Can this truly be so? A live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) Netflix series? Directed by the original showrunners, Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko (hereafter referred to by their fan name Bryke)? Featuring music by original composer Jeremy Zuckerman? What merciful light shone down upon us to deliver such blessings?
…Or such curses? The news has brought mixed feelings to many a fan. While the simple mention of “bending” or “the Fire Nation attacked” can summon the desire to marathon the entire series in one weekend, people have questioned the wisdom of a live-action enterprise.
- It’ll be the M Night Shyamalan movie all over again!
- Why remake what is pretty much perfect?
- Shouldn’t Bryke use the opportunity to tell a new story, like a modern Avatar? Or an evil Avatar? Or what about Avatar Kyoshi? Or Avatar Yangchen? Or—
Fair questions, all of you. Is a new series a good idea? I don’t know. I do know that I’m going to watch it. And that even if it’s not necessary, it could still be good. Here’s what I think would help the story translate successfully from cartoon to live-action:
What They Will Do:
Age up the characters.
For a show about martial arts-style elemental manipulation, you must have excellent martial artists. And good actors. Finding enough people under the age of 17 (or who look that way), would, I suspect, be difficult.
Making Toph 16 or Zuko 20 also benefits the telling of a more mature story for an audience of adults. Those who watched the series as kids now find themselves wondering, “But if Aang and Katara are 12 and 14, should I feel weird about this?”
Watching the story play out with real people will also inevitably change how we perceive the war. Animated preteens discussing military tactics is one thing, but it’s harder to suspend our disbelief when its made to look like reality. Just a few years would really help. Frankly, the animated characters act as if they’re in their late teens or early 20’s anyway.
And who’s to say the characters couldn’t retain their child-like qualities? Sokka the 21-year-old could still spout sarcastic quips. Aang can still perform his marble trick with goofy enthusiasm. Katara can still…be more motherly than her age requires. The humor/drama balance doesn’t have to change. But the characters’ ages do.
What They Won’t Do:
The Great Divide.
But seriously, the filler episodes are going to go.
Book One will likely stick only to plot-relevant episodes and exclude the extraneous characters, like Jeong Jeong and Chey, the plot of “The Island of Kyoshi,” and Aunt Wu and Meng. I suspect the most iconic jokes and moments will make it into the new series in some other form.
Aang can test firebending on his own if they want to keep his reluctance to practice later on. They can run into Suki in conjunction with a more series-relevant plot (she dresses in the image of Kyoshi so we wouldn’t lose the history). And the writers could come up with a myriad of other ways to stoke the romance between Katara and Aang, although I will miss Sokka’s response to “Can your science explain why it rains?” from that episode. (“Yes! Yes it can!”)
What They Should Do:
Use practical effects for Appa and Momo.
Actually, I don’t know that the adapters should include Momo at all (animal sidekicks are the hallmark of cartoons and Disney movies), but I wouldn’t complain if Momo appears in a realistic way. Computer graphics age so terribly, and practical effects done well usually stand the test of time and end up looking more realistic anyway.
I do not work in the film industry, so I don’t know how feasible this would be, budget, location, or schedule-wise. I do know that I’m tired of actors riding on something that clearly isn’t real.
What They Should UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DO:
Play up Zutara vs. Kataang.
Given the first season of The Legend of Korra was written by Bryke and a huuuuge focus of that season was a tragic-backstoried firebender/self-assured waterbender romance, I worry the two might succumb once more to the allure of fanservice. An adaptation should take the same story from a different angle (like aging up the characters or condensing the plot), not alter the fundamental relationships that hold the story together.
That’s not to say Katara and Zuko shouldn’t have a compelling relationship—just not at the expense of her bond with Aang. For one thing, choosing to reignite a popular internet shipping war undermines the ability to tell the story. It removes the viewers from the immediate stakes (Is Zuko going to betray his uncle and return to evil?) and reminds them they are watching a remake of a favorite story of theirs (Are the creators going to get Zuko and Katara together this time, just like I always wanted!?). This could delight fans for a short time, but I question how long the elation of “we won!” would last.
For another thing, aging up the characters (which I’m nearly 100 percent certain will happen) would “fix” most of what see people taking issue with concerning the Katara and Aang relationship. Sure, there’s a certain spark to a fire/water romance, but I’m here to say a consistent romantic relationship done well can produce equally emotional responses.
A “what-if?” would only divide the fanbase instead of drawing the audience together. New series, new ships? No, thanks.
Wish List Item:
Dwayne the Rock Johnson guest stars as the Boulder.
Chances of this happening:
As The Rock was apparently their first choice to voice the original character, I suspect they may try to make it happen again. I don’t know The Rock so I can’t say for sure, but he seems like the type of guy who’d go for it. He’s a busy man, though, so…
7 packets of fire flakes out of 10.
Cover Photo ©Netflix, obtained at: https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/18/17874472/avatar-the-last-airbender-netflix-live-action-tv-reboot