M. Night Shyamalan had a sense about ‘Airbender': ‘This would make a killer movie’

Jan. 28, 2010 | 1:19 a.m.

Rachel Abramowitz memorably wrote about M. Night Shyamalan in 2008 when he revealed quite a lot about the liberating power of, well, failure. Now she spoke with him again for this Hero Complex update on the filmmaker’s upcoming film “The Last Airbender.”

Airbender poster

And now for that otherAvatar” movie…

For M. Night Shyamalan, it was his then 7-year old daughter who hooked him on the Nickelodeon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

“She made us watch as a family and all four of us were hooked, “ Shyamalan said. “I was like, ‘This would make a killer movie.  And my wife who really has been kind of in neutral about my career was insane about it. Insane about it: ‘You have to do it. This is it. This is the one.’ ”

M Night Shyamalan by Jennifer S Altman

Ever since he shot to stardom with his film “The Sixth Sense” in 1999, Hollywood has tempted Shyamalan with franchise offers including, he says, an overture about directing the first “Harry Potter” film. He turned down all the other offers, but “Airbender,” with its fusion of Eastern philosophies and martial arts grabbed him. The series is set in a world where the four ancient elements — fire, earth, water and air — can be manipulated by a select group of magical humans who are known as “benders.”

The brutal firebenders, known as the Fire Nation, are intent on world domination and the only thing standing in their way is 12-year old Aang, the last of the airbenders, who also happens to be the Avatar — the only one who can wield all four of the elemental groups.

Not unlike a pre-teen, martial-arts version of the Dalai Lama, the fun-loving Aang is charged with keeping peace in the universe. Now comes Shyamalan’s big-screen adaptation “The Last Airbender” (no surprise, the film will drop “Avatar” from the title because of the success of a certain recent film with a smiliar title), the first of a planned trilogy.   

Airbender on Nick

The movie hits theaters on July 2 and stars Noah Ringer as Aang, Dev Patel (of “Slumdog Millionaire“) as the evil Prince Zuko. Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone portray Aang’s trusty comrades-in-arms.

The 39-year old Shyamalan, once the boy wonder of Hollywood, is coming off a series of disappointing films, including “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening,” and this is the first time he’s directed a film based on pre-exististing source material. The filmmaker is taking on an adaptation for the first time because he found himself drawn to the Buddhist philosophy that underlies “Airbender.”

“Aang himself needs to find balance to be the Avatar and to master each of these elements,” the director said. “We get to see the process of someone mastering themselves through the three seasons to get to peace.” 

Shyamalan sees similar spiritual motiffs in “Star Wars” and “The Matrix.”

“In the first ‘Matrix,’ you realize that what you’re seeing is all false,” Shyamalan said. “Those are really ancient ideas. Basic old, old religion. This has that as well. So if you go on the journey and you’ll feel that epiphany on top of a great roller-coaster ride. It’s going to be something.“

– Rachel Abramowitz

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