Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Avatar: The Last Airbender

This is one of those good news, bad news kind of things.
M. Night Shyamalan and Paramount are planning their own Avatar, a movie based on the popular Nickelodeon kids TV series, Variety reported.

The filmmaker has signed a three-picture deal with Paramount's MTV Films and Nick Movies to adapt the animated Avatar: The Last Airbender show for the big screen. He will write, direct and produce the potential kids franchise. The film version will be live action.
The good news is that a feature film will get more attention on the television series, which is honestly the best secondary world fantasy ever produced for television, and arguably the best bit of worldbuilding done outside of a prose novel. Ostensibly for kids aged six to ten, or thereabouts, the storytelling is subtle, layered, and often astonishingly sophisticated (the first brainwashing sequences with the Dai Li, for example, were as good as anything since the original Manchurian Candidate), and compulsively watchable.

The bad news is that the original showrunners, chief among
them headwriter Aaron Ehasz, aren't mentioned anywhere in this press release, but M. Night "Twist-Ending" Shyamalan is. And, while the television series is a gorgeous bit of animation, with clear inspiration drawn from the likes of Hayao Miyazaki, this feature will be live action. Neither of which are encouraging bits of information.

So this feature may well be a disaster. But if nothing else, maybe it'll pull a bit of attention to the fine work taht Ehasz and crew have been doing on the series. A quick check online shows that the first season (or "Book One", as it's called; another nice thing about the series is that the episodes are structured as chapters in a book, and in one instance even as short stories within a chapter in a book) is available in a DVD set, while the second season is available on individual discs. Order them up, or add them to your Netflix queue, and see for yourself. And try not to worry about how much M. Night Shyamalamadingdong might screw the whole thing up...


Does it help to know that Shyamalan isn't necessarily pursuing this project first in his 3-pic deal? It could be quite a while before it comes to be (and apparently Fox and James Cameron own the name Avatar, so combine that with the fact that it'll be live action and there's a possibility that the series will not be smirched at all.

Course, this probably attenuates its ability to shine a spotlight on the series a bit.
Well, at least that increases the chances that the series will get to run its course before the feature comes along and stinks it up...
You're right on about the quality of that show. My son watches it regularly and every time I catch any of it, I quickly become envious that there weren't any cartoons like that when I was my son's age.

So I make him go clean his room.

But you're not kidding. As much as I loved the stuff I watched as a kind, none of it holds a candle to even the most mediocre of children's programming on these days. I loved Speed Racer, but was it really any good? No, of course not. Nor was Scooby Doo, or Thundarr, or any of that stuff. But Avatar? It's terrific. And it isn't alone. Skyland looks good, from what little I've seen. Samurai Jack is just a few years old, and is genius. And while it's really cartoony, I think Danny Phantom is the best superhero to originate outside of a comic, bar none. And what makes things that much better for kids today is that, with DVDs and Tivo, they can watch the damned things whenever they want. How cool is that?!
Phew, I was starting to feel weird about hijacking the TV from my kids in the afternoon to watch Avatar. Glad I'm not alone there. It truly is the best worldbuilding I've seen in ages outside of a book, and really even IN a book. It would totally suck if Mr. Twist Ending screwed this up. And live action? Hmmm...I'm not sure about that. Guess I just have to keep my fingers crossed.
Avatar brings television to a whole new level. I can only hope that it can do the same on the cinematic stage. They had better keep the creators and serie's writers involved. I'm sure they won't let their fantastic series get completely botched. Let's all admit it, we'are all going to go see it, even if it tanks.
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