While most people today are focused on the new Captain Marvel trailer, Netflix quietly dropped a bombshell: they will be producing a live-action adaptation of the best television series ever, Avatar: the Last Airbender. And, well, to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
On the one hand, Avatar: the Last Airbender is iconic, and the closest to perfection I’ve ever seen in a television series. I’m not upset about getting more of it. On the other hand, The Last Airbender haunts us all. What can we expect from this new Netflix series? Should we be wary? Hopeful? Hesitantly excited?
Avatar: the Last Airbender
If, somehow, you are unfamiliar with Avatar: the Last Airbender, you need to watch it. Right now. Go. Avatar: the Last Airbender is a fantastic television show that transcends the bounds of what is traditionally considered children’s media.
Avatar: the Last Airbender takes place in a world where certain people can control one of the four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. One special person, the Avatar, can control all four and is expected to maintain balance in the world. When the show starts, the world is distinctly out of balance. The Fire Nation is waging war on the other nations, and have wiped out the Airbenders.
Aang, the titular last Airbender, is the Avatar. He ran away when he was confronted with an unwanted destiny, and ended up frozen in ice for 100 years. During that time, his people were slaughtered and the world changed greatly. After he awakes, he must work hard to restore balance and bring peace to a war-torn world.
The show is a perfect blend of lighthearted, childlike fun and deep, heavy themes. The war introduces imperialism and brutality. Aang struggles with the ethics of his destiny and how to end a war when he was raised to sanctify all life. Yet at the same time, Aang is 12, and his friends that travel with him are all teenagers, too. So it’s not all doom and gloom; there are relationship issues and crushes.
Avatar: the Last Airbender was iconic. It brought a unique feel to Nickelodeon, with a rich culture and story going hand-in-hand with lovely visuals and the best score in all of history. It ended after three seasons, but fans wanted more, which resulted in a series of comics and a follow-up show, The Legend of Korra.
Obviously, even with the comics and Korra, fans aren’t satisfied. We’ll never be satisfied because the world of Avatar: the Last Airbender is so good, so rich and well-developed, that it will always leave us wanting more. So a new television adaptation could be a fantastic thing. We don’t know much, yet, but we do know some things that hint to a good future.
The biggest perk of the Netflix adaptation is the knowledge that the original creators of Avatar: the Last Airbender, Bryan Konietzko and Michael di Martino, are returning. Konietzko and di Martino created the rich world of the show – they created this idea, so with them in charge, there are hopes that it will be well done.
Konietzko and di Martino have been engaged with fans ever since the show ended. Avatar: the Last Airbender finished on a good note: Aang defeated the Fire Nation, peace was restored, everything was wrapped up. So it was hard for the creators to give fans more, but they did, with Korra and the numerous comic books that have come out.
c/o Nick Animation Podcast
So it’s clear that Konietzko and di Martino know what the fans want. With them in charge, I have high hopes that the show will stick to its spirit and not lose sight of what made the show so good in the first place. Konietzko and di Martino also gave us Korrasami, so they have my good will.
It’s also been confirmed that Jeremy Zuckerman, who scored the original series, is returning. Avatar: The Last Airbender had the best music in all of cinema. With Zuckerman returning, the show is bound to recapture that elusive feel that gave Avatar: the Last Airbender its perfect touch.
The fact that the show is on Netflix also makes me hopeful. By virtue of not being a mainstream television network, Netflix is able to play around a lot more with their content. (I’m also excited about the fact that I can binge-watch this when it comes out because I am not good at waiting.)
Some of the best shows in recent history have been created by Netflix. The Marvel Netflix ‘verse is fantastic and has given us some of the best content in the MCU. Daredevil is one of my all-time favorite shows. Netflix also shows a broad range, with everything ranging from Orange is the New Black to Voltron, so they have experience in creating a variety of content.
Looking at Netflix’s live-action offerings, there’s a lot to look forward to. Netflix has some truly beautiful shows, in terms of pure aesthetics. The Crown is opulent elegance with a melancholy feel. The Marvel Netflix ‘verse is dark and broody, while still feeling very comics-y. I’m hoping that, with Netflix producing, we’ll get the sweeping visuals and beautiful effects necessary to make this show good.
However, I have also heard that Netflix struggles with adaptations of animated shows. I haven’t watched Netflix’s Death Note, but one article points it out as an example of where the company has struggled. So for now, take Netflix’s involvement with hesitancy. Which brings us to…
As excited as I am to see Avatar: the Last Airbender return for another round, I can’t quite shake the feeling of dread. There are a lot of ways this could go badly, sullying the show’s legacy. After all, we all remember (though we long to forget) The Last Airbender.
The Last Airbender
The new Netflix show will not be the first attempt at a live-action adaptation of Avatar: the Last Airbender. No, that “honor” goes to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, long considered one of the worst film adaptations of existing material. Ever. And that opinion is not wrong.
c/o Paramount Pictures
Shyamalan’s film was a butchery of so much of what made Avatar: the Last Airbender great. The film was awkward, stilted, and lost the light-hearted feel that grounded the show. It was a massive disappointment to fans, who were excited to see something they loved come to the big screen. So it’s fair to be hesitant.
One thing that we do know is that the creators are working against this reputation already. Shyamalan’s film faced accusations of white-washing for casting white actors in many of the lead roles, while the show is set in a very Asian-inspired world. Konietzko and di Martino have already stated that they plan on “a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast.” So they’re already a leg up.
The thing that jumped out at me most from the announcement – and is giving me the most hesitancy – is the fact that it is announced as a “reimagined” series. That particular word choice is giving me pause. What do they mean by reimagined?
That could be a problem. When you hear reimagined, it means you know they are going to change something. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Maybe the show will focus more in-depth on some characters. Maybe they’ll follow past the endpoint of the original show. We don’t know exactly what they mean, so it could be a good thing.
But it could also be terrible. I’m having awful thoughts about a “gritty reboot” version of reimagined. While I don’t think Konietzko and di Martino would go for a dark, grim show, that does seem to be the way things have been going lately (Titans, anyone?). I would hate to see a show grounded in hope, love, and peace becomes dark and gloomy.
As of right now, we’re only at the very beginning of this journey. The show has only just been announced, and we have very little information. The information we do have (Konietzko and di Martino returning, a focus on diversity) points toward a good adaptation. However, we can’t deny that we’ve been screwed in the past on this one. Fool me once…
For my part, I’m hesitantly excited. I love Avatar: the Last Airbender. It might just be my favorite show, ever. I even read the comics, and I’m not generally a comic book type of person. So I’m stoked to see the show get a new treatment. I’m excited to see this world come alive in live-action and to see the effects that can be managed with modern technology.
Yes, I’m hesitant. Yes, I remember The Last Airbender. I saw the movie in theaters and it’s hard to forget that disappointment. But I’m hopeful that this won’t be another screw-up like the film. If this goes well, we may get years and years of more Avatar: the Last Airbender content, and that’s a fantastic thing.