Will ‘Last Airbender’ resurrect the M. Night Shyamalan mystique?

May 21, 2010 | 2:09 p.m.

Here’s an exclusive, eye-catching image from M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender,” which arrives in theaters July 3. That’s actor Shaun Toub (“Crash”) in the role of Uncle Iroh, the wise elder who was once the crown prince of the Fire Nation.

Last Airbender

“Airbender” is an intriguing release — writer-director Shyamalan goes into new territory this time by adapting an existing property (the film is based on the Nickelodeon series) as opposed to his usual path of creating a story from scratch. More than that, the subject matter and tone seem far removed from his past works such as Signs,” the underrated Unbreakable and the darkly sublime The Sixth Sense.”

M. Night Shyamalan There’s a sense that Shyamalan has something to prove — some say he has lost his way as a filmmaker or that he is still in the shadow of his 1999 breakthrough, “The Sixth Sense,” which was a true word-of-mouth movie moment and a strong commercial success with $673 million in worldwide box office — an especially potent performance considering its production budget was a lean, mean $40 million.

The popular perception is that Shyamalan is hungry for a hit but, really, if you look at the numbers, his films have ended up doing well commercially: “Signs” in 2002 had a production budget of $72 million and $408 million in worldwide box office; for “The Village” in 2004, the production budget was $60 million and the global box office hit $257 million; and “The Happening” in 2008 had a $48-million production budget and finished its run with $148 million.

There was one major commercial failure, though, with “The Lady in the Water” in 2006 — the swimming-pool fable belly-flopped with just $72 million in total box office and the production budget was $70 million. And since a film’s production budget is just what it sounds like (it doesn’t include, for example, the advertising costs that come with a major release), “Lady” clearly lost a lot of money.

Shyamalan has proven himself to be a strong storyteller and visual stylist. He is also a confident guy, to say the least, and that hasn’t always won him friends; critics howled and pounced, for instance, when Shyamalan cast himself in “The Lady in the Water” in the role of “The Vessel,” a writer destined to change the world with his powerful ideas. The filmmaker has been quite candid about his elaborate plans to make “Airbender” a full trilogy, so if this film does not do well, it will be framed as more than a single-film setback. On the other hand, if “Airbender” resonates with moviegoers, Shyamalan will be the magic man once again. Here’s the trailer — what do you think?

— Geoff Boucher


The Last Airbender poster Shyamalan says ‘Airbender’ rises above race: ‘That’s what’s so beautiful about anime’

Shyamalan had a sense that “Airbender” would make a “killer movie”

Shyamalan should be careful. Remember “Dragonball Z”?

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Shyamalan make take another whack at “Unbreakable”

“Airbender” joins 3D parade

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Photos: Top, a scene from “The Last Airbender”; credit: Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount Pictures; Middle, M. Night Shyamalan; credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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More in: Uncategorized, Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan


4 Responses to Will ‘Last Airbender’ resurrect the M. Night Shyamalan mystique?

  1. Christian Lozano says:

    This looks like something unusual for sure, but if I'm not mistaken his movies have never been done before an I can't recall a movie where certain people can control the elements we know so well (fire, air, water, air) I'll be going because unlike the sequel summer this is new and looks very good.

  2. mike says:

    looks good but really lady in the water and the happening turned me off on his movies. will wait for the reviews and word of mouth to decide if i will see it.

  3. John says:

    This movie really has little to nothing to do with M. Night and as a fan of Avatar the Last Airbender I'm annoyed that he has hitched his name to such an amazing property. The storyline, characters, and ideas of Avatar the Last Airbender cartoon were incredible. I put the series above Star Wars as the greatest trilogy ever made. Unforutnately most people like me in their 30's did not know about Avatar unless their friends told them about it. This is the only cartoon I know of that has ever caused millions of adults to tune into Nickelodeon. M. Night caught onto the brilliance of Avatar somewhere during the 2nd season of the show and got the movie going so I give him credit for that. But M. Night did not write this story or create any of these characters so his name should not be appearing in big letters above the title in a font as large as the title.
    I believe M. Night is using something brilliant that someone else created to repair his damaged brand. In fact the thing I am most worried about in this film is the dialogue written by M. Night. The plot of the 3 movies will be exceptional thanks to the real Avatar TLA creators brilliance, the fight sequences in the cartoon were already brilliant, ILM will deliver top notch visual effects, and the movie's musical score will be excellent. So really the only two unknown factors are whether M. Night ruined the dialogue, kept the basic major plot points in tact, and whether the young actors can rise to the level of the material.

  4. I came to this just after the article about "racebending" (lol) and I have to say that while I LOVED the Nick series, this movie is going to have to be AMAZING to crawl out of the negative hype created by the casting and direction decisions the producers made.

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