M Night Shyamalan Readies His Own Avatar
Is M Night Shyamalan on his last chance? The writer/director has, of course, been suffering a chronic case of follow-up fever since the critical and commercial success of his epochal The Sixth Sense. His most recent effort, The Happening, in particular earned an raft of impressive derision from critics and sympathetic filmgoers alike.
The Indian-born auteur – Manoj to his mates – would seem to have a hell of a lot riding on his ambitious next project. Scheduled for an 8 July release, The Last Airbender is Shyamalan’s adaptation of the American animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. While the Avatar component has sensibly been dropped from the title, inevitable comparisons to the James Cameron film remain – epic, CGI-driven action in three dimensions, and the reputation of its maker on the line.
A viewing of the trailer (below) has The Enthusiast cautiously intrigued. The Last Airbender – the first of a planned trilogy – seems to be the story of a bunch of white people who act like a bunch of Asian people, inhabiting a land where a select few have the power to manipulate (or ‘bend’) one of the four elements – earth, wind, fire and air. Then there’s Aang, our young hero, who’s pretty clever and has managed to find a way to complete the set (ie, he can bend the bejesus out of all four).
Early criticism has questioned the use of white actors in a narrative that borrows heavily from both Chinese and manga aesthetics and inspirations. One also wonders if the sheer spectacle of the film – indeed, this is Shyamalan’s first real foray into grand-scale filmmaking – will inevitably fall short of that achieved last year by Avatar. Shyamalan’s detractors, however, have historically been more focused on what they perceive to be his flimsy, twist-dependent writing as opposed to his directorial abilities. Perhaps the readied canvas of The Last Airbender will help reignite the Shyamalan brand.