Adaptations are curious, often coming out amazingly or terribly, and that also depends on who you ask. One adaptation that is universally hated however is M. Night Shamylan’s ‘The Last Airbender’, which most consider a bad movie on its own regardless of whether they’ve seen the source material.
First of all, why was this movie made? When a comic book or a book is made into a film, it makes sense as the two different mediums are experienced differently. But an animated series and a live action movie are experienced the exact same way. However, they are not the same. Therefore an adaptation becomes difficult. How do you take an almost seven hour series and condense it into 90 minutes. The answer is: badly.
The movie suffers from many problems the afore mentioned being one of the biggest however it suffers from many more.
The plot of the movie is the exact same as the original series, which if you haven’t seen it watch it. Its, In my opinion, one of the best series ever made regardless of medium. but here is a link so you can familiarise yourself with the plot.
Firstly lets look at what this movie does correctly: The soundtrack to the movie is a good adaptation of the original. Many of the locations are perfect. The fight scenes are passable and the camera work is flawless in parts. However all of that is just toppings on an already burnt cake. It’s the same reason people dislike sword art online, sure the music and the animation is nice but the story is just so broken that the series is overall bad.
First of all lets get many of my minor gripes out of the way. In the series the characters Katara and Sokka are intended to be inuits and therefore are of darker skin, but Shamylan decided to make them the palest in the film. This Blazin Squad effect is also the case for the fire nation, who are white in the show but middle eastern in the movie. Why? The series was lauded for presenting people of darker skin as protagonists why change that.
Also the actors in this movie are; questionable. Aside from Dev Patel, Aasif Mandvi and Shaun Toub, the actors suffer from being very monotone and overall bad. This is due in part to the material they were given.
As said previously you can’t take a seven hour series and tell it all in ninety minutes, therefore certain things were cut out to leave only the main story. However, much of the original series’ charm was the little bits added in. So sometimes when you do that, it makes no sense. The best example of this is in the start of the film when Aang is taken away and Katara and Sokka go and save him. This makes sense in the series as they create a connection with him and become friends. But in the film their reasoning is “He’s our responsibility”, why? The film tries to patch this up with an explanation but compared to the original, I don’t buy it. speaking of explanations
When you take a series that’s had twenty episodes to establish its plot and what needs to happen while still having meaning, comedy and character progression in between and try and put that in ninety minutes it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. This is shown by almost every scene in this movie being exposition. Yes, in order for this movie to make sense every scene is exposition, this is also at the detriment to the characters. Sokka in the series, while still a serious character, is the main vehicle for comic relief but in the movie is a monotone, boring mess. there is no reason to care about him. The same for Katara; her motherly and loving tone, that made her one of the most engaging characters, where is it?
This is again due in part to poor acting choices, but even Dev Patel , who I believe plays his part of Zuko perfectly, suffers from this. He is given next to no backstory, just an explanation as to why he’s doing what he is. He therefore comes across as bitter rather than driven and reasonable. (also his scar looks so bad in this version).
What I will say, as an adaptation this is a clear example of how not to do it. In my next post I’ll show how an adaptation is done right and then why adaptations are one of the hardest things to get right in film and TV.