In 2018, Netflix announced a new live-action series of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which ran for three seasons from 2005 – 2008 on Nickelodeon. The news was met with excitement since Avatar creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were on board as showrunners. If you’ve been living under a rock since 2005 then the Avatar series is about Aang, who wakes up from a 100-year sleep to find out that the world is in the middle of a war against the fire nation. The long-lost Avatar must master the four elements and restore balance amongst the four nations – the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads.
An attempt to make a live-action Avatar film was previously done back in 2010 by M.Night Shyamalan and well…there’s a reason why a good majority of people hate the Sixth Sense director. To put it bluntly, the movie was a joyless hack with terrible acting, casting, and plotting. Currently, the film stands at a dismal 5% on rotten tomatoes. While it’s safe to say that the casting for the Netflix series is spot-on thus far, the loss of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko due to creative differences is a big concern. With the production of the 10-episode, hour-long retelling set to start in November, here are several mistakes that the new live-action needs to avoid:
While representation was a problem in The Last Airbender, there’s no denying that what stood out the most was the horrendous acting. Shyamalan cast a bunch of unknown talents, though that isn’t a true indicator of a bad casting; With Hailee Steinfeld‘s first role in True Grit earning her an Academy Award nomination. Anna Paquin also won an Oscar at age 11 in her film debut for The Piano. However, it was clear that Shyamalan didn’t truly understand the personalities of Aang, Sokka, and Katara based on the wooden performances from Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, and Jackson Rathbone.
It’s great that the Netflix series is off to a solid start with the proper casting of Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Zuko; however, it’s important that these actors nail these performances and capture the spirit of these core characters. Aang should be a fun-loving kid who eventually matures over time. Sokka is obviously the comedic relief; however, he also brings a warrior’s spirit that helps the team out from time to time. Katara is more like a mother figure, stern, but not too mean or bossy, with a nice balance that counters both Aang and Sokka.
Zuko isn’t just some angry prince who loses his cool at a moment’s notice, the son of the fire lord is a conflicted young boy who’s constantly battling what’s right and wrong. He can be charming, funny, and badass. The cast needs to capture the magic that made audiences gravitate towards the original characters. If the series has more stilted performances from the leads then no matter how great the script is, the series will still be a chore to watch because of the terrible performances.
No More Cliff Notes
Given the fact that the episodes will be an hour-long, I doubt that the show will have much trouble leaving out a good portion of the original’s source material but never say never. Shyamalan had the nearly impossible task of condensing three seasons’ worth of material down to one film. Granted, two more films were planned; however, The Last Airbender gave us cliff notes on the overall arc of Aang’s journey.
The reason why Avatar feels perfect is that we as an audience are able to identify and connect with Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Zuko. Even those filler episodes still provided some character development that helped the characters grow. Avatar isn’t just about a boy needing to stop a war. It’s about love, honor, female empowerment, free will, genocide, imperialism, and friendship. As long as the singular focus isn’t on Aang needing to take down the Firelord then the show will be in good hands.
The Special Elements Need To Be Properly Translated To Live-Action
Please, no more Earth Kingdom dancing nonsense. It’s been ten years since the Last Airbender and Hollywood has produced dozens of superhero films at this point. Now, I’m no special effects expert but with the advanced movie technology that we have today, the special effects of Avatar: The Last Airbender should be top-notch. Netflix is no stranger to the superhero game with the network doing a strong job with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Hopefully, the writers understand how all the elements work. A silly dance doesn’t summon one floating rock. This should be the easiest part of the series to capture if everyone on board does their research.
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