“Avatar: The Last Airbender” (not to be confused with James Cameron’s blue-hippie movie “Avatar”) is a cartoon series that spanned three seasons on Nickelodeon. It’s a witty, fun, and well-developed cartoon done in a quasi-Anime (Japanese animation) style.
M. Night Shylaman, the man behind terrific cinematic feats such as “Unbreakable” and “Signs” (as well as well-intentioned failures such as “The Happening” and “Lady in the Water”) is at the helm for “The Last Airbender,” slated for release on July 2.
I absolutely adore the show, and my 3-year-old son really enjoys it as well (even my wife likes it!). We’re very excited about the theatrical release. Here… watch the trailer, it should give you a rough idea:
(Additional footage can be seen on the previous trailer)
One thing I’ve been wondering, though, is that even though this movie will only encompass the first season (Book 1: Water), how are they cramming 20 episodes (spanning roughly 9 hours) into a 2 hour movie, without feeling rushed like some of the more recent Harry Potter movies?
Here is my speculation on what the movie will cover, based on scenes in that trailer and overall plot importance:
The Full Episode List
Cribbed from the Wikipedia summary.
Rows that are bold are verified based on the trailer footage. Episodes that I believe will be not significantly included are greyed out (if there are important character / plot points revealed in those episodes, those may be conserved and simply moved into a different context).
|Episode||Title||Summary / Important Plot Point(s)|
|1||The Boy in the Iceberg||Sokka & Katara meet Aang.|
|2||The Avatar Returns||Aang meets (and fights) Prince Zuko for the first time|
|3||The Southern Air Temple||Aang learns that he really is the last Airbender. Commander Zhao is introduced, and duels Zuko (and loses).|
|4||The Warriors of Kyoshi||Aang and co. meet the female warriors of Kyoshi island (including Sokka’s future love interest.)|
|5||The King of Omashu||Aang and co. go to Omashu, and Earth Kingdom city, and [King] Bumi (a powerful earthbender and Aang’s childhood friend) is introduced.|
|6||Imprisoned||Aang and co. help to liberate an enslaved Earth Kingdom town, and the minor character Haru is introduced.|
|7||The Spirit World (Winter Solstice pt. 1)||Aang saves an Earth Kingdom city from an angry spirit, and Aang enters the spirit world for the first time.|
|8||Avatar Roku (Winter Solstice, pt. 2)||Aang learns about Sozin’s comet, and some of the Avatar mythology / lineage is revealed.|
|9||The Waterbending Scroll||Aang begins to learn Waterbending (via Katara) and they have a run-in with pirates (semi-recurring villains) after stealing a scroll containing advanced Waterbending techniques.|
|10||Jet||Aang & co. meet the minor character Jet and his Freedom Fighters.|
|11||The Great Divide||Aang acts as arbiter for two feuding Earth Kingdom tribes, all while navigating through a creature-invested canyon.|
|12||The Storm||Aang wrestles with his guilt over abandoning the world for 100 years, Uncle Iroh reveals some important history about Zuko.|
|13||The Blue Spirit||Aang is captured by Zhao and rescued by the Blue Spirit (Zuko in disguise). Zhao is promoted to Admiral.|
|14||The Fortuneteller||Aang & Katara’s romance develops while visiting (and saving) a town with a fortuneteller|
|15||Bato of the Water Tribe||Aang & co. meet Bato, a close friend of Katara & Sokka. Zuko enlists a bounty hunter (minor character) to track down the Avatar. Aang betrays Katara & Sokka’s trust.|
|16||The Deserter||Aang meets Jeong Jeong, a very powerful firebender who reluctantly begins to train Aang in firebending. Aang injures Katara while training (due to lack of discipline), but Katara learns she can heal with waterbending. Aang and Zhao duel for the first time.|
|17||The Northern Air Temple||Aang & co. travel to the Northern Air Temple, which has been converted into a Steampunk-esque city. They meet the Mechanist (minor character) and learn firsthand how the Fire Nation conquered the Air Temples.|
|18||The Waterbending Master||Aang & co. make it to the Northern Water Tribe. Sokka meets Princess Yue (brief romantic interest), Aang (and after much disagreement, Katara as well) begin training with Waterbending Master Pakku.|
|19||The Siege of the North, Part 1||The Fire Nation lays siege on the Northern Water Tribe, Aang travels to the spirit world and Zuko kidnaps his left-behind corporeal body.|
|20||The Siege of the North, Part 2||Admiral Zhao kills the Moon Spirit (Tui), and Aang merges with the Water spirit Laa while in the Avatar state and defeats the entire Fire Nation Armada (including Zhao). Princess Yue sacrifices herself to restore the Moon Spirit.|
Hints Gleaned from the Articles & Interviews
Pre-production commentary has indicated the movie will have significantly less comic relief (a very prominent feature of the cartoon, particularly the first season), which makes sense if for nothing else than brevity.
Shyamalan said, “I took away a little bit of the slapsticky stuff that was there for the little little kids, the fart jokes and things like that…We grounded Katara’s brother…and that really did wonderful things for the whole theme of the movie.”
That quote was taken from a behind-the-scenes interview with cast & crew.
Scenes / Episodes Inclusion based on series plot arcs
Although the trailer and interviews did not show it, there are certain scenes that, when viewed in the context of all three seasons / books, will likely be included to some degree simply because they contribute valuable character or plot development.
Episode 5, where Aang meets Bumi, will probably not be included, simply because, based on the casting notes, there are only two noted Earthbenders — Haru and one other. Given that the trailer above clearly shows a Firebender and Earthbender fighting, elements of Episode 6 (liberating the Earth Kingdom town, introducing Haru) seem quite likely, although I have a feeling it will be altered so that earthbending is less prominent in that scene. (eg. not on an offshore metallic fortress, where they use coal to escape)
The “Warriors of Kyoshi” (Episode 4) was not represented by the trailer, and including it may create some confusion regarding Sokka’s romantic development (in that episode, he meets Suki, a future girlfriend, but she is not brought up again until Season 2). There are no other significant character developments in that episode, so I am wagering that Shylaman will simply introduce Suki in Book 2.
The Winter Solstice episodes are definitely included in part — there is clearly a scene where Aang is conversing with Roku’s dragon. I am hoping that they use the anthropomorphized spirit of Roku, rather than have him only represented by the Dragon. Roku RODE the dragon like how Aang RIDES his Sky Buffalo. The first half of that episode, where he fights the angry forest spirit, will probably be left out.
Episodes 16 and 17 where Aang meets Jeong Jeong and The Mechanist, particularly the former, could be woven in somehow, but will probably just be pushed back to the sequel. It is important that Aang vow off firebending early on, and for Katara to learn that she can heal, but neither become relevant until season 2 anyways. Ditto for the Mechanist and his Northern Air Temple. The main problem with not including them in this first movie is that it will become even harder to try and wedge them into one of the sequels.
A rough sketch prediction of what I believe the movie will be
This is entirely speculative, but based on what was above, this is what I believe the plot will cover:
- Katara & Sokka find Aang encased in ice while walking (rather than boating) around the south pole
- Zuko finds the three of them at the Southern Water Tribe village, and captures Aang. They fight in his chambers and he escapes. Aang goes into the Avatar state and causes a nearby iceberg to fall onto the boat. (This was, I believe, briefly shown in the trailer, but it’s hard to say if it was that scene or not)
- The three of them escape on Appa and head towards the nearby Southern Air temple, where Aang learns of the fate of his people and becomes very angry (this was shown in the trailer).
- They determine that they will head to the Northern Water Tribe to get Aang trained as a Waterbender
- They help meet / help Haru, but Aang will be captured by the Fire Nation.
- The Blue Spirit helps Aang to escape (shown in the trailer)
- Aang enters the spirit world and talks with Avatar Roku, learning about Sozin’s comet and his duty to save the world.
- Aang, Katara, and Sokka finally make it to the Northern Water Temple and Aang begins training (Katara will probably be trained in some way or another as well).
- Sokka meets Yue, and I think they will play up the “class” issue, but I don’t think that she will be betrothed, simply to keep the cast simplified
- Zhao lays siege on the North Pole, kills the moon spirit, and Aang does his Avatar thing and saves the day. Zhao dies. Yue restores the moon spirit and dies. I expect they will skip the “Blue Spirit kidnapping Aang” portion.
The first season of the cartoon had a lot of exploratory elements, and the plot arc was not as tightly written as the seasons that followed. I believe Shyalaman will focus mainly on the self-discovery Aang undergoes, as well as their journey to the North Pole. The Earthbending scene was likely included for “cool” factor, to whet people’s appetites for the sequel.
I also think that the scene where Aang meets Avatar Roku will be pushed later for dramatic effect; Learning that the future of the world depends on you is a pretty heavy plot development, and given that it is not resolved in this film (spoiler: he saves the world in the third movie), any conflict that follows will seem insignificant if it doesn’t directly pertain to that goal.
So I’m predicting all of the non-North Pole action scenes will occur *BEFORE* Aang meets Avatar Roku’s spirit.
I don’t expect that the Blue Spirit will appear more often than that one time when he springs Aang from Zhao’s grasp. In the cartoon, he is in 3 (4?) episodes of Season 1, but I just don’t see the movie having enough time to spend on that, this time around, simply because of all of the additional plot points that would need to be added to flesh it out.
Besides, in the cartoon, season 2 is significantly about the development of Zuko as a major character, so there will be plenty of opportunity to play up the Blue Spirit then.
Until July 2, this is all speculation, though. I’m curious to see how accurate these predictions are, and I’ll be sure to post a followup after we see the movie! Until then!