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Adaptation Review: The Last Airbender

Introduction

The Last Airbender, directed by M Night Shyamalan, is a live-action adaptation of the western animated series Avatar: the Last Airbender. It tells the story of Aang, a young boy who was trapped in ice for a hundred years. Aang is the fabled Avatar – capable of learning to manipulate all four elements, air, water, earth and fire, in a world where other “benders” can manipulate one element each. It is his quest to correct the imbalance in the world created by the Fire Nation’s invasion of the EarthKingdom and Water Tribes and destruction of Aang’s people, the Air Nomads.

The movie covers the first series of the animation, in which Aang and his new friends, Katara and Sokka, travel from the Southern Water Tribe where Katara and Sokka live to the Northern Water Tribe so Aang can learn Waterbending, dodging Fire Nation forces including the exiled Prince Zuko who wants to capture Aang to restore his lost honour, and General Zhao, who seeks to destroy the moon spirit in the Northern Water Tribe’s city in order to destroy Waterbending, which draws its powers from the moon. The first series, and the movie, end with a battle in the Northern Water Tribe city between the Waterbending defenders and the Fire Nation fleet.

Time constraints and cuts

The film condenses a lot of story into a short period of time. The first TV series consists of 20 episodes of 22 minutes each – for a total run time of over 7 hours. The movie, by comparison, is 103 minutes, less than a quarter of the length. As such a lot was cut. With some episodes in the series that cutting is entirely welcome. But the harshness of the cuts meant that some of the character of the world – in particular the Earth Kingdom through which the characters travel – is lost.

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