The Last Airbender's Live-Action Success Lies in Moving Past the Source Material

Adapting a beloved piece of media may be one of the most daunting tasks a creator can take on. Regardless of how they turn out, audiences are always craving new perspectives on the stories they love. And they will be getting just that with one of the most anticipated adaptations coming down the pike. That adaptation is Netflix's live-action retelling of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

This will not be the first adaptation that Avatar: The Last Airbender will have received. In 2010, fans mourned together as they walked out of theaters after witnessing M. Night Shyamalan's take on the beloved Nickelodeon show. Thankfully, Netflix and the producers of this project took notes and seem to be handling the source material with far more care this time around. Nevertheless, the creators must now toe the line of honoring the show while simultaneously justifying its existence and bringing a fresh perspective.

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As of right now, the cast, crew, and producers at Netflix are excited about the upcoming project. On November 16th, the streaming platform announced the start of principal photography in Vancouver, Canada. The production will be shot on a 23,000 square foot sound stage loaded with 3,000 LED panels, similar in style to how director George Clooney shot his film Midnight Sky with Netflix. Using this type of trailblazing technology, produced and created by Pixomondo Virtual Production, will allow for the vastness of the four nations to be caught in breathtaking fashion. From establishing shots to the use of bending, it seems the team has incredible tools to use when creating new images and fight choreography for the production.

When looking at the picture of the cast and crew compared to Shyamalan's take, it is clear that this team is heading in the right direction. In terms of diversity, there is no contest. The casting directors clearly took their jobs incredibly seriously by choosing both seasoned and fresh actors of color. Of course, diversity of thought allows for conversations to happen which would never occur in a homogenous environment. This choice of having an all non-white principal cast is a bold and monumental new change that audiences will certainly enjoy.

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Something that Shymalan's take did not have was a post-series perspective. While the film came out in 2010, two years after the third season's finale, its production began around the same time the series was wrapping up. With the show now having a long time in the pop-culture consciousness, it is easier to decipher which themes and narratives will resonate with current audiences. Not only that, but fans of the show have had the chance to grow up and enter the industry that put out shows that inspired them like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Some of those fans have certainly found their way onto the team of Netflix's adaptation.

What would be interesting is if audiences saw an episode that was entirely original to the Netflix show. There will certainly be episodes that are carbon copies, but there are admittedly filler episodes in the first season which are not needed in a live-action version. By allowing the creative team to create new stories for the series, the show would be able to touch on topics like climate change and industrialization, two things that both the real world and the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender must deal with.

RELATED: Forget Aang, Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender Must Get This Character Right

Netflix announced its plans to adapt the animated series back in 2018, so there has been plenty of time for detailed and decided pre-production to take place. Currently, the biggest fears fans have for the live-action series is the loss of original creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko as executive producers. The duo announced in August of 2020 that they had departed from the project in June of 2020 with DiMartino citing "a negative and unsupporting environment." Sadly, the creative partners' Instagram posts announcing their choice to leave will probably be the only explanation fans get until they see the final product.

Red flags aside, there are still plenty of reasons to hold out hope that the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender will satisfy and exceed expectations. The biggest reason is that no one has seen any footage yet. Between the diverse cast, promising technology and committed production team most fans are still excited to see boulders move at the appropriate bending speed. The release date for the live-action series has yet to be announced.

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j.s.sailes (6 Articles Published)

J is a TV Features writer for! He lives on the Upper East Side in New York City. Along with writing for CBR, J is an aspiring writer for TV, Film, and stage.

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