is also what is crippling any possibility for a decent live action reboot of The Last Airbender. That may seem like an oxymoron, "Surely. . ." you may be thinking right now ". . .an Asian Audience would want to see Asian actors on the screen!" You'd be right thinking that, and also horribly horribly wrong.

The recession has not been kind to Hollywood. For every billion dollar blockbuster like "Transformers 4" there are far too many flops and duds that fail to make back their money. So directors and producers, needing money to keep up their films production values, need their movies to make back money, BIG money.  One way to do this is to increase the size of their potential audience by tapping into the Chinese Market. Which is the fastest growing market for movies in the world at this point in time, increasing the odds of a film being profitable ten fold.

However, there is a bit of a catch to tapping into the Chinese Market. That snag is named the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP Bereau of Censorship only allows Thirty-Four American films to be shown in Chinese cinemas a year. Furthermore, they only allow films that fit an incredibly strict criteria. Such criteria includes many things, but one of those is that an Asian actor cannot play a villain, and since everyone in the Airbender universe is Asian. . .

Depending on the content of the film it may be altered, edited, or prohibited from airing in China altogether. Wanting their movies to make a profit, American studios are actively altering their own movies to appeal to the Chinese Audience. Be it through censoring plot points that would offend CCP Censors, or outright pandering to the CCP by portraying the party in a glorious romanticised light (like in the aforementioned Transformers 4).

Now you may be asking, what does that have to do with a Reboot of the Last Airbender getting made? My answer? EVERYTHING. After having done some research on the issue. I came away enlightened. For a Live Action Airbender movie to get past the CCP Censors, be shown in China, and earn back enough money for it to be considered profitable by the Studio's standards. It would have to be drastically changed and have plot and cultural elements altered, or outright removed to avoid making the Censors angry.

Lemme point out the Elephant-Koi in the room right now.

To this day the CCP denies the part they played in the cultural, religious, and ethnic genocide of the Tibetan people, and how their actions forced The Tibetan Government and Dali Lama Tenzin Gyatso (The Real world inspiration for Aang, Monk Gyatso, and Tenzin) into exile in India. It's such a sensitive subject for the CCP, that they have outright forbid Brad Pitt from setting foot in mainland China because he starred alongside Mako more than two decades ago, in a little movie called "Seven Years In Tibet". A movie that discusses the very real persecution of the Tibetan people, including a very commonplace act of mass suicide by Immolation (lighting themselves on Fire).

Fire Nation Army

So, showing the Fire Nation. A clear cultural counterpart to China (both Ancient and Modern).

Air Nomad Genocide

'Ethnically Cleansing' the Air Nomads, a clear counterpart to Tibet. With fire.

That would likely strike a little too close to home for the CCP censors.

That's the biggest issue keeping a Last Airbender movie reboot from being made. The CCP wouldn't allow it to be shown in China due to the controversial plot point of the Air Nomad Genocide. If it can't be shown in China, the Producers and executives likely won't even bother producing it. Furthermore, it is a plotpoint that is so engrained into the franchise and Aang's story arc that you literally cannot remove it without turning the story into something its not. Anything deviating from the approved account of China's (mis)treatment of the Tibetan people by the CCP is shut down before it can even reach the public, even if its a fantasy or even allegorical version thereof.

This is likely the reason why the Shyamalan movie made the Air Nomads more multicultural, to make them less of a Tibet Analogue, and get the film past the censors.

Aang at peace

To Kill A Chosen One Inspired by the Dali Lama

I don't know about you people but in my humble opinion altering American movies to appease a government who persecutes and brainwashes it's own people, alter and even outright destroy memory of their own history and culture for purposes of propaganda, Bully and threaten tHong Kong natives for just universal sufferage, and is guilty of numerous other human rights violations. Does not deserve the support of anyone in America. Let alone what is arguably the most influential part of it, the Film Industry. “It really is very clever. They (the CCP censors) don’t need to censor movies themselves when Western production houses will do it for them. . . (for example) If you make a movie that’s shown in Canada which Beijing considers anti-Chinese, it is very likely none of your studios’ future films or documentaries will ever be shown in China again' -Liu Lee-Shin, Professor of Film at the Taiwan University Of The Arts

That speaks for itself. Hollywood can't see past a quick buck, they want money, China is the biggest market for movies in the world at this point in time. So for the foreseeable future, the majority of Big Budget Hollywood blockbusters will be altered to appeal to a Chinese Audience. Because of that, the cultural content that made the original Avatar The Last Airbender series so wonderful would have to be removed or altered beyond recognition. Which wouldn't make it Last Airbender, it'd just make it another dumb generic fantasy movie.

4. Lack Of Creator Involvement: Bryan and Mike Are Moving On

Bryan Konietzko
Michael Dante DiMartino
To make sure that a franchise keeps a focused vision, its usually best to keep the original creator involved (at least to a certain degree). Take the Harry Potter franchise for example, the original writer of the novels was involved with the production of the films and the multimedia franchise from the beginning. So were Bryan and Mike.

But the difference is, the woman who wrote Harry Potter has almost complete creative control over the character. There's a lot more Studio and copyright politics to it, but basically it comes down to this. If another writer or director does something she doesn't like with Harry Potter, she can pretty much veto it, because she owns the character and has the final say. But Bryan and Mike don't own Aang, Korra and Company. Nickelodeon does, and they can pretty much do whatever they want with the property, with or without Bryan and Mike's consent.

Case in point the Shyamalan film was greenlit by Paramount without their input. They've even stated in aninterview with Nerdist how although they tried to be involved with production on the movie and change things for the better where they could, but were all but shut out of creative talks by Nickelodeon and Shyamalan, and were nervous about talking about it out of concern about how Nick would treat them and the show.

Furthermore Bryan and Mike don't want to have their creativity restricted by the franchise. They have also stated such in various interviews and posts on Tumblr. They created Avatar, and Korra with intent on them being overarching stories with a planned beginning, middle, and end. They don't want their property to continue as long as it's profitable, with sequel series after sequel series being produced, each one being worse than the last, especially without their involvement.

We've all seen what happens to good franchises/properties when less-than-capable filmmakers are given carte blanche to do what they want with it. The Shymalan film is a good example, but there are so many others. Here are two.

The Alien Franchise: Turned from hard-as-nails horror/drama franchise in the original three films to campy B-Movie entertainment in later installments such as Alien Vs Predator. Because of both corporate misuse and lack of trust in the viability of the property, and the minds of lesser talents who just didn't understand what made the original film's work.

The Burton/Schumacher Batman Films: The first one was a good, dark, if slightly campy action movie, the second one was also a good, dark, slightly campy action movie. But was marred by the director's artistic choices after he was given complete creative control of the product.  The third one was okay but not all that good, and the fourth one completely missed the point and disappointed fans and critics to no end because the director was given complete creative control.

What am I trying to say with all this?

What I'm saying, is there has to be a perfect balance between the original creators input, and corporate interest/investment for a property like ATLA to take off and be popular the way it was (and in many ways still is). Too much creative control on the part of the original creator, and a product tends to overstretch itself. Too much corporate restriction on creativity, and the story is stifled by them and never reaches it's full potential. In many ways the balance between creativity and corporate is a lot like the need for balance between chaos and order in the world of ATLA.

Harmonic Convergence

But even assuming all the other issues are overcome. We still have to deal with. . .

5. Runtime And Adaptation Decay: It Will Never Be As Good As The Source Material

Motion movie projector
In every film adaptation, changes are obviously going to need to be made from the source material. That's just the thing with adaptations. Anybody who complains that a story is not authentic to the source material, just doesn't understand how such things work. No adaptation is ever going to be One hundred percent faithful to the source material. If you can't handle changes, ignore the adaptations and stick to the source material.

Having said that, why are fans of the books so much more accepting of the film adaptations of them. Than fans of ATLA are of the movie? Why is some source material easier to adapt to the big screen than other source material?

Books such asLord Of The Rings, Harry Potter, Dune, The Hunger Games, Tales From Earthsea, Enders Game etc. are easier to adapt to film than a TV Show. Why?

I'm not a big expert, but I believe because of the following.

                                                   A) There are (usually) not many people who are familiar with the source material of a book or novel.

Book of Clouds
Because (usually) a novel does not get as much publicity as movies or TV Shows (not counting classics we read in school). Thus a lot less people have a deep emotional connection to it or have grounds to criticize it. That's not to knock novels or literature, its just acknowledging an inherent weakness they have in today's technology and popularity driven world of mass media.

B) People are usually more accepting of book-to-movie adaptations, than TV-to-Movie adaptations. This is because fans of the books only had their imaginations to go on before the movie came out. Text on paper requires the reader to use his imagination to visualize what the characters would look like in reality. Fans of the books want to see how how Gollum and the Orcs, Harry Potters Magic, Dune's Sandworms, Panem's Hunger Games etc. would look in real life. Hence why they tend to be more accepting and less critical of the movies based off of the books. Because each person interprets the world in the book slightly differently.

But in adapting an Animated Tv show, where the audience and fans already have concrete visuals of what the characters and the setting are supposed to look like. The viewer is, by default less accepting of any deviation from the source material, because he/she already has a clear picture in his mind of what the characters and setting should look like.

Sokka's top-knot
Film - Sokka's boomerang
I think it's the reason a lot of people were upset over Katara and Sokka being cast with white actors, but a lot less people were upset over Katniss being changed from 'olive skinned' in the book to the Katniss everyone sees on the poster for the movie. Because there was room for interpretation about what Katniss looked like in the Hunger Games Novel, but a lot less for Sokka and Katara in ATLA who are definitively dark skinned.

C) A book has as many pages as it needs to tell it's story. One season of a TV show has anywhere between 10-20 hours to do the same thing. But a full length theatrical movie usually only has 90-180 minutes.

That is the strength both books, and the animated series had that the movie didn't, and is a big problem that any future live action version of the Airbender franchise would run into. Runtime.

The reason the Shyamalan film came off as 'rushed', was because plot points were talked about through exposition, but never really fleshed out onscreen due to the runtime. Bryan and Mike were able to set aside a whole episode to flesh out both Aang and Zuko as characters, explain their motivations, phobias, issues with family etc. That extra few minutes of screentime allowed us to really get to know both characters, and genuinely allowed us to empathize with them.

But the Shyamalan film all but glossed over that because there wasn't enough runtime, he couldn't develop the characters properly because he had to move the plot along. That made the whole thing come off as both lazy and rushed. If the movie had been longer it could have shown us why the characters acted in certain ways, intead of telling us through exposition.

The Last Airbender is just chess piece storytelling: Character goes here, character goes there, character says this, pawn to king four (a picture of said chess pieces are shown). So in this scene that should've been the emotional pinnacle of our main star, it's just more explaining about what happened rather than why it happened.

-Doug Walker, The Nostalgia Critic

More time gives the creators more freedom. More time allows the author of the book, director of the film, or scriptwriter of the TV show to develop various characters, plots and subplots, keep the pacing and atmosphere consistent, and make it all come off as seamless.

I'm not saying it's impossible for a film with a limited runtime to do all that, but I personally haven't seen one yet, and I doubt I ever will.

There are two ways to get around this however. The first option is, making each film in a trilogy at least three hours long in order to fit as much as needed from the source material into each movie. Lord Of the Rings pulled it off, why can't ATLA or Korra?

The second option, dividing the source into several slightly shorter films. Each with it's own internal plot tied up by the end, despite being part of a larger narrative that will be wrapped up in the final film. like The Hobbit Trilogy, or the upcoming movie trilogy based on Steven King's Post-Apocalyptic Horror Novel, The Stand.

Having said all that, dividing ATLA or Legend Of Korra into multiple movies is going to be a bit tricky. You would need at least two or three, ninety to one hundred and twenty minute movies for each season of the TV show, produced simoultaneously, back to back. That would require a huge investment, and Nick doesn't seem to believe in the potential profits of Airbender as strongly as we do.

In conclusion:

The Adventures of Nuktuk
So, yeah, this is pretty much my treatsie on why I personally believe a live action Airbender movie couldn't and wouldn't work. It's highly unlikely the dominoes would all fall in just the right places at just the right time to give us a perfect Avatar: The Last Airbender or Legend Of Korra live action film, and I think it's time we all accepted that. There are just too many obstacles in the way.

But having read all of that. . . I want to say this. It could be entirely possible I'm wrong. A good director who loves the source material, a proper cast, a few changes to studio interests, a few people in charge being replaced, it's possible a series of Last Airbender Movies could be at least watchable.

But it will never be one that is genuinely good, for the simple reason that the source material is already good, and you can't improve upon what is already perfect.

That's all for me. Pretty much everything I've wanted to say. Raiden out.

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