M. Night Shyamalan Talks About Avatar: The Last Airbender
No, not that Avatar - the hotly anticipated James Cameron project. M. Night Shyamalan's similar sounding project is actually called Avatar: The Last Airbender and is actually a children's cartoon that aired on Nickelodeon for a time. Considering the animated series' rather interesting storyline, the sneakily creative Shyamalan decided this is some great material he could work with "as the template for putting storytelling on a new level." He sat down with Empire to talk more about the upcoming production and why a children's cartoon is actually so compelling. Ready to be convinced?
To give you the quick and dirty, Avatar surrounds a boy named Aang who lives in a world filled with martial arts and magic that is primarily comprised of four tribes of people, each who control a particular element (i.e. fire, air, water and earth). Within those tribes are folks called "Benders" that can manipulate their native element; and throughout the land, there is one person capable of bending all four elements called the Avatar, who helps to balance the world and elemental powers. Aang is the latest in the long line of Avatars and shortly after his birth goes missing. Seeing an opportunity, the Fire Nation destroys the Air Nomads in hopes of killing Aang and therefore reigning supreme, since the Avatar won't be around to restore balance. Aang reappears after the world has gone to shit and is confronted with the responsibility of restoring order. The story goes on from there, but you get the idea.
If you happen to catch the show on DVD, you'll get a better feel for the storyline and some of the Hindu and Buddhist philosophical undercurrents that Shyamalan is drawn to. Despite being a cartoon, Avatar has some surprisingly approachable depth.
One wonders, though, why Shyamalan might latch onto a project like this given his past work; all of the auteur's previous films have been written and director by him. To now adapt someone else's material - Shyamalan, however, did write the script - is an interesting move on his part, but to do so with a project so focused on visual spectacles is even more interesting. To his credit, Shyamalan states that, "It can't be special effects for the sake of special effects." However, Avatar doesn't really have the 'prize in the cereal box' like his other projects.
Is this a new direction for Shyamalan - work that is less flirting and discovery and more conspicuous and stunning? I really enjoy the guy and the storyline seems pretty intriguing, so I'm all for it. If you're curious to learn more, be sure to read the entire interview with Shyamalan over at Empire.
UPDATE: Variety reports that Paramount and Nickelodeon have officially announced their involvement with the project and the intention to release the film on July 2nd, 2010. Better news, "Avatar" is being dropped from the title in favor of just The Last Airbender so as to avoid the confusion with James Cameron's movie.