That’s the score The Last Airbender got on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing.
WWWHHHHYYYYYY!!! WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?!
Well okay, I have to admit I saw this coming. Despite how giddy I got at the site of an airbending LIVE ACTION Aang, I just couldn’t expect this movie to be great. I didn’t actually see it in theaters yet, so I’ll reserve my opinion for the movie later. But knowing that one of the best Nickelodeon series’ could have an incredibly awful film adaptation was just fuel for the fire that got me to write all this down.
What if I directed The Last Airbender?
Well this is how I’d see it.
Making a movie that summarizes 10 hours of story is an unprecedented undertaking. 20 different episodes means there are 20 different stand alone stories, all of which may not work cohesively in one two hour spectacular. That being said, in order to execute a series like Avatar: The Last Airbender successfully, the entire storytelling structure needs to be reworked.
My definition of a theme is the underlying message of a story. The thing about movies is that they can and must capitalize on only one or two major themes (exceptions allowed of course). The theme of The Last Airbender should be Aang’s psychological acceptance of the idea that he is, in fact, the Avatar, and he is the very last airbender. He is the last of his kind, which is a mind boggling concept (especially for a child) – could you imagine being the last person of your race? Being the only one left? I’m Chinese, and I can’t fathom what it would be like to never see another Chinese person, nonetheless comprehend the fact that China is completely wiped out due to what was essentially a genocide of my race ALL BECAUSE OF ME. Not only that, I have to save the freakin’ world. This idea is integral to the series and would be the concentration of the film.
Another (and only other major) theme I’d explore would be Zuko’s insanity in capturing the Avatar. The Avatar could be ANYWHERE in the world, and Zuko doesn’t have an inkling of where that one boy could be. Only a crazy person would go on such a goose hunt. It is only until the very end of Season 1 that Zuko realizes that maybe – JUST MAYBE – he’s gone too far. He has a chance to attempt to capture the Avatar again, but he rests and understands that his insanity nearly got him killed. All of this, of course, under the theme of vindication.
The posters are kinda cool at least.
Now re-imagining an already popular series can be difficult, and it can be nigh impossible to simply recreate major scenes and get rid of boring ones and still come out with a good movie. However, this is not a restriction, but an opportunity. An opportunity to explore the unexplored. Hardcore fans of the show have probably seen each episode AT LEAST three times, so they know the ins-and-outs of each scene.
The movie, then, does not become a flashier carbon copy of events in the series, but an entirely new story that plays parallel to the TV show. For example, I want to see Aang actually fall in love with Katara, not just look up at her and think “yup. She’s the one.”. I forgive the show for skimming along that aspect, mainly because all the other parts are so amazing, but this is what the movie can do for the series. Newcomers would be able to watch and enjoy The Last Airbender, and then if they want to see more adventures of the Boomerang Squad, they can watch the TV episodes (or vice versa).
To concentrate on the more important season 1 segments, here is a list for clarification.
Season 1 Episodes – Yes/No to putting them in the movie – and why:
- The Boy in the Iceberg – Yes – It’s the intro, good stuff.
- The Avatar Returns – Yes – See above
- The Southern Air Temple – Yes – This is where Aang realizes he’s really the last airbender, super important.
- The Warriors of Kyoshi – Yes – Kyoshi warriors are essential for later plot points including Sokka’s love and Azula’s evilness.
- The King of Omashu – Probably not – King Bumi is such a favorite, but he is not really integral for the overall story. His most vital role is telling Aang to find a master who “waits and listens” (in Season 2), so he essentially tells Aang to ignore him and do something else. Don’t get me wrong, I love me my Bumi – he just won’t fit in the movie.
- Imprisoned – No – Nope! Don’t need Haru! Although he had great facial hair Season 3, maybe I can put him in there just for that… NO, nuh uh, no Haru.
- Winter Solstice Part 1 and…
- Winter Solstice Part 2 – No – These episodes basically just introduce the spirit world, but all that story with Hei Bai can be cut. The spirit world can be introduced elsewhere, and last no longer than 15 minutes.
- The Waterbending Scroll – No – Although it does imply how Katara becomes crazy amazing at waterbending, and the pirates are hella cool, it needs to be taken out.
- Jet – Maybe – Another fan favorite! He’s such a great character because he really highlights the levity of the war, but I’m not sure spending time with that whole storyline is necessary. He does become useful later in season 2, so this one I’m not entirely sure about it.
- The Great Divide – No – No.
- The Storm – Yes – This clearly shows the driving force between both main characters! It’s always essential to know what the characters are fighting for.
- The Blue Spirit – Probably – At the time of this episode’s airing, it had such a “WHOA” factor. It also brings up the whole identity crisis of Zuko. This tangent, however, could be hard to work with, and it’s probably easier to introduce in the hypothetical next movie.
- The Fortuneteller – No – Cloud bending is pretty cool though.
- Bato of the Water Tribe – No – This used to be one of my favorite episodes because of the fight scene at the end… but alas, tis unnecessary.
- The Deserter – No – Despite how great the theme of this episode was, there’s no room for it in the movie.
- The Northern Air Temple – No – The only important part was the fact that the fire nation got a war balloon, but… it’s not important enough.
- The Waterbending Master – Mostly – Master Paku’s introduction is important, along with Zhao’s attempted assassination of Zuko. But the whole gender discrimination thing? Unless Katara runs across this theme throughout the movie, it won’t fit, or it cannot be fleshed out thoroughly.
- The Siege of the North Part 1&2 – Yes, Yes – It’s the end, of course it goes in the movie.
Bear in mind that this is ONLY a starting point. It’s how I would have started going about this movie. Then, I would take what I got, mesh it together, attempt to make it flow well, include new unexplored/unmentioned scenes, make sure not to mess with any of what was established in the original show, and hit the major points to get across the few powerful themes.
And that is how I would have directed The Last Airbender.
Alright, maybe “directed” is too bold of a word, seeing as how all I did was work with the plot. There are other aspects I would want to incorporate (such as possibly having Katara narrate the whole thing), but maybe that’s for another time. For now, I shall watch the movie and update this post with my response to it. Who knows, I might end up loving the movie!..