I'm afraid I have some issues with it. Most of which have been pointed out by many many reviews.
Instead, I've been trying to think how it could have been fixed.
A lot of people would hate me, because I would keep a lot of the material that was cut out.
I would cut even more!
Let's not touch the casting, just focus on trying to tell the story.
In a nutshell: The avatar disappears. The fire nation starts a war of conquest. 100 years later, the avatar reappears. In order to bring back balance and stop the war, he has to learn to control all the elements, starting with water.
Check. That's the basics.
Imagine, if you will, that you have as much time to try and tell the story as the movie has. You can't add another hour or even just 30 minutes. How do you edit this concept?
You can't do exactly like the show. You have to adapt and retell.
Imagine if you could write the whole series in about 4-5 episodes. That's about as much time as you have. One fifth of the time of the whole series. Even less.
Perhaps have a "hook" opening. Instead of having Katara narrate or see scrolling text, show some visuals.
For example: start at an air temple. The air is heavy, there are sounds of battle. A monk is looking for someone named Aang. Pausing a moment to look outside, not only do we see Fire Nation soldiers invading, but Sozin's comet filling the sky. All hell breaks loose.
Have a montage of different war moments. Have one shot of Zhao discovering the scroll in the library. At the end of the montage, fade and go to the Southern Water Tribe. We're a hundred years later, but we'll figure that out at the same time as Aang.
Showing the comet would be reference as to how destructive its return would be and why all must be done to stop the fire nation before its return. Show the stakes.
It's something the movie suffered from: too much exposition, not enough show, don't tell.
The story needs to focus on our main protagonists: Aang, Katara, Sokka, Yue, Zuko, Iroh and Zhao.
What is important: the relations between Aang, Katara and Sokka, between Sokka and Yue. The antagonistic relations of Zuko vs Aang, Zuko VS Zhao and Zhao VS Aang.
Just like in the first season, we don't need to see Ozai. Cut out all the Ozai scenes. Show almost nothing of the Fire Nation.
Unfortunately, I would cut all the Kyoshi warriors scene. To have Sokka have two possible romances in one movie is redundant. Focus on just one. Yue will have to do this time.
No time for Bumi nor Jet either.
Remember: you have no time.
If you don't want to rush scenes or dialogues, it's a sacrifice.
But you could use them all nicely in a sequel. Imagine: Sokka finds love again with Suki, Katara has her first romance with Jet (to Aang's despair), the search for a teacher fails with Bumi but they find Toph. Everything that is earth kingdom related is in that chapter.
You may wish to bring back some concepts that were cut out though: Avatar Roku, for example.
Would I bring back Koh to give the info about the two spirits? Maybe not, unfortunately, and I do love Koh.
The comet, the spirits. This could all be things Roku tells Aang. Remember: tight time schedule!
Now you may have enough time to try and tell the story of the main cast. Maybe. You'd need some tight writing and editing.
We would all do it differently. This is just a hint of what I'd try. If there was a brainstorming meeting, I'm sure more ideas could be pitched to make this better. I've seen it happen in the productions I've worked on.
It made me realise how different production for animated films and live action is: in animation, things can be changed late in the game. Heck, Dragon was in development for two years and redone in one!! Live action, I'm afraid, doesn't have that much leeway.
Plus, it seemed there was no quality control at the base for Last Airbender. Wasn't there someone, at some point in the production, that dare say "this part here is weak, let me suggest..."?
I don't know. I wasn't there. We will probably never know.
I've never really said anything about the casting controversy. I won't start here, but I will point out one thing:
Fire Nation: Middle eastern looking citizens. Our main bad guys, or so it seems in this chapter of the movie.
Southern Water Tribe: Mostly inuits except for a few odd ones, devastated culture, living poorly after Fire Nation raids.
Earth Kingdom: Asians, Blacks. Seem to be living under the heel of the Fire Nation. On their way to losing the war despite resistance. Probably miserable, except for Ba Sing Se but this city wasn't seen. Overall, place doesn't look good.
Northern Water Tribe: Caucasians. Beautiful city, peaceful looking people that look well off. Have managed to resist the fire nation for a 100 years so you know they kick @$$.
Really, Hollywood? You haven't seen anything? Diverse casting maybe, but look how you've used them.
One last thing: I don't care if Shyamalan wanted to give the "proper" way of saying the names, it still made me gnash my teeth everytime. It was a reflex reaction. I couldn't help it.
In other unrelated news, my dad is not doing too well, health wise. We hope the doctors can figure out what is wrong. Nothing too serious yet, but I hate hearing how poorly he is feeling these days. It's worse being so far away.
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