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Insight into the failure of The Last Airbender & why M. Night isn't to blame

08.08.2014

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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3:23AM on 08/11/2014
Can't all be Kubrick.
Can't all be Kubrick.
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10:52AM on 08/10/2014
Well i guess he didnt learn his lesson because After Earth was one of the worst pieces of garbage I have ever seen
Well i guess he didnt learn his lesson because After Earth was one of the worst pieces of garbage I have ever seen
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1:55AM on 08/09/2014
I don't believe anything an anonymous user in a forum posts. The Last Airbender fits Shyamalan's style & MO to a tee. From the actors who perform in an emotionless manner to the complete lack of real humor & fun. All of Shyamalan's films have the exact same issues as The Last Airbender, just some of his films made this work in favor of the story.

Also, all movies are 100% a collaboration that requires compromise. No filmmaker can make a film without compromise. It's why Kevin Smith refuses
I don't believe anything an anonymous user in a forum posts. The Last Airbender fits Shyamalan's style & MO to a tee. From the actors who perform in an emotionless manner to the complete lack of real humor & fun. All of Shyamalan's films have the exact same issues as The Last Airbender, just some of his films made this work in favor of the story.

Also, all movies are 100% a collaboration that requires compromise. No filmmaker can make a film without compromise. It's why Kevin Smith refuses to call his films "A Kevin Smith Film". Because the auteur theory is false.
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1:06AM on 08/09/2014

This was so sad because it was such a great series.....

If it had continued, Toph and the Earth-bending nation would have been terrific to see on film. There were moments (sadly brief) that you really got an idea how cool this could have been. But the acting was amazingly flat (especially Peltz), the characters INFINITELY too serious for the material, and some gaps in the martial arts involved (moves that were way too intricate just to cause a single event to happen).

To me the best part of the film was Zuko and Iroh. I really liked the
If it had continued, Toph and the Earth-bending nation would have been terrific to see on film. There were moments (sadly brief) that you really got an idea how cool this could have been. But the acting was amazingly flat (especially Peltz), the characters INFINITELY too serious for the material, and some gaps in the martial arts involved (moves that were way too intricate just to cause a single event to happen).

To me the best part of the film was Zuko and Iroh. I really liked the delicate way Iroh was portrayed, and Patel is an excellent martial-artist who brought some excitement to his character (although some of that was muted by the painful exposition). They also missed with the villain, who came off more bumbling than threatening. But the claims of poor racial casting was ridiculous and nothing but PC run amuck. The problems were ALL elsewhere.
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6:22PM on 08/09/2014
i agree, Zuko and Iroh scenes were the only scenes that actually had any heart... everything else was watered down, no pun-intended.
i agree, Zuko and Iroh scenes were the only scenes that actually had any heart... everything else was watered down, no pun-intended.
10:45PM on 08/10/2014
I disagree with the Iroh scenes to a certain extent. Yes, the two actors did the best with what they were given but Iroh was such a brilliant character: this seemingly bumbling old man who's hiding some explosive abilities.

Overall, THE LAST AIRBENDER was a prime example of how to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.
I disagree with the Iroh scenes to a certain extent. Yes, the two actors did the best with what they were given but Iroh was such a brilliant character: this seemingly bumbling old man who's hiding some explosive abilities.

Overall, THE LAST AIRBENDER was a prime example of how to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.
11:45PM on 08/08/2014
Didn't watch the movie, but what little I knew about the film vs. the TV show, doesn't surprise me. The bitterness in this write-up seems genuine, so whether or not Shyamalan would have made a good film of it or not, definitely sounds like he had his hands tied. Unless Shyamalan becomes a true dark horse and goes the indy route, I doubt he's got the clout anymore to have full creative control.

Such a shame. M. Night Shyamalan has talent. It's his scripts (and the scripts he's been given to
Didn't watch the movie, but what little I knew about the film vs. the TV show, doesn't surprise me. The bitterness in this write-up seems genuine, so whether or not Shyamalan would have made a good film of it or not, definitely sounds like he had his hands tied. Unless Shyamalan becomes a true dark horse and goes the indy route, I doubt he's got the clout anymore to have full creative control.

Such a shame. M. Night Shyamalan has talent. It's his scripts (and the scripts he's been given to work with) that seem to suffer. That, and maybe his movies are a bit too self-serious. Guillermo del Toro has worked in a similar genre as the majority of Shyamalan's movies, but he at least understands what's fun and interesting about his films, and plays to those strengths. I don't think I'd call any of this guy's movies (even The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) fun.
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11:10PM on 08/08/2014
It's such a shame the end product was so horrid because the animated series has such a rich world, a cool look to it, intriguing mythology and fun, layered characters. And, according to Wikipedia, Nicola Peltz's father Nelson Peltz (b.1942) "is an American businessman and a founding partner, together with Peter W. May and Edward P. Garden, of Trian Fund Management. L.P., an alternative investment management fund, based in New York." Gives the story some credence, then.
It's such a shame the end product was so horrid because the animated series has such a rich world, a cool look to it, intriguing mythology and fun, layered characters. And, according to Wikipedia, Nicola Peltz's father Nelson Peltz (b.1942) "is an American businessman and a founding partner, together with Peter W. May and Edward P. Garden, of Trian Fund Management. L.P., an alternative investment management fund, based in New York." Gives the story some credence, then.
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9:43PM on 08/08/2014

I thinkt there's glimmers of truth in here, but I don't buy all of it

I mean his last couple of films leading up to this one sucked hard and the one he made after this sucked heard, so that doesn't really lead me to believe that he's exactly blameless when it comes to the suckiness of this film.

On a more serious note though, while there are exceptions, big league Hollywood directors typically have a greater degree of control over things such as casting, locations and set design than this post makes it sound like (you have instances like Gavin Hood on X-Men
I mean his last couple of films leading up to this one sucked hard and the one he made after this sucked heard, so that doesn't really lead me to believe that he's exactly blameless when it comes to the suckiness of this film.

On a more serious note though, while there are exceptions, big league Hollywood directors typically have a greater degree of control over things such as casting, locations and set design than this post makes it sound like (you have instances like Gavin Hood on X-Men Origins where the studio would actually veto his set designs and replace them with their own but that is exceedingly rare). The fact that Shamylan had pretty free reign in these areas in his previous films, and pretty free reign in these areas on After Earth really does make me believe that he had more of a hand here than the author wants to admit.
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8:20PM on 08/08/2014

such a shame

The TV show is INCREDIBLE. This is coming from somebody who considered it a "stupid kids show" when it aired (never watched an episode), but fell in love with it when it was firsr put on netflix streaming. If you are Joblo-esque movie fan, love StarWars, lotr, and other epics, watch the show!!!
The TV show is INCREDIBLE. This is coming from somebody who considered it a "stupid kids show" when it aired (never watched an episode), but fell in love with it when it was firsr put on netflix streaming. If you are Joblo-esque movie fan, love StarWars, lotr, and other epics, watch the show!!!
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7:41PM on 08/08/2014
It cost $150 million to make, and made about $320 back. It's crazy to see how much money shitty movies can make, while good movies like Dredd bomb.
It cost $150 million to make, and made about $320 back. It's crazy to see how much money shitty movies can make, while good movies like Dredd bomb.
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6:59PM on 08/08/2014
Wow, no wonder why the movie turned out the way it is. But it's still a box office success, right? Or is it just foreign box office? I'm not sure.
Wow, no wonder why the movie turned out the way it is. But it's still a box office success, right? Or is it just foreign box office? I'm not sure.
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6:48PM on 08/08/2014
That was a very insightful and cool read.

Personally, I am still pretty far from giving up on Shyamalan. Starting with The Sixth Sense, I've liked all of his films (in varying degrees of course, and yes, even The Happening) except for his last two. He just needs to reboot himself, go back to something small and personal to find his bearings.
That was a very insightful and cool read.

Personally, I am still pretty far from giving up on Shyamalan. Starting with The Sixth Sense, I've liked all of his films (in varying degrees of course, and yes, even The Happening) except for his last two. He just needs to reboot himself, go back to something small and personal to find his bearings.
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6:26PM on 08/08/2014

Really?

I like this when it is in that "Unpopular opinion" click, just doing fluff pieces seems really pointless.
I like this when it is in that "Unpopular opinion" click, just doing fluff pieces seems really pointless.
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6:09PM on 08/08/2014
That's sad, but not unexpected. There a several films that have suffered due to too much interference from producers. Superman 2 and Star Trek 5 come to mind. I also remember an interview where Jackman said something similar about X-Men origins. Even if I haven't like M Night's last few films, I still hope he can make a come-back and give us another film as great as Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, or Signs.
That's sad, but not unexpected. There a several films that have suffered due to too much interference from producers. Superman 2 and Star Trek 5 come to mind. I also remember an interview where Jackman said something similar about X-Men origins. Even if I haven't like M Night's last few films, I still hope he can make a come-back and give us another film as great as Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, or Signs.
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5:57PM on 08/08/2014
Hollywood nepotism is protected by the ADL. We don't talk about it and that is the end of that conversation.
Hollywood nepotism is protected by the ADL. We don't talk about it and that is the end of that conversation.
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