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The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender

By Patrick Samuel • August 12th, 2010

The latest offering from M. Night Shyamalan comes in the form of The Last Airbender. Based on the cult animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the story follows Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) as they help the young Avatar, Aang (Noah Ringer) master his power over the elements (earth, air, fire and water) in order to defeat the warring Fire Nation.

Aang, the chosen one by destiny, and has shied away from his responsibilities for the past 100 years. Choosing instead to remain in a meditative state beneath the ice until Katara awakens him. When Aang learns his teachers have been killed by the Fire Nation and that people of other nations have been forced to stop practising their bending abilities, he is forced into action and the trio lead a rebellion.

The Last Airbender in 3D

So, how did Shyamalan go from the apocalyptic suspense horror of The Happening, to a tale about a young boy’s destiny to become a hero? At the press conference for the film, the filmmaker explained that his daughters had fallen in love with the series, particularly the young female waterbender, Katara. Intrigued by their unprecedented fan loyalty, Shyamalan decided to watch the show too and found himself hooked on it!

Clearly there was cinematic potential in the series. Yet to adapt the 30-some hours of stories into a feature film would not be a task without significant challenges, including the filmmaker’s entry into a genre he had yet to explore in his work.

“I knew from the moment I put the first words on the page, that to do a movie of this complexity, you have to put work into it. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who created the ‘Avatar’ series, spent six years constructing the mythology.

It has been a real eye-opener and interesting learning curve for me to do something of this scale, while still wanting to maintain a level of perfection. I was scared to death every day of shooting, as it could be so overwhelming, and there were so many unknowns. This movie is two-and-a-half times bigger than anything I have ever done.”

Of course, there are huge risks when dealing with material fans are already familiar with. Knowing that they will be pouring over every detail to make sure it remains faithful to the series, how did Shyamalan approach this?

“We wanted to create a film that will not only live up to the fans expectations, but also expand it to a worldwide audience in ways that only a full length live-action motion picture can offer”

For the role of the Airbender Shyamalan chose Noah Ringer after he received a DVD showcasing the martial arts champion from Dallas Texas. Ringer had been practising Taekwando from an early age and already held the title of American Taekwando Association Texas State Champion. When he began shaving his head to stay cool during training, friends gave him the nickname “Avatar”. When he heard that a movie was going to be made from the series, and urged by his instructor, Noah put together an audition tape, complete with the characters signature blue arrow on his shaved head.

The Last Airbender in 3D

As a film presented in 3D, The Last Airbender is not overtly packed with on-screen gimmicks the way Avatar was. There aren’t things constantly looming toward you from the foreground. The 3D element is adapted to fit the film, rather than the other way around, so at times you may even forget you’re wearing the glasses. The set peices and costumes of nearly 6000 cast members were beautiful, as were spirit creatures. When Aang, Katara and Sokka make their way to the Northern Water Tribe, the snow white landscape and architecture are visually stunning and so too are the choreograph scenes where the tribespleople practise their bending skills.

I was also moved by the water sequences toward the end of the movie. Shyamalan has added much emotion with the visual effects, something lacking in Emmerich’s water effects in Day After Tomorrow and 2012. He doesn’t go for disaster, but rather emotion. He does it with heart and soul and this is his gift as a storyteller and filmmaker.

While there is also much debate from fans of the series regarding the casting choices and lack of ethnic diversity in the film, I feel it should never overshadow the fact that it’s a film and not absolutely everything in film needs to mirror real life, or else, what would be the point of letting your imagination run wild. More so, it’s also an interpretation of a piece of work from another medium.

“Cinema is a world of its own – whether a grey soundless shadowy world, or a fluidly manipulatable one. This film-world is a flat, ordered, compressed world; a world that is subtly, almost invisibly organised. A world that is cousin of reality.”
~ Daniel Frampton, Filmosophy

On its own, The Last Airbender is a fun piece of film with a strong message about our inner powers and the balance we must find between ourselves and the rest of nature. Shyamalan’s films all have an underlining theme and Airbender is no different; it requires you take part and absorb the world on film. It may not be exactly like reality or the series but it still makes for a good day at the cinema with the kids over the summer holidays.

Static Mass Rating: 3/5

The Last Airbender is released by Paramount Pictures in the UK on August 13th 2010.

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Sam Mercer and Scott Aversano
Written by M. Night Shyamalan (Screenplay), Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (Original Story)
Starring Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Dev Patel, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography by Andrew Lesnie
Editing by Conrad Buff
Studio: Nickelodeon Movies, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, Blinding Edge Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Official Site

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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