So I just saw the trailer for The Last Airbender and I have to say it made me very happy. Like most fans of the animated series I was a bit shocked by the studios choice of director; that is until I re-watched some M. Night films (most importantly Lady in The Water). The truth is that M. Night has something most filmmakers involved in summer blockbusters nowadays lack: a balance of aesthetic and thematic values, a balance that comes from having a unique artistic vision. The combination of M. Night’s artistry and the adaptation that is not originally his own might result in one of the most refreshing Hollywood blockbusters in recent years (a good thing since last years sucked). Here is why:
First and foremost, it will not look like Speed Racer. From the trailer alone you can tell The Last Airbender is free of visual gimmicks. Yes, the settings look epic, which you expect from a fantasy movie like this. Yes, there will be special effects (they look pretty good). But pay close attention to how Sokka and Katara run through the ice: they move slowly and cautiously like human kids. This is because M. Night is a traditionalist; He rehearses with the actors for weeks, shoots on film, edits manually, and tries to use as little CGI as possible. I think Signs is his only movie with CGI but I might be wrong. In an M Night movie visuals are meant to compliment the story and characters not viceversa. And that is how it should be.
Secondly M. Night knows character. He is not the best in story but even in his most recent failures the focus is always on the characters. In every of his movies there is a scene or two showing the characters in their family and work environment. Just think about how in Sixth Sense he’s got you worried about Bruce Willis’ marriage. You think his wife is depressed because the marriage if failing and you think Willis is an ass for not trying to fix it. But in the end we realize the truth; the whole movie is about coping with death. All his other movies (except The Village) have a similar dynamic. There is a large happening (sorry for the pun) that the characters must undergo just to solve a small personal matter. In Sixth Sense is the marriage, as it is in Unbreakable; Lady in the Water is about being a father while Signs and The Happening has elements of both. The show Avatar is also about family, or rather about forming a new one and in the case of Aang (as in the case of Bruce Willis’ in both Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) it is about believing and forgiving yourself. Furthermore the character’s personal lives particularly relationships play as important a role as the main quest. Here M. Night is right in his territory. Unfortunately for M. most of the audience is not paying attention because they are looking for a twist, which is usually not there (his only two movies with pay off are Sixth Sense and The Village).
A third good reason is the fact that this is the first time M. Night works with an outside source. This is good since his most recent original ideas haven’t really been that good. Let’s see what he does with someone else’s. All his movies have been stand alone single pieces; it will be interesting what he does with a three-part trilogy. Interviews say he is keeping everything in. The trailer looks quite complete (there is a small shot of Jet and Suki is shown in one of the posters).
Finally the casting another thing that everyone complained about does not look bad (in fact it looks quite fitting) once you see it in context. Having said all of the above, I leave it for you to decide. Here is the trailer enjoy: