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Catching up with M. Night Shyamalan as he wraps The Last Airbender!

06.04.2010

Past the rolling hills and majestic trees that surround Skywalker Ranch, the post-production facility George Lucas founded outside San Francisco, director M. Night Shyamalan is working hard on the final mix of his upcoming film THE LAST AIRBENDER. He's deep inside the 155,000 SF Technical Building (never before has a building so beautiful had a name so drab) finishing up his last day of work on the film. This should be an insanely busy time full of scrambling, late nights and rolled up sleeves. But if Shyamalan should be sweating, nobody told him.

Yes, Shyamalan is well aware of the pressure that surrounds AIRBENDER, the first film he has directed that is based on previously existing material. He came onto this film after his last two films, LADY IN THE WATER and THE HAPPENING, were box-office disappoints. But in an extreme bid of confidence in both the material and its director, Paramount has staked this film on a prime spot of summer movie real estate: Fourth of July weekend. If Shyamalan is feeling any pressure to prove himself, appease the hardcore "Avatar" fans or make a tidy profit for Paramount, he certainly isn't showing it.

He emerges from his office bounding with childlike enthusiasm and quickly dispenses with the formal introductions. "Yeah, I know you!" While the fist-bump is becoming the go-to greeting for the contact-phobic in Hollywood, Night actually prefers hugs. He's remarkably put-together (shouldn't he look more rumpled and exhausted?) and it looks like it 's his first day on the job instead of his last. Relaxed but professional, he's got the enthusiasm of a USC film student and the confidence of an A-list director.

It was the first time Shyamalan was showing the film to anyone outside his creative circle and while he didn’t need to say a word, he repeatedly mentioned how excited he was to finally have an audience.

Shyamalan too is a fan of the series - a new episode is an event with his family – and he knows that come July, millions of "Avatar" fans, just like him and his daughters will be watching his live-action version.

Despite his Steve McQueen demeanor, Shyamalan has been working on the film since 2007 when Paramount and producer Frank Marshall approached him and bringing a trilogy based on the popular Nickelodeon series to theaters. The series, created by animators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, had only been around for two years at that point but had already made its mark. Not only was the series the #1 rated show in the coveted tween demographic but was also nominated for the Outstanding Animated Series Emmy and won the prestigious Peabody Award.

The story, which DiMartino says was hatched when he drew an old man to look like a young boy, follows Aang, an avatar (the only person who can manipulate all four elements - water, fire, air and earth) who's the last of his kind. He's been frozen in ice for over 100 years but is freed a brother and sister, Katara and Sokka, who find him while out fishing.

The "avatar" obviously wields great power and soon a battle for his infinite power begins is waged, leaving the ill prepared young brother and sister looking to save the world from a certain fate.

The film has a decidedly darker and somber tone than the animated series (which can be somewhat fanciful at times) and that winds up actually serving the story Shyamalan is telling without losing the spirit of the cartoon.

Shyamalan's story is the anti-SPY KIDS; a film that is made for children but doesn’t talk down to them and can actually challenge them, which is the best way to treat your audience. Night has expanded on the exciting "Avatar" world to create his own vision, one that benefits from an impressive display of action that (pay attention other would-be summer blockbusters) actually serves the already intriguing plot to create his most enjoyable film since UNBREAKABLE.

It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that AIRBENDER works as it plays to some of Shyamalan's specific strengths. No stranger to impressive visuals, Shyamalan is for the first time using an array of CGI tools to enhance his already uncanny eye. In one particular scene you may have caught a glimpse of in the trailers, Aang uses his burgeoning bending skills to raise the ocean waters and protect himself from an incoming attack. It's not easy to create visual effects this grand and vibrant, but Shyamalan has managed to fashion a powerful cinematic experience (and this is before the 3D conversion).

As with any cinematic adaptation of a popular franchise, there's bound to be hand-wringing among the fanboy faithful. But if there's concern on the part of dedicated "Avatar" fans, it's not shared by the creators of the series. Co-creator Bryan Konietzko told SciFi he "really admires" Night for the respect he had for the source material and that it "meant a lot" to both him and fellow creator Mike DiMartino.

While Shyamalan crafted AIRBENDER to speak to the masses that studio executives would love to have turn out in droves, it also does shy away from his signature style. Like many of his previous films, AIRBENDER deals with spirituality and the loss (and return) of faith. Night spent a good deal of his research on the film studying the elements and how they connect with various spiritual beliefs and the research clearly pays off. Rarely do films based on cartoons include the depth and insight found in AIRBENDER.

Like him, love him or not, Night always makes exactly the film he wants to make and with AIRBENDER he's made an exuberant and exciting family film. (And no, there is no twist, only the hopeful promise of another adventure since only the first chapter from the series is explored.)

And with one last hug, Shyamalan was on his way. After all, he's got a movie to finish.

Source: JoBlo.com

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