A Full Rundown and Update on The Last Airbender Trilogy
Exactly one year from today, M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender will hit theaters. Today, however, we've got a rundown for you covering all-things-Airbender -- everything we know up until this point about Shyamalan's feature film adaptation of the hugely popular, critically lauded, award winning Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Here's what you need to know: Avatar aired from February of 2005 to July of 2008 and spanned three seasons. While on air, the series won 2 Pulcinella Awards, 5 Annie Awards, 1 Emmy, a Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Award, and a Peabody. So, to say the least, it's kind of a big deal.
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, Avatar: The Last Airbender tells the story of Aang, a twelve-year-old who, with the help of his new friends Sokka and Katara, must save the world by defeating the Fire Lord and ending the destructive, worldwide war with the Fire Nation. In order to do this, though, Aang must master the remaining three bending styles: waterbending, earthbending, and firebending -- think Captain Planet, where mastering each style affords the ability to control, manipulate, and use each element at the master's whim. Aang, being born an Airbender and the Avatar, is already a master of airbending and is the only person in his world who can master all four elements at once.
A few weeks ago we were all privy to our first live-action peek at airbending with the release of the teaser trailer for The Last Airbender. The Last Airbender (the title having dropped the word "Avatar" so as to minimize confusion with some little sci-fi film by James Cameron) is to be the first film of a massive trilogy. The series, itself, is already very much structured as a cinematic trilogy -- with each of the three seasons following Aang as he masters a new bending technique: waterbending, earthbending, and firebending.
Though, according to this recent update on Starlog, the trilogy will not be filming its three parts back-to-back, a la Lord of the Rings. Instead, producer Frank Marshall said that the film may very well take as long as six years to complete. Shyamalan is currently working on the script for the second film, as well as mapping out the trilogy's greater mythology. I know what you're thinking out there -- M. Night in control? Writing and directing, again? How can this -- just stop right there. It's widely known that creators DiMartino and Konietzko are very much involved in the entire process, from script to screen. Hopefully that can give you some solace. I know it does me.
As far as who we'll be seeing breathe life into these characters, newcomer Noah Ringer will star as Aang (seen in the photo above), Dev Patel (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) will play Prince Zuko, Aang's antagonistic pursuer, and Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone will play Katara and Sokka. Ringer had this to say about the film adaptation: "The movie is definitely different [from the TV series], but if we would've done the same thing as the cartoon, what would be exciting about that?" While I can't help but agree with his sentiment, I do hope that the overall themes of the TV series remain, as well as most of the always-stellar characterization. Themes of honor and respect, impressing and staying true to one's family while still being one's own person, friendship and racism, acceptance and first love.
Shyamalan spoke a bit about his goals for The Last Airbender, saying, "[it] will be a very entertaining movie, a really fun summer film. But underneath that, it's serious and talks about genocide, balance, our connection to the planet and all those things that interest me if you've seen the other movies that I've made. It felt like an important film.” This quote both excites me (because I really feel that he's going to take the material seriously) and scares me (because I can't help but think of The Happening and his lack of growth as a storyteller). It's also been reported that the "white-washing" of the cast is more than frustrating considering the original series had such an international influence. Though, conveniently, all of the villains remain brown. While, yes, this is disappointing (but not surprising), it is not at all a deal-breaker -- as long as the theme of acceptance and brotherly/sisterly love remains at the forefront.
All-in-all, I've watched and re-watched that The Last Airbender teaser countless times. Shyamalan's visual style, his direction, and young Noah Ringer's martial arts certainly bolster my anticipation. But there has yet to be any indication of character. And, at its heart, Avatar: The Last Airbender was always about its characters. The series was never dumbed-down, even while targeting a demographic aged 6 to 11 of Nickelodeon. It gracefully juggled serious morals, fun action, goofy humor, and characters that stood as real role models for its viewership -- both male and female. Its representation of its female characters as strong, intelligent, self-sufficient equals, Katara especially, set it admirably apart from most other kid's properties.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is the first television show that I want to show my daughter, or son, for that matter. Even before Star Wars. I know. I just hope that The Last Airbender will retain that brilliance amidst whatever plot changes Shyamalan has made. This decade's first great martial arts film from an American filmmaker, as Dan Trachtenberg of the Totally Rad Show puts it, will hopefully be as impacting on the world of kid-targeted cinema as its catalyst was on the world of kid's television. I hope. I really do.