EDITORIALS

A Full Rundown and Update on The Last Airbender Trilogy

by
July 2, 2009
Source: Starlog

Aang - The Last Airbender

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.

The Last Airbender PosterA 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.

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  • KenDoll
    M Night Shamwow M Night Shamalamadindong M Night Shebangbang Got that off my chest. Aside from the B-rated CGI shown in the trailer (I know it's going to be improved but as of now it's B-rated) and the lousy fanbase the series carries, the movie seems interesting.
  • Lousy fanbase?! Say what now?
  • Huh... didn't know it was a trilogy. I'm so uninformed sometimes. Thanks for keeping me up to date, Brandon! So pumped about this movie, I don't care what anyone says. Just give me some action to watch while I inhale popcorn!
  • nelson
    i wold not say b rated for it to look that good in 4 months before shooting was over is amazing
  • Timothy
    Just to come to defend Shyamalan a bit because the guy could use it, he's only made one really bad movie - which is The Happening. I actually enjoyed Lady in the Water, but if you don't like that then the only other bad film he's made is The Village - which is really just a mediocre film, bolstered by James Newton Howard's (who's doing the music for this) Oscar nominated score. When you get past that, the guy has several great films - Signs, A Sixth Sense and, best of all, Unbreakable - in my opinion still the best superhero movie ever made (Sorry Dark Knight.) Now that I'm done with that, I'm most of the way done with the second season and I'd say, if done right, which I hope it is this has the potential to at least be a great, entertaining movie, and possibly the next big movie trilogy as Harry Potter fades. The series isn't that good (although it is very good), but the movies could be. And for what it's worth, the movie does deal with quite a lot of material that Shyamalan has handled excellently in his better films, and the only reason his last couple of films have been bad are because of bad concepts/ideas/scripts. The Last Airbender is none of those things - it has cool concepts, and good stories and I think Shyamalan is talented enough to take that wealth and turn it into both his comeback and the next big, box-office movie trilogy of quality (cough, Transformers.)
  • KenDoll
    I'm saying, as of right now the CGI looks B-rated. But as long as the story is well put and the characterization follows through I will probably enjoy this. A movie doesn't need WOW CGI(which this doesn't really have) in order to be interesting. And as for my fanbase comment, yeah I don't really like the fanbase. They remind me of the twilight fans only more males than females. I'm not saying all of them are annoying, but for the most part yeah. What do you expect out of series which is aimed towards 6-11 year olds?
  • DoomCanoe
    yeah #1! Add to the list M. Night Shamalamaman white people anime becomes white people Asian flick.
  • w00t!!!
    M. Night has a list of crap just starting with The Village. People forget he wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little, and Lady in the Water was ridiculous. The Happening was...interesting but nothing like Unbreakable. The Sixth Sense was sickly predictable like the others but good. Signs...that swings either way. I can tell you this, most Avatar fans are not excited with M. Night but like anything people are a fan of, they'll see it to see. A trilogy though is a ridiculous idea considering there's no idea how well this will do.
  • siesta chair
    Ringer looks like a serial killer in the making, so dead faced unlike cartoon aang. I hope he has range that includes very animated humor. The voice actors for TAS were all so suited. I would've enjoyed seeing Rufio rather then Patel.
  • Dude
    hope its good
  • tterb
    Anyone complaining about the "white" actors is pretty silly. The movie is make-believe, Katara and Sokka have blue eyes for petes sake! Like #7 said "white people anime becomes white people Asian flick."
  • Al
    yeah, there is no white washing here.
  • Buggy166
    couldnt care less who's white, blue or red...but for the love of god, let the script and acting NOT suck.
  • Dr Robotnik
    "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." Biggest piece of bullshit I've ever read, I can't stand when people complain about "white-washing" in films were the main characters aren't even of any race on our planet. For example: Dragon Ball Evolution. Goku was NEVER asian, never in the series, nor were the other characters because there was NO Asia in Dragonball's universe. No asia means no asians. Sorry, but thats the plain truth. There is no Asia in Airbender world, thus the characters are not asian. Plus, it doesn't matter what race the character is, so long as they pull off the character well.
  • keicharones
    KenDoll - You realize that the fanbase of the last airbender consists of more women than guys? what the heck are you talking about even? Have you met many unruly bender fanatics?
  • sucks it will never reach the third movie since the world ends in a few years : /
  • jerome
    Oh right, all that borrowed imagery and the people? Of course not Asians! Most definitley white! And FYI, their eyes correspond to their nation. Blue for Water, Orange/red for Fire, Gray for Air, and Green for Earth. http://www.racebending.com/essayinimages.php But I'm sure I'll get a response back that it's a fantasy world and therefore not Asian. Yup, all those European based fantasy movies sure had so many Asia-oh wait. LOTR was mainly a caucasian cast due to it being modeled after Medieval Europe/mythology. Now that there's a fantasy world based mainly on Asian Mythology, it's suddenly 'They don't have to be Asian man! Bugger off!'. Riight. I love standards.
  • tterb
    I personally wish the film did have a more ethnically diverse cast, but the sad truth is who ever is paying for the darn thing gets final say. All I can do is try to enjoy it either way, and remember it's not based in reality. Now if they remade Schindler's List with monkeys playing the Nazis I might get concerned.
  • Marty Martin
    Too early to analyze this much. There's too much anticipating and early analysis on this site which always amounts to nothing. In fact, at times there are these super long essays on how good or bad a film will be before anything has been seen, which drives me friggin nuts. I read a lot of "This is going to be amazing" before a trailer has been seen pretty often here. In this case, I totally get you are rounding up the info and giving your opinion, but it's just too much over nothing at this point. Oh, and I hope the FX in the trailer are no indication of the actual film. They are terrible. Watch the HD version... the guys climbing up the mountain are scaled wrong, they swing WAY too awkwardly, and all of the candles around him are CG and aren't always tracked properly (check out the floor seam that touches the candle holders... it wobbles). Anyways, that's my overanalysis for the day. But that's what the site is about sometimes, so we all deserve a shot. No hard feelings Alex! lol
  • S
    Hahaha....a Nickelodeon show won a Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Award?!?! What are the odds? Anyway, my big problem with M. Night's movies that aren't good (which for me is everything other than 6th Sense and Unbreakable) is that they have so much potential but they just never manage to get there. Maybe this is a movie I can take my kid to?
  • Cody
    Yeah think the only good thing this guy churned out is Unbreakable, I mean honestly his quote about connection to the planet and genocide...its like hes auditioning for Miss America. It just seems to me like everytime he makes something hes trying to get this philosophical message to the world when really its just a lame unimaginative piece of crap. But seeing as he has a story that HE didnt think of to work with maybe itll actually be good. P.S. Brandon plz for the sake of this site keep posting articles like these and the Batman one that was just awesome.
  • Sharkman
    I'm not sure what Michael Dante DiMartino is doing but Bryan Konietzko moved onto his music project. Aside from some help with the screenplay at the start (before the casting announcements) they *are not* involved with the movie's casting, or creative process beyond that. At the same time, none of the writers, directors, or creative staff are involved, and the Martial Arts Consultant, Sifu Kisu, has no hand in this either. It's totally in the hands of Shyamylan and Marshal. At the same time, I'm pretty sure only half the internet-going fans of Avatar are happy about this movie. Some lack confidence because of the director, but many (many) others are upset about the casting decisions and the choice to hire all white actors for Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Zuko (Patel was a *second* choice for Zuko when Jessie McCartney dropped.) I, myself, am not going to see the movie, I felt that the world infused as it was with Asian and Inuit influences should extend that hand to the actors of a live-action version. Considering the lack of important and fulfilling roles for minority actors, and the work that went into making the Asian and Inuit influences accurate, the production is simply a slap in the face; as well, the removal of the Chinese writing from the film is another strike against it for me. Ringer has a point that a word per word reenactment of the cartoon wouldn't be idea, but as it stands, this isn't "Avatar: The Last Airbender" for me, it's "M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender" and it's something wholly different, and thus far, hideously unappealing in comparison.
  • Felix
    They spent quite a long time on the animated Avatar: The Last Airbender, did you know almost everyone in the "cast" (meaning the voice actors, the writers and the animators) had to take a course with different martial art styles to truely capture the feel of bending (which is essentially martial arts with elemental powers)? Really hope this triology will be good, like you said, the series are mainly about its characters and how they evolve from being kids/teenagers to understand the whole point - seriously hope they do the flashback with Roku and Sozin to really tell the tale of how the war began and the connection between Aang and Zoku.
  • w00t!!!
    Are people really that stupid? This is an American show!!! It has nothing to do with anime, except that America is trying to copy it so how can it be white washing when it's a white show? Moving on...Brandon, never stop writing. I would have ignored this normally but since I saw you wrote it, I read it.
  • I'll be starting this series tonight with season 1, if it's as good as you say then I'm in for a real treat...
  • atg2040
    What's funny is there is absolutely no English in this "white" show. every written word in Avatar is in an Asian Language. Wow, I guess i have been writing the wrong English all this time.
  • devilb
    I love all these white crackers deluding themselves in order to justify this white washing racist bullshit. Asian characters, chopsticks, Asian influenced attire, Asian influenced names yet this is no way asian since it's on an American channel, rofl fucking pathetic. M. Night SHAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM is a fucking disgrace. Funny how everyone is white expect the enemy !!!! Oh yeah lets make the bad guys south asian!! Moronic idea from a retarded director.
  • Robbie
    I want to know who's going to play Toph.. I think she's the most awesome character in the series!
  • yupyup
    to everyone complaining about the skin color of the actors: you really need to look deeper. some times u make a movie around actors because they have the best personality and acting skills to fill the rolls. although i do think the movies will turn out pretty decent and the story is pretty amazing all in all for a show directed toward young children
  • Fisherr
    Good story...will give the move a go.
  • JL
    the movie looks like it will be absolute garbage. i'll steve nash this one.
  • googoo
    #9 siesta chair, i agree with ya. he looks so serious in the trailer and the promo pic. This movie better be good and stick somewhat to the cartoon. I loved Sokka's character and i read somewhere that they weren't gonna have much comedic stuff. M.Night better not ruin this!!! But of course i understand that they can't fit 20 episodes of the cartoon into the entire movie. I'll still watch it.
  • Lester C
    @1.KenDoll -> HA *Can't wait to watch this! Right after the DBZ movie *sarcasm
  • Runescape Knight
    I think that the while cast shud have been based I more of the tv show. For some parts of the cast he has it down. But for others your just like wtf. If you didn't already know, the original role for princ zuko was soposed to be jesse mecartney or how ever you spell his name. And yes he a big time singing super star. But WTF. What kind of acting career has he even had. I think the director just needs to slow his role on the people he choosing. I know that he has a due date on when this thing needsto get done but WTF. I think he either had to much to drink or he smoked to much when picking the roles of the parts In this movie. I you want to know more about this movie I advise you go to avatarwiki. It's a wiki site that's only for avatar things.
  • led display
    link KongFu ...!
  • CORNBOY
    So a lame show like this gets epic treatment.....and then Dragonball/Z/GT gets a Sci Fi channel movie of the week fagtastic treatment.....What a load of fucking buffalo diarrea !!!
  • crAziemutant
    The cast just doesn't fit! I hope it'll be interesting enough to really be able to watch. I was such a big fan of the show. Granted, I watched it all pretty much back to back after the matter on streaming video online, there was no denying the fact that I loved the show. I really hope m. night pulls through on this one. I'm always trying to defend this guy and I don't know why. This is a big chance for him to prove himself. So far, the cast doesn't fit the show but the teaser got me excited. I just hope I can see pass the cast. And I do agree that the whole show was about the characters more than anything.
  • To those of you saying the casting has nothing to do with whitewashing and that it was about who acted the best, you have no idea what you're talking about. First of all, Noah Ringer (Aang) is/was NOT an actor. He was just a kid who knew martial arts - Karate, not Kung-fu which is the basis of the show - and who submitted a demo tape. Many other demo tapes were submitted, including this one, from a Filipino kid who would've made a MUCH better Aang. He would've just needed some actor training, just the same as Ringer received. Not only is this kid (Perris Aquino) a better martial artist who studies the CORRECT Martial arts form, but he even SOUNDS like Aang. But the producers/director knew that casting an Asian character in the lead role would've alienated their precious white market. Well, at least that's what they thought. I'd like to believe the American audience is better than the expectations of old white men. Perris Aquino as Aang http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtUhz0SRc-I Watch and mourn.
  • Clover
    Dev Patel simply cannot act!
  • reddhairs
    All in all i loved Avatar the cartoon, soooooo good, best cartoon series of the last 10 or so years. I really hope the movie is as good or better, and doesn't cut a million corners in the story and its compelling, also i hope Zukos uncle (sorry cant remember his name) is just as crafty and mysterious as he is in the series...i love that guy!
  • LVL
    the CGI isn't that bad. How else are you supposed to make air look like its moving! I'm pretty sure none of us have seen air move anyways.
  • Max.W
    This is definitely the best series ever made, all the characters, locations, cities, were simply stunning. There's so many characters to connect and engage with, and it was such an honor to have seen this series. There's nothing that comes close to this, although the ending and final fight wasnt what I expected but I kinda had a feeling that it couldn't really be any other way. But that doesnt take away from the fact that this is one of the best if not the best ever animated series ever made.
  • Ellyn
    Common mistakes people make: 1) Overanalyzing the teaser trailer. In HD, I saw no "floor seams" wobbling, etc. Plus, only one character was shown. And just for a BRIEF moment, you can see his face. Not only is everyone judging the characters before even SEEN in action, they are being overly critical on a simple short flick designed to spark interest rather than reveal everything. 2) Racism. Does it matter, quite honestly, what races the characters are to accurately portray their personalities? To an extent, yes. But we have only a few photos and just ONE scene to base our judgments on. Have you ever looked back on a GOOD movie and decided that the races made the characters? (DBZ doesn't count as "good" in case you were wondering.) So if the movie is good, it won't matter. 3) Perris Aquino did not have adequate acting skills. I found out he had less than 5 months of acting lessons before the audition. From the footage I saw, his acting was unconvincing. As much as we would like to see him do those neat-ass flips and bullsh*t, I believe the star of ANY film must have a solid actor. So I do not mourn Hollywood's decision to cast him aside. 4) Dev Patel can act. Ever seen Slumdog Millionaire? (Note: This is sarcasm.) 5) Let's stop for a moment and decide what makes a film. Screenplay writers, actors, soundtrack artists, costume artists... ah yes, the director. Directors do their job in directing, correct? They interpret the screenplay and have their actors portray the correct emotions/actions they interpret. So.... is it SOLELY the director's fault when a movie has bit the proverbial dust? No, the screenplay is the main factor that determines a movie's success. Have you ever heard of a great movie with a sh*tty plot? It's pretty much inconceivable. So the screenplay's theme, story, and ideals are the main reason why a movie is horrific or amazing. The creators of Avatar have a huge say in the creation of this movie. So did J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter movies. So let's quit being a-holes about all of M. Night Shyamalan's failures (The Happening) and forgive him. He NAILS drama and suspense, in my opinion, which I speculate to be a main reason why his (alleged) trilogy is going to be really powerful. 6) Those of you who claim you aren't going to see the movie because of the above reasons are closed-minded and probably lying because as more trailers come out and more information unfolds, you're going to change your mind. Anyway, who am I to point fingers at people with misconceptions and prejudices? I really hope this movie is good.
  • Ellyn
    To clarify: - Stfu about Noah, nobody has seen him act and has not seen him in ACTION (action, not pictures, big difference.) - Acting > race; avatar = American-targeted audience =/= racism. - Dev Patel is an amazing actor. - M. Night Shamoo is heavily influenced by the Miyazaki films. Miyazaki = God. That is all.
  • Kataang
    This movie is going to be epic.

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