Insight into the failure of The Last Airbender & why M. Night isn't to blame
M. Night Shyamalan delivered some solid cinema with (arguably) his first three films, and quickly turned into a joke afterwards. LADY IN THE WATER underperformed, THE HAPPENING was one of the most unintentionally funny films I've ever seen, and then there's the crown jewel; THE LAST AIRBENDER. While I was excited for Shyamalan to work on something he hadn't written, the end result was his biggest transgression thus far. However, it seems that the director was not completely to blame. Someone who worked on the production of the film had a few things to say regarding how the shoot went down. You can check out the post on the AvatarSpirit.net forums here, but I've included his initial post below.
As user Kyatto puts it:
Production wrapped 5 years ago so I don't think Paramount is going to care. They know it bombed.
What it came down to was M Night really was the only one who knew the show and what he was doing (the first draft of the screenplay? gorgeous. hence Bryke giving him the okay). The producers, who are actually in charge of at least 80% of production including casting.... not so much. They clearly never bothered to watch the show, nor had the ghostwriter who did the final screenplay.
Nicola was hired because she's the daughter of someone one of the producers owed a favor to as Hollywood loves its nepotism. (Her audition tape was subpar at best). In having to cast her they had to cast a guy who could pass as her brother - hence Jackson. His audition was actually pretty good. He's a funny guy and had clearly seen the show. Too bad the producers felt the movie didn't have time for intentional humor and cut all that out of the script. Noah was the only one who honestly openly auditioned and was chosen based on talent. He just needed extra help acting because with a lot of it being green screened he was talking to air a lot of the time. Experienced adults have a hard time doing that let alone a kid.
If you recall they initially signed on Jesse McCartney as Zuko. Why? Because otherwise the lead actor roster would be "starring: two unknown kids you never heard of and that guy who played a minor character in Twilight!". And then someone with a brain realized "wait a minute this show is kind of anime-esque and we're hiring a bunch of white kids. Um.". So what did they do? Because they couldn't can Nicola without someone being really ticked, Jesse willingly bowed out and went with another project offered at the time. Even still, they still needed a big name to draw people in but it couldn't be another white kid. Dev Patel just gave an Oscar-winning performance and was willing to sign on. And in getting him they had to make the rest of the Fire Nation match. Which is why it turned into heroic white kids VS evil brown people (which was intentionally unintentional).
And then it was horribly budgeted. The opening at the SWT all nice and pretty in Greenland? Cost big bucks. And then they realized with a story about people manipulating elements that couldn't be believably done with in camera practical effects. So they had to rebudget and gave most of the money to ILM for post production. You go from the beautiful SWT to everything looking dingy because everything else was shot in Pennsylvania. The Fire Nation Royal Palace? An old high school in Philadelphia. Parts of the Earth Kingdom (including Kyoshi Island which got cut)? Reading, PA. And everything that was the NWT.... some sets built in front of giant green screens in an old emptied aircraft hangar in the outskirts of Philadelphia. Yeah.
And ILM was rushed despite most of the movie's look being left up to them. And you had novice directors hired by producers to oversee that process. That's how come the pebble dance happened. Sadly at that point M Night was just tired of arguing with the overheads, gave up, and collected his paycheck. If you look at the movie's premiere and red carpet footage you can tell his excitement and happiness is fake. Bryke had little say in the film despite being listed as executive producers. That title was a fancy way of saying that they created the show it was based on and they're still alive so they need some kind of nice credit. The actual producers didn't know what they were dealing with and were only interested in a quick buck. Bryke and M Night gave up on the film around the same time for same reasons. The other people working on the film were a pain to deal with and Nickelodeon themselves only wanted the final product as quickly as possible and the money it would presumably make them.
At least they hired good caterers. The food was great on that set.
It's sad to hear that Shyamalan had the best of intentions before producers started calling the shots, but that's the nature of the business. A quote Guillermo del Toro said on The Director's Chair stuck with me, and that's that being a director is finding the compromise of what you want versus what you can have. If I were Shyamalan, I wouldn't accept any more projects without more creative control. Then again, I'm not trying to send any kids to college. Perhaps he's content with that, which is just sad all around.
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