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M. Night Shyamalan Talks About Avatar: The Last Airbender

by
April 15, 2008
Source: Empire

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.

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  • It's actually "The Last Airbender," not just "Airbender," if you check Shyamalan's quote in the Variety article.
  • Avatar is an amazing animated show. Don't be turned off because its a cartoon, its a consistently good show for all ages. I would sit and watch it with my 7-year old sister often. It is one of the best shows on air in terms of animation, story, and characters. Despite having an anime-esque look its anything but typical talking-head anime. M. Night was attracted to the project by all the same reasons. His daughter got him interested in watching the show and thought it would make an amazing trilogy of live-action movies.
  • Alfredo
    lol, I actually thought the Last Airbender was THE Avatar that James Cameron was working on... Oh how I've been mislead all these months.
  • John D.
    Aang better not be actually dead at the end, or discover that water beats fire (even thought that would be appropriate), or that they're actually living on a planet surrounded by modern planets, etc.
  • Tristan
    cartoons are awesome! where's the love? you have not seen better acting than the original Looney Tunes, i can gaurantee that.
  • Dusty
    John #4 - you beat me to the that one... dang it... hahaha I am pumped for this though.. my son drags me in for cartoons and this is one that he really likes to have me sit in with him on. I have to go with Kvamme#2 on this... M. Night could turn this beautiful story line into something amazing and the underlying stories (if marketed properly) could have amazingly broad appeal.
  • Curtis
    never watched the series but have heard great things and would definitely go see it...
  • Richard
    I generally as a rule Hate nickelodeon, and almost didn't click the link because of the picture, however if I forget that a cartoon is involved it sounds awesome.
  • Richard, Avatar is actually very good. I haven't watched it since somewhere in the second season (just having gotten around to it), but the action is well done, the storyline is solid enough, and when it's not trying to be cute (often enough to roll your eyes at some point in almost every episode but not often enough to ruin the show) it's got some surprisingly strong drama. The banished firebending prince (Zuko?) is one of the most nuanced "villain" characters I've seen in any animated series -- ever.
  • (Correction: Make that AMERICAN animated series...)
  • valkyrie607
    Actually, the fact that the show is a cartoon leaves open the possibility of finding some truly wonderful art in with the great characters and story lines... I especially love Appa, the flying air bison, who ferries Aang and his buddies around the world on their quest. This show really does have a lot of depth to it... I was moved to tears during one of the 3rd season episodes, when Katarra confronts her father with her pain and anger about his absence during her childhood. In addition, the style of "bending" for each element is based on a specific real-world martial arts style. It makes for some great visuals. I totally agree about Zuko, too: if you haven't seen the 3rd season, you've missed a lot of great character development for Zuko!!
  • Aaron
    I am a 25 yr old guy who fell in love with the epic saga of Avatar. Since it first aired back in Feb of 2007, I have been drawn to it like an addiction. I am looking forward to this movie, but more than likely it will be a big disappointment. Like all the other cartoons that were turned into live action films. I just hope that they don't ruin it by trying to put the whole saga into one film. The cartoon version alone is made up of sixty-one, ruffly 20 min, episodes so far. That is 1,220 mins. Trying to put that into a live action movie series would take ten 2 hr movies. Granted they could remove a bit of the content without hurting the story, but not much. They would still have to use atleast part of each episode to fully incompass the saga that is Avatar. I have high hopes after watching the MTV interview with Shyamalan, but I don't think that he will be able to fully incompass Avatar. But one can hope. As far as my feelings on M. Night Shyamalan directing, I haven't enjoyed any of his movies since "Signs".
  • Justin S
    I'm the kind of person who plays sports all year, watch sportscenter all night, and play CoD4 on the weekends. But in between all of that I discovered this show and have enjoyed it more than any other show on TV during its airing period. Now that it is over im kind of disappointed that there won't be any nore episodes. But at least there will be a trilogy directed by one of the best to look 4ward to. CANT WAIT.
  • Justin S
    O WAIT! IM Going to be Very pissed if M-Knight Turns this into a horror movie. Wont that piss alot of hardcore fans off. I might even b Kind of funny
  • HeathB
    PLEASE... STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING SHAM-A-LAME should not be doing this project... who told him he had the talent for a story like this and the cast is so wrong... seriously he's casting a fake acting white-boy for Zuco please... this is an excellent story... great characters... I own the entire series and still watch it despite the fact that my son lost interest in it when will hollywood stop bastardizing great stories
  • Curtis
    I'm with Heath B, It's a shame that such an amazing story is about to be ruined by M Night Shamalalala. I sure hope that nickledeon doesn't give shama full reign to make whatever decision he wants and has the writers right there to smack him back into place while he's ruining this amazing story. I was so excited when i saw the preview, then they showed shama's name as the director and my heart sunk. What a shame.
  • Nikki
    I have always loved avatar the last airbender.Is my fav show and i still watch it every single day and i will never stop loving it.It's amazing.I have watched every single episode 57 times so i am pretty much addicted to it.I hope the movie is funny because in the trailers it is so serious.

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