It’s been more than 14 years since Avatar: The Last Airbender ended on Nickelodeon and was one of the most popular series for the company at the time. Even though it’s been so long since the last episode, it’s still one of the most watched series on streaming services and the highest-rated series on Rotten Tomatoes (100% Average Tomatometer and 98% Average audience score).
Because of its popularity, we’ve had one truly terrible live-action adaptation of the series and one fantastic animated sequel, Legend of Korra. In 2018, Netflix announced that they would attempt their own live-action adaptation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, but will it be as successful as the original show?
What is the Avatar: The Last Airbender about?
Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a war-torn world where some of the population can bend one of the four elements of nature; water, earth, fire, and air. In season 1, three main characters come together to form Team Avatar, but in the subsequent seasons, more are added to the team.
Aang is the Avatar, the main focus of the series, who is the bridge between the mortal and spiritual worlds. He’s also the only one capable of bending all four elements. The Avatar is the only one who can maintain the balance between the realms, by establishing and maintaining peace throughout all the world’s nations. As the Avatar, Aang must free the world from the ruthless rule and war of the Fire Nation.
His other companions are Katara and her brother Sokka from Northern Water Tribe. Katara’s a water-bender while her brother is not, however his intelligence and creativity make him the perfect operational brain of the team.
Sokka and Katara lost their mother when they were young. Their father went to fight the Fire Nation at sea, so they only had themselves and their grandmother. Despite all this, they make the perfect siblings who do anything to keep each other safe.
At the beginning of the series, Team Avatar is inexperienced. They’re a bunch of impulsive teenagers, but as time goes on, they become some of the best heroes in this world. What’s most important is that they’re becoming something more the friends, a family, which is something they come to rely on during some rough times. Throughout this journey, our heroes are pursued by the exiled son of Fire Lord Ozai, Prince Zuko, and his uncle Iroh, Ozai’s zen brother.
In season one, our heroes do their best to help Aang learn water-bending, which is next in the cycle to learn for the Airbending Avatar. We see how Aang, who has been frozen in ice for more than 100 years, must adapt to the new world and do everything to save it.
The next two seasons focus on Aang’s mastery of earth-bending and fire-bending. With each season, Team Avatar is getting better and more fierce, gaining experience in every aspect of their destiny. Their destiny is to help Aang prepare for the final battle against Ozai and to save other people from the oppression of the Fire Nation.
I could talk about ATLA for a very long time, but we need to speak about the most important and crucial thing, which is the curse of a live-action adaptation.
Previous spinoffs and adaptations of Avatar: The Last Airbender
With the popularity that the animated series gained, several popular directors at the time wanted to direct and create their own interpretations and adaptations of this world. In the end, however, Paramount decided to hire M. Night Shyamalan, and it was the worst decision they could have made.
It was never Shyamalan’s intention to direct The Last Airbender (yes, they changed the name of the film so as not to confuse fans with James Cameron’s film) the way it was meant to be directed. He created the very opposite of the series, making every decision, every story arc, and every bending scene completely flat, colorless, lazy, and disrespectful of the original.
As the creators of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko said in a 2014 interview, they always wanted to have creative authority and oversight regarding the progress of the film.
“Who knows, you never know, maybe this could end up being halfway okay and they’re asking for our input, so we’ll try to help. That was our stance from the get code. A, we didn’t want it to be done at all before anyone was attached we didn’t want and then B if it was going to be done, we wanted to do it, but they weren’t going to let us. C, when they attached Night, we just thought, well, this is what we’ve been dealt. We’ll just offer help when it’s asked of us and if it’s not, we’ll stay out of the way.
And in the beginning, it was more positive and we offered help and then we had a big falling out and whatever. It’s a long….. I would need like two weeks to tell you this story and in the end, what do you get? A completely the only thing that can be said, it was a wasted opportunity. It was just a wasted opportunity. I mean, wasted like money wasted time, waste time. It wasted the potential of our project. Yeah, it was just a waste. And out of that I still learned a lot. We met in some ways it was a good experience.”
“There were good things that came of it, but ultimately the movie was not one of them. I’m proud of the stuff we made, but it doesn’t encompass my entire life and my being. On the other hand, they are our children. Like, these characters are real to us, and to watch it be dragged through the mud and the whole racial side of things was just so disheartening. And our fans spoke up so loudly that we just kind of sat back.
I look back and I’m like, well, should we have done this differently or that differently? But it was almost like we gathered an army that screamed at this guy, and it’s heartbreaking. But at the end of the day, it’s not the first time it had ever happened that a project was horribly adapted in Hollywood. It’s not the last time it’s going to happen. It might even happen to us again. We never know. So when you say, did we have any involved? We gave input that went nowhere. Sure, it’s like we were involved, but our involvement had no effect.” via Nerdist.
So, as you can see, even the original creators of the series were disappointed with the way the film came to be. Ever since that disaster saw the light of day, fans have been clamoring for someone responsible and talented to create a better adaptation of the epic story. Of course, the original creators didn’t agree with the idea of another live-action adaptation due to their experience with the film, so instead, they gave Avatar: The Last Airbender a sequel show that was released in 2012 called Avatar: The Legend Of Korra.
Legend of Korra was a really good series with better animation, new characters, some familiar faces, more creative bending, and a completely different Avatar. But this is not the time to talk about it, because we have an upcoming series that may win the hearts of many fans once again.
Netflix’s live-action adaptation should be outstanding
Season one of Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Air Bender will have 8 episodes, each approximately an hour long. The budget of the series is $120 million USD, which gave us $15 million USD per episode. As for the technology used in this series, instead of the traditional green screen, a popular technique known as “StageCraft” will be used, which was used in The Batman (2022), The Mandalorian (2019), and Dune (2021).
This is a very revolutionary approach to film and TV series making. It allows for the creation of digital environments that are truly similar to real life, without spending more money and time on finishing VFX backgrounds. Instead, they will have time to work out the effects of a greater bending of the elements, creating beings we think really exist and so much more.
Earlier this year we learned the names of the actors who will be portraying our main beloved characters, and recently we learned the rest of the names, giving us the full cast, which is below:
- Gordon Cormier is Avatar Aang
- Kay Siu Lim is Monk Gyatso
- C.S. Lee is Avatar Roku
- Yvonne Chapman is Avatar Kyoshi
- Meegwun Fairbrother is Avatar Kuruk
- Kiawentiio is Katara
- Ian Ousley is Sokka
- Maria Zhang is Suki
- Amber Midthunder is Princess Yue
- A Martinez is Master Pakku
- Utkarsh Ambudkar is King Bumi
- Danny Pudi is The Mechanist
- James Sie is The Cabbage Merchant
- Dallas Liu is Zuko
- Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is Uncle Iroh
- Daniel Dae Kim is Fire Lord Ozai
- Hiro Kanagawa is Fire Lord Sozin
- Elizabeth Yu is Azula
- Momona Tamada is Ty Lee
- Thalia Tran is Mai
- Ken Leung is Commander Zhao
- George Takei is the voice of Koh
- Randall Duk Kim is the voice of Wan Shi Tong
If you check out these actors, you’ll see that many of them are ethnically Asian and Indian, which I think is a very good decision, since the whole series is inspired by Asian/Indian territories, legends, and beliefs. The previous adaptation didn’t bother with proper representation with its casting choices, so it’s great to see Netflix’s Avatar The Last Airbender will be more culturally and ethnically conscious.
In addition to the casting information, we know that Netflix will honor the legacy of the series and will not change much to maintain the integrity of the animation. Unfortunately, the creators left the project due to creative differences (“We came to the realization that we would not be able to direct the direction of the series in a meaningful way.”) and opened their own Avatar Studio. Netflix has decided to continue the series as planned and will keep it as close to the original series as possible.
I’m really hyped about Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. I was just a kid when I saw the original animation, and even though I’m older now, it still has a big and warm place in my heart. With the budget, visual effects, and casting decisions, I’m sure this version will be the next big thing to talk about and reward fans of this world for being with it for better or worse.
Since filming for season one of the Netflix series ended in June 2022, it will probably premiere around the end of 2022 or early 2023. Until then, If you want to re-watch Avatar: The Last Airbender or maybe watch it for the first time it is available on Netflix and Paramount+.
Are you looking forward to Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender? Have you seen Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series? Let us know on Twitter or Discord! And if you haven’t already, check out Alex Perez’s review of Netflix’s Cyberpunk: Edgerunners!