Recently I began an effort to start my own version of an Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptation, to improve on Shyamalan's version and overall to create a more fulfilling experience. The changes are many, as this is not an attempt to stay close to the series, but rather to create a cohesive and flowing plot and a film that will get you engrossed into the story.
What follows is my ideas for characterization, world, plot points for inclusion and various other notes.
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- Aáng - A certain playfulness and innocence should be preserved for him, which can be accomplished through many different ways, the main one to have him entertain the children of the Southern Water Tribe. His wide-eyed curiousity and naivety should also be preserved, but slowly diminish as the series goes on, to show growth. His uncertainty of being Avatar should also be kept, and may be done in a similar manner as in the film (showcased through the ceremony at the Air Temple).
- Zuko - He is an interesting one to handle, seeing as his character shifted around so wildly even by the end of Book One. My thoughts are to have him closer to the Shyamalan version, but still keep his somewhat abbraisive attitude towards Iroh like in the show, but done much more subtly than the early episodes of the series.
- Katara - Not much deviation is needed from the show's characterzation of the over-mature motherly figure, which was done much better in the show than the film.
- Sokka - This is a big one, and the one that I think requires the most deviation from the show and the series. Sokka can still be the comic relief of the group, but his characterization should be augmented. In my mind, he should be a loyal friend who cares about his sister, a competent fighter, and a heavy cynic, which is where the comedy of his character comes from. The most over-the-top gags of the show need serious toning down in order to make his character still likable and not annoying.
- Yue - She should be ready to help at any cost, and also a more commanding royal presence.
- Ïroh - Iroh is simple; he's Zuko's moral compass. His comedy can still be preserved in little ways, but his main role is that of a mentor to the prince.
- Pakku - This is another simple one; he's a wise master, but also spiteful and brash, which causes some clashes between him and his pupils (Aang and Katara).
- Zhao - His is an interesting one. I believe that he should still be intimidating to a degree, but also have an element of silminess to him. Similarly, I think he should also be at odds with Ozai instead of being his lapdog like in the film.
The series Asian influence is a defining staple, and provides it with an identity of its own. I say, the more of it, the better. This can be done in easy ways, like...
- Making the form of writing traditional Chinese calligraphy like the show.
- Any new names may be Japanese, Chinese, or other oriental words or names that fit the characters.
- The four nations can have ties to their intended nationalities, visually, locationally, or otherwise.
- Casting each character with an actor from their intended race. (Aáng and Toph Chinese, Sokka and Katara Native American, and Zuko and Ïroh Japanese/Korean)
- Changing spelling of some names to preserve their original pronounciation (Aáng, Ïroh, etc.)
- Change pronounciation of Avatar depending on who says it. To be clearer, the Japanese word for 'avatar' is 'abatā', thus Fire Nation pronounciation could lean closer to 'abatar', whereas the other nations might pronounce it closer to 'afatar', since the Chinese word for 'avatar' is 'āfándá'.
- Making some spirits Chinese gods or goddesses.
- Heavily basing the bending off of their intended martial arts form.
This is a difficult one. Tone is important for any screenplay, adaptation or otherwise, to make sure a film doesn't switch feeling halfway through. I say that a tone similar to that of Legend of Korra or Fellowship of the Ring is needed, an epic scale that can still have a lot of character drama and even some humor. If this is employed from the start, we can avoid the Harry Potter route of starting off so kid-friendly and getting so dark that it's barely recognizable as the same series anymore. If the series starts out as one with a slightly dark tone, it will likely capture more attention from the get-go and inspire more the rest of the films to be made. The main way to accomplish this is to remove gags or elements that wouldn't necessarily work as well in a big-budget film as they would in an animated series.
Content (What To Include and What To Excise)
This is easily the hardest part, as it requires much thinking in terms of how close you wish to stray to the source material in terms of plotting. The simple way is to identify which episodes advance the plot and charatcers. Truthfully, I think Shyamalan actually made the right calls in terms of keeping stuff. However, he strayed too close still in my opinion. Truthfully, all of these will be majorly rewritten in some way or another (be it dialogue or some other means) and most of these will be included in a small capacity or combined with each other, but here's my idea on which episodes should be included.
- = the events included will be significantly altered, redone, or merely excerpted from their television counterparts. More shall be said below the list.
Book One: The Great North
- The Boy in the Iceberg/The Avatar Returns
- The Southern Air Temple
- Winter Solstice: Avatar Roku*
- The Storm*
- The Blue Spirit
- The Waterbending Master
- The Siege of the North
- The Avatar State*
Now, one important thing to keep in mind is that none of these necessarily need to be included in their entirety, or even the main plot. For some, small scenes can be lifted and shifted around to work within a narrative. And the order is also something that can be greatly.
What's clear is that a good chunk of the film needs to take place in the Northern Water Tribe, mainly for Yue's and Pakku's developement as characters.
Not only that, but Zhao requires an earlier introduction to cement him as an antagonist.
The trio's trek through the Earth Kingdom can be shortened, but still preserve the idea that Aáng's presence is greatly affecting the Earth. Haru does not necessarily need to be a character, although a similar situation to Imprisoned may be included as Aáng's ultimate reveal to the world. Additionally, a montage showing various proactive bits of the Earth Kingdom starting a rebellion could be included, showing things like the Kyoshi Warriors, Jet's Freedom Fighters, or even a few earthbender armies.
In order to keep The Northern Water Tribe as much as possible, it might perhaps be necessary to shift the Blue Spirit and Avatar Roku to during Aáng and Co.'s stay in the Northern Water Tribe, which could be accomplished quite easily.
A new, much lenghtier prologue will be instated in place of Katara's narration, showcasing Sozin's rise to power, Aáng's running away and incarceration, Gyatso giving his life for Aáng, and Zuko being banished by Ozai for speaking up.
Other parts of Aáng's backstory would be shifted throughout the film, all culminating similarly to Shyamalan's version, where Aáng excepts his role by creating the wave (which would do some damage) and bowing to the citizens of the Water Tribe.
The only parts of the Avatar State that require inclusion are Katara being given the Spirit Water and Zuko and Ïroh cutting their topknots. Zuko and Ïroh would both make the decision to desert the Fire Nation during the Siege of the North, when Ïroh questions Zuko if his constant pursuit of Aáng is worth the hardship. Later, during the ending, Zuko would say that it indeed is not worth it, and would cut his topknot to prove it. Ïroh would do the same.
Book Two: The Burning Earth
- The Avatar State*
- The Cave of Two Lovers*
- Return to Omashu*
- The Blind Bandit*
- Zuko Alone*
- The Chase*
- The Warriors of Kyoshi*
- Bitter Work*
- The Library*
- The Serpent's Pass*
- City of Walls and Secrets*
- Appa's Lost Days*
- Lake Laogai*
- The Earth King*
- The Guru*
- The Crossroads of Destiny*
This is the most difficult plotwise because of the problem of so much to include. As such, the individual plots of each episode (The Baby from Omashu, the couple from The Serpent's Pass, etc.) would be removed. There are easy ways to shorten plots. For instance, the trio doesn't necessarily need to journey to the Desert Library to formulate the Black Sun theory. It could easily take place right after The Chase, when the team stop in a nearby ghost town to get some sleep. Sokka would awake in a cold sweat the next morning with his idea, based on what they know happens to waterbenders when the moon is weakened. They agree to joruney to Ba Sing Se to try to approve their theory.
Appa's capture may be dealt with similarly. Azula and cohorts arrive at the village overnight and steal Appa (which Azula intends as bait to bring Aáng to Ba Sing Se). Aáng would later find Appa missing, question one of the henchman still there, and goes into the Avatar State.
A new plot involving Ozai believing Zuko to be dead would be added, to help the reason why nobody can recognize Zuko as he makes his way through the Earth Kingdom. Azula would of course find evidence proving otherwise during The Chase, but keep it to herself until the climax.
Only small bits of some of these episodes would be included. For instance, only Aáng's dream from The Avatar State would be included, with Toph added to his vision.
Might remove Bosco to make the Earth King slightly more realistic.
The Earth King would be greatly shortened. Long Feng would have been in cahoots with Azula from the beginning (Appa would be immediately brought to him at Ba Sing Se). After Appa is found, Azula would advise him to keep the Lake Laogai establishment up in order to have him found out. Long Feng would be imprisoned, but Azula would promise him governorship of Ba Sing Se and break him out.
During the climax, Long Feng would capture Kuei in an attempt to kill him, but he and Toph would duel which eventually she would win. They would be faced by some non-bender guards, but Toph would intimidate them by bending one of their spears. This would take place in lieu of them going to get Bosco.
The subpot of Zuko's character metamorphosis would be removed. He would seem dissatisfied the whole way through in Ba Sing Se. His participation in the climax would be shortened, as he attempts to escape during the fighting with Ïroh. After Ïroh is captured in crystal, Azula offers him his place back and the rest of the fight commences, but Aáng would decide to bring on the Avatar State a little earlier.
Jet would be introduced entirely in this film, without his ties to the team previously. Toph would discovers his brainwashing when Smellerbee tries to convince Jet of his duel with Zuko, but Jet would deny it.
The Kyoshi Warriors would be introduced entirely in this film as well. The film itself would begin on Kyoshi, as Aáng convinces Katara to go to Omashu after his vision. Sokka would be introduced training with Suki. Suki kisses Sokka on the cheek before they depart, but Sokka fails to reciprocate it, still sick over Yue's sacrifice. Later, during The Chase, as Sokka and Katara fight Ty Lee and Mai, the Kyoshi Warriors intervene, fighting off Mai and Ty Lee instead of Appa. Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors would accompany the two until they find Toph. However, Suki would still elect to accompany them until they reach Ba Sing Se. Sokka would finally reciprocate the kiss as she leaves to rejoin the rest of the warriors.
Suki finding Appa would be removed, but a short sequence showing Azula and Co. ambushing the Kyoshi Warriors would be included.
The whole subplot about Xin-Fu and Wu pursuing Toph would be removed. As such, Toph would first metalbend to free Sokka and her in the finale.
Book Three (Part One): The Black Sun
- The Awakening*
- The Headband*
- The Deserter*
- Sokka's Master*
- The Beach*
- The Runaway*
- The Puppetmaster*
- Nightmares and Daydreams*
- The Day of Black Sun*
Every one of the center plotlines would be shifted throughout the film. Also, Zuko's scenes would for the most part be untouched unless mentioned.
The Awakening would be shortened to remove Aáng going off on his own to Crescent Island and his visitation from Yue. He would attempt to leave one night, but Katara stops him and talks him down. Afterwards, Aáng would break his glider over his knee and toss it into the ocean.
The Headband would be shortened to remove the school scenes, but the team would still be seen gathering clothes. A dance between Katara and Aáng would take place on the eve of the invasion.
Jeong Jeong now serves as a major character throughout the film. Roku visits Aáng one night, and Aáng questions Roku about how to learn firebending. He tells Aáng of Jeong Jeong, and Aáng seeks him out. At first hesitant to reveal himself, he simply requests lessons, to which Jeong Jeong rants to him about how much distaste what he carries. Once he sees that it's his only option, Aáng undoes his headband and reveals himself to Jeong Jeong. He agrees to teach Aáng. His teaching would take place throughout the film, as the two grow into a mutual respect. The plot ends with Aáng coming to see Jeong Jeong a few days before the invasion, where he reveals that he's been summoned elsewhere (hinting at the White Lotus)
Katara's training with Hama as well as Toph's scams, would be integrated throughout the film. Toph's scams however, would start without the team knowing, and Sokka would be unwittingly dragged into one of them.
Combustion Man (or Bakoto) would be introduced as more of a looming threat for the team, beginning with his initial attack attempt, which would take place early in the film. He would also attend the battle in the bunker at the end of the film, and subsequently be dealt with as well.
Only a fireside discussion between Zuko, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee would remain from The Beach's plotline.
On the eve of the battle, Aáng would awake from a nightmare, and discover Katara sitting next to a lit fire. He has a discussion with her to calm himself down, and then the two both go back to sleep. That is all that remains of the main plot from Nightmares and Daydreams. The war meeting would be shown, but Zuko leaves the meeting in disgust when he hears the plan.
The Swamp People and Hippo would be removed from the invasion list. Haru, Tyro, The Mechanist (or Jishi) and Teo will be introduced for the first time here.
Katara would use some of Hama's tricks in the invasion.
Azula would ask Mai and Ty Lee to oversee the air strike during the invasion. Mai would notice one of her blades missing. Later, as Sokka interrogates Azula about Suki, she stabs Sokka in the side with the blade, revealing to have poisoned it. As the airships bomb and decimate the invasion army, Sokka is carted over to Katara for healing as Aáng futillely attempts to bring down the airships.
The very last shot is Zuko pursuing the group in his airship.
Book Three (Part Two): Sozin's Comet
- Zuko's Story*
- The Western Air Temple*
- The Firebending Masters*
- The Boiling Rock*
- The Southern Raiders*
- Sozin's Comet: The Final Battle*
- The Promise (Part 3)*
This is, in some ways, the most important part of the whole film series. Since so few episodes are being adapted, opportunites for expansion pop up, to extend and even improve on some aspects of the series.
For instance, the film would open by showing us a part of Zuko's past- his actual banishment after the Agni Ki. The flashback would end after he shuts himself in his room and begins sobbing. We would Zuko considering the past in his airship.
Cut to the gang, trudging along the plains solemnly after their recent defeat. Sokka still recovers from his wounds, but remarks that he's growing stronger.
Then, a new cutback to Azula would be inserted. First, a furious Mai would confront her about her missing blades, and berate her for stealing them. Afterwards, Ozai would take Azula aside and berate her for not telling him of the Avatar's being alive earlier, and lying about Zuko being the one to kill him. This would be the first in many scenes to establish a new subplot, in which Azula begins to distrust Ozai and grows paranoid of everyone around her.
Afterwards, another flashback, now showing Ïroh choosing to go with Zuko on his seafaring mission.
The gang, and Zuko, climb down the cliffside toward the remains of the Western Air Temple. As they begin to discuss the new plan, Sokka makes the suggestion that they wait until after the comet has passed, so that Aáng won't have to face him as a master, but Zuko interrupts. In this version, Zuko first submits the information of the Sozin's Comet plan. Toph confirms it. They nearly send him away, but Zuko also offers to be Aáng's firebending teacher. They still send him away, but Aáng accepts his offer, saying they most likely won't get another offer with Jeong Jeong gone.
Katara threatens Zuko, saying that if she ever catches him regressing to his old ways, she'll kill him right then and there.
Zuko, the next morning, begins Aáng's firebending lesson. He is shocked to discover that his bending is terribly weak in comparison to before, and spends the whole day attempting to recapture it. The team has had enough of it when his practice renders them unable to sleep that night. Zuko pins his problem down as his switching of sides and lack of rage, and says that a burst of anger might help him. To prove this, he asks Sokka to hit him, which he does, repeatedly, in fact. It doesn't work, and Toph suggests that they might go to the original source of firebending to try their power.
Runtime and Film Number
I've always believed that you should write a film as very long as you need it to start, and work from there. As such, I'll be extremely lenient in the runtime of these, usually shooting for a Lord of the Rings style runtime (170 - 220 minutes).
The Legend of Aáng : The Great North (175 min. - 200 min.)
This would cover Book One, but some small scenes from the beginning of Book Two would be included (Iroh and Zuko cutting their hair, Katara being given the spirit water, etc.)
The Legend of Aáng : The Burning Earth (175 min. - 200 min.)
This would cover the events of Book Two.
The Legend of Aáng : The Black Sun (180 min. - 210 min.)
This would cover the first half of Book Three, and include The Deserter from Book One as well.
The Legend of Aáng : Sozin's Comet (195 min. - 220min.)
This would be an expanded version of the last half of Book Three.