There's always a risk when a beloved book, television series, or graphic novel is turned into a film. We as fans don't have a say in the matter of whether it gets made or not, but we entrust the makers of the movie with our hope that they won't turn our favorite stories into a piece of trash. Sometimes we are rewarded for our trust. Other times...other times our hopes are picked up and dashed to the ground. Then someone starts kicking our hopes while they're down. Then they cover our hopes with gasoline and toss a lit match on them, and our hopes burn down to ashes.
For those of you who are big fans of the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, you know what I'm talking about. We were tentatively pleased when we heard that a movie was going to bring our favorite television show to life, but boy, were our hopes annihilated when we stepped into theaters to see M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. Going to that movie was the last time I ever went to see a movie with a hopeful heart. Now, I go to movies with very shallow expectations so I can never be hurt the same way again.
Many things contributed to the disaster that was that film. As much as we might like to blame a single person for the trainwreck, it takes a whole lot of people to make a movie. While some are more responsible then others, we can't just take the easy way out and point fingers, no matter how much we might like to. Well, in case you're interested in the wet pile of steaming excrement that is this movie, here's a list of some stuff you may not have known about it, including some little factoids that reveal why it turned out so bad.
25 Out Of The Mouths Of Babes
One of the perks of being an older sibling or a parent is that you can more easily get away with watching kids' shows and movies. For those of us who don't have that to rely on, we have to shamelessly watch the shows on our own time. M. Night Shyamalan, the director and writer of the film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, did not find the show all on his own. He discovered it when his daughter expressed a wish to be Katara for Halloween. Probably curious as to why his daughter would want to dress up as some person named Katara, Shyamalan then watched the entire series and was so much enthused by it that he decided he wanted to make a feature film on it. I heave a huge sigh as I say that we shouldn't necessarily blame him for wanting to make the movie. Sure, he was kind of responsible for turning our hopes into garbage, but still, we can't fault him for liking the show.
24 Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
Like it or lump it, Shyamalan should admit that The Last Airbender has earned its way to the top of the all-time worst movies made. If he doesn't recognize that, then at least the Golden Raspberry Awards gave The Last Airbender the recognition that is its due. For those who don't know, the Raspberry Awards, or Razzies for short, are awards given for the opposite reasons that awards are given in the Academy Awards. For example, there are awards for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor, and Worst Actress, to name a few. At the 31st Golden Raspberry Awards, The Last Airbender was the winner of the year, taking home Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor, and Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3D.
23 If Only, If Only
One of the merits of the animated series is the wonderful voice acting that goes into it. I may be biased, but I don't think I'm alone, in saying that Dante Basco, the actor who voices Zuko, is especially beloved by fans. Basco brought the exiled Prince Zuko to life. His voice is so recognizably Zuko's that even considering the idea of someone else voicing him is shudder-inducing. Apparently, Basco showed interest in portraying Zuko in the live-action adaptation, but despite having support from some of the producers, Shyamalan wanted Dev Patel to play the role of Zuko. Whether he was too old to fit the part or not, there is a large part of me that would have loved to see Basco play out the character he voiced so well. Having heard how much he wanted it makes the fact that it didn't happen so much more heartbreaking. Here's a shout-out to Rufio.
22 Bridging That Age Gap
One of the things that makes the bitterness over Dante Basco possibly not being cast because of his age even harder to swallow is the fact that the actor who played Sokka was eleven years older than the actress who played Katara. In the cartoon, there is a one-year age difference between the two water tribe siblings. Nicola Peltz, the actress who played Katara, was around 15 years old when The Last Airbender came out in theaters. Jackson Rathbone, the actor chosen for Sokka, was 26 years old when the movie was released. If the filmmakers were okay with such a disparity in casting two of the main characters, why couldn't they have made allowances for Basco? Was it intentional, perhaps, to cast an older Rathbone beside a younger Peltz?
21 Movie Logic
The dicey visual effects and the subpar acting were not the only things The Last Airbender had to contend with. There were some plot points that verged on the edge of stupidity that should have been addressed early on. One of the largest is that the Earth Prison where earthbenders were held captive was on earth. In the show, the Fire Nation rounded up all the earthbenders they could find in the Earth Kingdom, and then they placed them on a prison ship in the middle of the ocean where they could have no earth to bend. In the movie, the Fire Nation just placed them in a camp still solidly within the Earth Kingdom. Apparently, the only thing preventing the earthbenders from escaping was a lack of fighting spirit. Seriously? Come on! Earth was all around them, the prisoners outnumbered the guards, and the firebenders were at a disadvantage because in the movie, firebenders needed a physical fire to be present in order to bend. All the earthbenders had to do was put a little dirt on the fires, and then voila! Useless firebenders.
20 The Karate Kid
Looking for the perfect person to play Aang would require several things. He would have to be able to pull off goofy behavior from time to time, while he would also need to be able to act serious as the drama of the film necessitated. He would have to look okay as a bald kid. And he would have to be able to perform some pretty acrobatic stunts in order to really capture the essence of our favorite Avatar; there's a reason Toph calls him Twinkle Toes. One of the things about Noah Ringer, the actor who eventually ended up playing Aang, that caught Shyamalan's eye was the video Ringer submitted to Paramount demonstrating his knowledge and ability of certain martial arts. The video was impressive enough to garner Ringer a spot in filling the shoes of the last airbender. Whether he satisfied fans is another question entirely.
19 Aang Like A Gong
I remember walking into the theater to see The Last Airbender, hopeful and ready to view my favorite animated show on the big screen. The previews played, the opening prologue scrolled down the screen, and then the movie began. And I remember seeing Katara and Sokka together on the ice (just like in the show!), right before they meet Aang. And then, Katara says Sokka's name. And she pronounces it S-oh-kka, instead of S-aw-kka. That threw me for a loop. And then when Aang (rhymes with bang) came out of his glacier-sleeping bag, he says his name is Aang (rhymes with gong). I swallowed my trepidation and continued watching the movie, marginally hopeful this time. If the difference in name pronunciations had been the only thing altered from the show to the movie, I would have been fine. Alas, things only got worse from there. Shyamalan implemented the changed pronunciations of characters' names in order to adhere to more traditional Asian pronunciations. I do not mind honoring traditional pronunciations, but honoring the source material would have been nice too.
18 Wash Your Hands Of It
Nothing speaks of trauma quite like having your darling brainchild of a cartoon show become besmirched by its live-action adaptation. I cannot speak from experience (as I have not created a cartoon kids show or have had a movie made out of said cartoon kids show), so I can only imagine the kind of discomfort the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender went through after Shyamalan's movie was released. If fans were so outspoken against it, just imagine the creators' reactions. Both Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino have expressed a preference for pretending the film does not exist. According to Dante Basco, the voice actor who plays Zuko on the animated show, they even suggested to him that he not watch the movie. I don't blame them. Can you?
17 Vampiric Tendencies
This came as a huge surprise to me, but did you know that Jackson Rathbone, the actor who plays Sokka, is also the same guy who plays Jasper in the Twilight series? I had absolutely no idea. It could be because I have only ever seen The Last Airbender once and the Twilight series twice (bad movie night), but it came as a complete and total shock to me. I have no idea how talented of an actor Rathbone is (probably because I haven't seen him in much else), but I feel a tad bad for him. He was in two sucky movies in the same year, Eclipse and The Last Airbender. That's some extreme bad luck right there. But who am I to judge? For an actor, work is work.
16 A Longer Movie: Better Or Worse
I can't fault Shyamalan for trying to do the TV show justice. The first draft he wrote of the film's screenplay would have made the movie seven hours long. Seven hours. That's about as long as a good night's sleep! The reason that the draft was so long was because Shyamalan was trying to include more of the plot from the 2o episodes in the first season. That's a lot of content to include in a movie that is supposed to be shown in everyday theaters. I do not think I could ever adapt a TV show into a movie, or anything that is part of a series for that matter. You don't have enough time in a movie to devote to a series. Things will sadly get left behind or altered in order to give the film a better runtime. The Last Airbender is a perfect example of why it's important for only extremely talented writers to attempt this.
15 Give Me Some Of That Nickelodeon Money
The Last Airbender is the most expensive movie Nickelodeon produced at this time. Though there were numerous complaints about the special effects, that's where a lot of the money went to. Bending in an animated show, while no small feat, is nearly no different than animating in general. You draw the fire or the water, and slowly move it page by page. Bringing bending to life in a live-action movie is another thing altogether. Outside of using practical effects, you would have to use computer graphics, and given that the visual effects team also had to make the graphics with the ability to be rendered in 3D just added to the difficulty and the cost.
14 The Fire Inside
One of the changes Shyamalan made to the universe of Avatar: The Last Airbender is the inability of firebenders to bend fire without having an actual fire nearby. In the show, firebenders pulled their fire from their chi, and were thus able to bend from the energy within themselves. This change made the firebender more comparable to their bending counterparts from the other nations, but it also poked holes in a crucial plot point. A large reason the Fire Nation was able to subjugate the rest of the world was because they did not have to rely on outside sources for their powers. They could walk to a Water Tribe camp without having to worry about having a torch nearby because they could just shoot fire from their fists. The film seemed to weaken the firebenders conceptually without actually diminishing them plot-wise.
13 Benders And Blue People
When The Last Airbender was teased to us, before we knew the devastating storm it was going to unleash on our hopes, we wondered at the lack of an "Avatar" in the title. The show was called Avatar: The Last Airbender. Why wasn't the movie going to be called the same thing? You can blame the influence of James Cameron's Avatar. If you are one of those rare persons who does not know about James Cameron's Avatar, then let me fill you in. It was a movie made (by James Cameron) with excellent graphics, an okay story, and a lot of hype. Because it had released a year earlier, the people who were working on The Last Airbender were hesitant to have the same moniker in their title. So they made the decision to drop the "Avatar." All because of (James Cameron's) Avatar.
12 Give Me Appa Or Give Me Momo
While we may not have gotten Dante Basco as our Zuko, we got our Momo and Appa. In the animated series, Momo and Appa are voiced by Dee Bradley Baker. I know what you're thinking. How could a human properly voice the purrings and squeaks of a lemur and also be capable of emitting the hearty roars and grumbles of Appa? I don't know how he does it, but Baker works magic. A shining ray of joy in the film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender is that Baker performed the vocalizations for both Appa and Momo as well. It's not the best thing for a movie when one of the few things fans appreciate about it is the soundwork for some animals, but it's better than nothing. As a fanbase, I think we should at least try to be glass half full about these kinds of things.
11 The Dragon Spirit Conglomeration
As Aang progresses on his journey to become a full-fledged Avatar in the show, he receives help from many people. Some are his age and function more as companions than teachers, but others are as wise as they are old, and they speak to him words of wisdom to help him reach his full potential. With a film's runtime under consideration, Aang could not meet all of these masters in the movie if the filmmakers wanted to save time for other more important plot points. As such, the character of the Dragon Spirit in the movie is meant to embody more than one person from the show when he offers Aang advice. Avatar Roku, Fang, Koh, and Guru Pathik's roles in the show were blended together and performed solely by the Dragon Spirit.
10 Only Choice
Nicola Peltz, the actress selected to play Katara, was Shyamalan's number one choice for the film. However, with her casting in place, the filmmakers had to choose a Sokka who looked like her, which is why both Katara and Sokka are not as dark-skinned as we know them from the cartoon. Her performance was not bad, but I do sometimes think it would have been interesting if Katara's role had been available for actresses who looked more like her. It would have been a wonderful opportunity to give actresses, who rarely have the option, the chance to land a lead role. It is what it is, and we can't change anything about the past. All we can do is continue forward with the hope and determination that we can affect this kind of change in our own lives.
9 Rendering Bending
The visual effects team had their work cut out for them while they worked on Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. Realistic bending was difficult to render, and afterwards, they stated that it was definitely a challenge. With the added onus of being a 3D film, the visual effects department had to make elements such as air and fire appear to be controlled by people. The movements of actors were recorded first, and then the computer graphics took care of the rest. So, if you ever watch (or heaven forbid, rewatch) The Last Airbender and you notice that some of the actors are moving their arms around a lot more than they're actually bending, it is because, unlike animation where character movement and bending were drawn together, the actor and the elements were compiled separately.
8 His Crowning Achievement
Before the movie was released in theaters, M. Night Shyamalan stated that he thought The Last Airbender was his best movie. That's right. He called it his best movie. Let's give credit where credit is due. Some of Shyamalan's films are okay. I liked The Sixth Sense as much as the next person, and Unbreakable was pretty cool. But when Shyamalan's films flop, boy, do they really flop. I have never been so annoyed by a movie as I was by Lady in the Water; pretentiousness seemed to ooze out of that. And The Happening was more a barrel of laughs than a horror movie. The Last Airbender, I believe, belongs with his flops. And no, Shyamalan, it's not because I think it could have used the "Transformers treatment." It's just not a good movie.
7 Cutting The Kyoshi Warriors
The Kyoshi Warriors were introduced fairly early on in the show. Sokka gets to meet Suki, the future love of his life and leader of the Kyoshi Warriors, and in the later seasons, the Kyoshi Warriors make appearances. These appearances aren't just delightful cameos; the Kyoshi Warriors actually affect the plot. Suki becomes a major character in her own right. If any part of season 1 should have made it into the film, the Kyoshi Warriors should have been it. Turns out, they were included. They were just taken out from the final cut in order to streamline the story and shorten the runtime. I would rather have spent some time with Suki and her crew than in that ridiculous Earth Prison that shouldn't have been a prison.
6 When Your Zuko Isn't Happy
No one likes admitting a mistake or confessing regrets, but Dev Patel, the actor who portrayed Zuko in The Last Airbender, admitted that he should not have taken the role. In an interview, Patel expressed the disappointed sentiments he felt after seeing himself in the movie. He said it felt like a stranger was on the screen. He also said that he had learned the value of listening to your instincts when they just tell you to say no. Yeesh, that's a pretty blatant condemnation of his part in Shyamalan's film. It's saddening, in that this actor regrets his part in what, by all rights, should have been a big hit instead of a big flop, but movies are not created mainly by actors. Writers and directors should get their share of the blame.
5 From Stoicism To Comedy
Jackson Rathbone, Sokka in The Last Airbender, initially tried out for the part of Zuko before trying out for Sokka. I haven't seen Rathbone in much in order to properly judge which role would have suited him better, but for some reason, I've always felt that the characters of Sokka and Zuko were somewhat similar. Zuko is considered to be weaker than his sister, Azula. Sokka, as the nonbender in the group, has sometimes confessed that he feels useless compared to the rest of them. They both have to pull off moments of comedy (muted comedy in Zuko's case) as well as seriousness. If Rathbone did well as Sokka, I get the feeling he could have done well as Zuko.
4 A Big Expenditure
As well as being the most expensive movie Nickelodeon produced at the time, The Last Airbender was the most expensive movie Shyamalan had made in his career. Looking at Shyamalan's other films, while their plots may be as convoluted as a knot, their budget was very simple. The Last Airbender cost $150 million to make. A lot of that money went to the visual effects of the movie. As stated before, not only were the graphics the most expensive part of the film, they were also the most difficult effects to accomplish as regards the bending. Honestly, Shymalan's smaller films seem to be the ones he excels at (comparatively speaking), and I think The Last Airbender is the quality of film we receive from him when a long story is condensed to 90 minutes and a lot of money is poured into it.
3 Cutting Bondage
A mistake was made in the segment of the film when Zuko, disguised as the Blue Spirit, frees Aang from his captivity. Unwilling to let Admiral Zhao take the credit for capturing the Avatar when Zuko viewed that as his right, he clothes himself in dark apparel and dons the Blue Spirit mask. He sneaks his way into the prison where Aang is being held. When the Blue Spirit reaches Aang, he cuts him free and they both escape. The problem is that Aang was bound hand and foot, and the Blue Spirit only chopped off his arm bindings and then walked off. By all rights, the next time we saw the pair, Aang should have been clanking along after the Blue Spirit. That would have made the escape a bit more daring, and it definitely would have spiced up the fight scene later.
2 High School Avatar
Sokka is a funny guy. One of the reasons Rathbone's performance as him in the film fell flat (for whatever reasons) was that he was not given the opportunity to polish his funny bone. As a result, Sokka seemed like he was stuck in stoic mode. It might tickle your fancy to know (or depress you horribly at what might have been) that Zac Efron auditioned for the role of Sokka. Efron has shown his comedy chops in several movies by now, so his portrayal of Sokka could have held some humor in it. However, there were some scheduling conflicts that prohibited Efron from accepting the role, so we will never know what an Efron-played Sokka could have looked like.
1 To Be Continued...?
The critical reception of The Last Airbender was abysmal. It was almost universally disliked, with a few exceptions, and this appeared to forever kill whatever chance it might have had at receiving a sequel. The ending to the film was chuckle-inducing, when Azula was teased as being the main antagonist in the next movie. 'Oh, how sad,' I thought to myself. 'They honestly believed they were getting a sequel.' I might have been in the wrong regarding that matter. Plans are in the works (plans are always in the works) for creating a sequel to Shyamalan's film, with rumors abounding that he is set to direct it as well. You know that saying about letting a good thing die, namely that you shouldn't? Well, the reverse should be true as well.