Dear M. Night Shyamalan,
Should I call you M. Night? Mr. Shyamalan? Night? or just M.?
Well, however you want me to address you, I want to talk to you about your recent film. “The Last Airbender”.
Now I know, I know, you got enough shit on about this movie, so I’m not going to talk about what everyone else is talking about.
I’m not going to talk about the casting issues of casting Caucasians in roles that should have gone to asian actors.
I’m not going to talk about how the script and directing was shoddy and that the acting was bad.
I’m not even going to talk about the stilted dialogue.
I mean, don’t get me wrong….they’re RIGHT … but that’s not what I want to talk to you about.
You see, you had a job, as a filmmaker, to adapt something for a feature film based on an existing property, to take and leave things for the adaptation.
Not just that, but to also find a way to let in new audiences who never seen the show to understand the vast mythology that the show clearly has.
So, it became very clear to me that within the first few minutes of the film, you failed to do all of that.
First, lets look at the shows opening sequence, the intro that opened every episode in at least Season 1.
Ok, so in 45 seconds, that did the job of setting up the landscape,setting up the threat, the magic abilities, the type of culture that exist in this world AND sets up the title character pretty perfectly.
Even before I finally sat down to watch the show, when I caught the intro while channel surfing, I knew that was enough information for me to pretty much get it. Also, it was done pretty entertainingly as well.
So, what did you do wrong in the film’s opening?
Well, yes, you did show the different nations, using the same visuals as this…
But just like the video I just linked here there was no narration over it in your film.
You just started the movie with that. Those are the films first images.
Do you know how confusing that could be for people who have never seen the show? These random images that have no meaning to an audience that just walked in?
Then you had the laziness of having the films mythology being explained in a long text/narration.(ala Star Wars)
This started this whole “Tell instead of Show” issue that you seemed to developed while writing this film.
Think back on the Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. Remember how Fellowship of the Ring started? While there is narration, it gave us visuals to match the narration so we start having visual touchstones for the film. Shots of the Middle Earth maps, images of the Kings, the elves, the ring etc. It had a dense and rich mythology, but they never forgot that film is a visual medium and found a way to tell us all of that information without feeling like it’s info dumping.
So how did the shows 45 second intro do a superior job of doing that compared to what felt like the 5 minutes it took for you to explain it in the feature film?
You made it boring and you wrote an intro text that overcomplicated the story.
Look, I’m not saying do it just like the show, but you could have done it far more exciting than the way you presented it the film.
And that’s sort of how the whole film feels like.
Some fans proclaim you don’t love the show, hence the film sucked, I disagree.
To me, it’s obvious that you DO love the show, you love the show so much that you didn’t know what to cut out because you wanted to include everything . Proof of that is this video here (you can jump to 04:18 mark in the video to hear what I’m talking about)…..
Maybe you should have listen to the creators?
What you should have done was looked at the whole first season, and really buckle down and go “Whats the most important story I need to tell for the first film?” Well, maybe you did, but you certainly didn’t have the restraint to know what to get rid and to create new scenes to tell the same story.
I hate to use Lord of the Rings again as an example, but why do you think that Peter Jackson never included the Tom Bombadil stuff in the film? Because in the end, for a FILM, it wasn’t needed.
Want an example of something you didn’t need?
Personally, you should have held off of the Earthbenders in the first film.The way you rushed the Earthbenders slave storyline is nearly laughable. For the first film it should have been ONLY about waterbending.
The most important thing about adapting any martial like The Last Airbender is that you don’t have to be exact, just get the spirit and the tone right.
Great example of a character that you didn’t get the spirit and the tone right was the treatment of Appa.
Appa, to put it bluntly, is Chewbacca, except that you can ride him…and that he can fly. BUT, it was an actual character, a protector of Aang and the gang…a big love able pet.
What you did to Appa was made him into the Millenium Falcon. It’s just this thing they fly on. They show no real attachment to him. They didn’t look they cared about Appa, so I didn’t care for Appa. (Note: Now that I think about it, Millenium Falcon might not be an apt comparison because even Han Solo showed more love to the ship then the kids did to Appa in the movie…)
That was supposed to be your job M. Night. Not to be super faithful to the show, but to make us care, and get to know the characters.
You got too distracted by the special effects, the giant sets, the big action scenes, and the large cast, that you forgot about the characters and the story, elements that you used to be pretty good at.
One of my favorite recent quotes is from David Lynch.
“Focus on the donut, not the hole.”
So M. Night (was that what we agreed I was going to call you?) you forgot the donut so much, you just became a hole…and for some fans of Airbender, an A-Hole.
Good luck sir, because your going to need to figure out how to become a good storyteller again.
P.S. Seriously….white actors as the leads? I mean this shot…
The two white kids in a CROWD of black-haired, dark skinned Inuit people and not ONCE you didn’t think, “That looks kind of silly”.
Oh M. Night, we seriously don’t see eye to eye anymore….