Avatar: The Last Airbender


Code Monkey
Staff member
Finally got caught up to watching M. Night Shyamalan's live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The original animated Avatar: The Last Airbender series has a huge fan base so the move was highly anticipated.

... but it wasn't good. :(
Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a world that is home to humans, fantastic animals, and spirits. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society. Furthermore, people known as Benders have the power and ability to control and manipulate the eponymous element of their nation using the physical motions of martial arts.

At any given time, there is only one person alive in the world of Avatar who is capable of bending all four elements: the show's eponymous Avatar, the spiritual entity of the planet manifested in human form. When an Avatar dies, he or she is reincarnated into the next nation in the Avatar Cycle, in the order of the seasons. Legend holds the Avatar must master each bending art in seasonal order as well, starting with their native element.
I think for me it came down to some poor casting choices. The cast was filled with almost entirely unknown actors, which isn't a bad thing, but none of them brought any life to their characters. At best it was like watching somebody's homemade video that they made with their Mac and using friends as the actors.

Getting past the sub-par acting though were some poor choices by Shyamalan in doing the live-action adaption. The animated series has a distinct Asian influence and in the Avatar world there are four primary geographical regions with their own distinct cultures. In the movie, however, everybody spoke the same Midwestern American English generic dialect that is good for reading the evening news but not for an adapted action movie that has was supposed to be based on source material.

In another poor decision Shyamalan made was to restrict the movie to just 90 minutes because that is the time frame in which he is comfortable and has kept nearly all of his movies to date. That might work for an original story but not necessarily an adaption. The movie is based on the first season of the original series. That first season consisted of 20 half-hour shows. With an average of 8 minutes per half-hour show going to commercials, that is still well over five hours of source material that Shyamalan thought he could squeeze into 90 minutes. Entire characters were cut along with plot elements. Adapting an existing story into a pre-defined time limit is never a good idea.

The movie, when it came out, was also caught up in the hype about being in 3-D. Whether Shyamalan got caught up with playing with a new toy, at the expense of the story line & talent, could be debated.

In interviews Shyamalan compared his adaption to Star Wars and talked as if it was a given that would be doing two additional movies, one for each season of the series, to round out a trilogy. Based upon the first offering I find it hard to believe that he would be asked backed for any sequels and career in general might be facing a few road bumps ahead.


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I think, for me, the problem was less to do with the casting or the execution. It had more to do with the way the film makers rewrote large swathes of the lore from the original animation, and failed to mesh it together in a convincing way. It just felt so disjointed, like there was a lot there that could have been explored but was being ignored, and that what was there was so far removed from what I loved about the animation that it didn't make a compelling movie at all.


Code Monkey
Staff member
It had more to do with the way the film makers rewrote large swathes of the lore from the original animation, and failed to mesh it together in a convincing way.
That was likely due to Shyamalan's insistence on keeping the film at 90 minutes like his other films instead of just letting the story dictate the length.