Audiences can all agree that M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 attempt at adapting Nickelodeon’s animated masterpiece Avatar: The Last Airbender will go down in history as one of the worst movies of all time.
While Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s beloved American anime-inspired dominated the Nickelodeon airwaves in the mid 2000’s with its compelling storytelling, character development, and mythology, Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender was an oddly-paced misfire of epic proportions.
Though it may be hard to imagine now, there was a point in time where committed Avatar fans were actually anticipating Shyamalan’s live-action The Last Airbender.
But as more and more information came out about the film – most notably the casting of white actors in roles specifically based on real-world Inuit and East Asian cultures – that enthusiasm quickly faded.
Upon release, The Last Airbender was met with scorching reviews from fans and critics alike.
As of writing, the film holds an abysmal 5% among critics and 30% among fans on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
Yet unlike some filmmakers, it seems Shyamalan is fully aware that his attempt to tell Aang’s story was a swing-and-a-miss.
Speaking with the The Hollywood Reporter a January 31st interview, Shyamalan was asked by the outlet’s Brian Davids if he had learned anything from his career disappointments, to which the director replied by first turning to Lady in the Water and The Happening.
“[Those films] are so much a part of me,” he explained. “I love being wicked and getting a rise out of you, [but] being goofy is a part of who I am, as is being earnest. So Lady in the Water was very close to who I am as a person.”
“One thing I let go of on that movie was the idea of, ‘How will they sell the movie?'” said Shyamalan. “Now I tell this story to every filmmaker I work with. I also told it to my daughter [Ishana Night Shyamalan], who’s about to make her first movie. I’ll say, “The marketeers are the first people to tell your story. They begin the story. That’s part of the art form. So you have to start thinking about that as you’re making the movie.”
“And on Lady, I didn’t do that,” he then admitted. “I just made something that I loved. It was the least seen of all my movies, but to this day, when people come up to me about that movie, they speak with religion about it.”
Pressed by Davids for his thoughts on his other two notorious flops, The Last Airbender and After Earth, Shyamalan opined, “All of us go through moments in our lives where we want to be accepted.”
“We get tired of the fight and having to defend who we are,” he continued. “And tacitly, or sometimes overtly, they’ll say, ‘You are wrong for doing it this way, you’re arrogant. If you just do this, this and this, it’ll all work out for you.’ And I went, ‘OK, maybe you’re right.’ So I made a genuine effort to join the system, but I learned that the special thing that makes me happy was hard to do within that system.”
“It was so wonderful to have that opportunity,” Shyamalan concluded, “but there are so many people who are so much better at that kind of storytelling than I am.”
The director’s rather accepting attitude comes as no surprise given how, during a previous 2015 interview with IGN given in promotion of his TV series Wayward Pines, Shyamalan stated that he didn’t cared if The Last Airbender was hated.
Using the sex symbol of the time Megan Fox from Michael Bay’s live action Transformers as a point of comparison, the director argued that his movie was hated since it targeted a younger audience rather than the series’ older fans.
“So you could make it one of two ways,” detailed Shyamalan. “You could make it for that same audience, which is what I did — for nine and 10-year-olds — or you could do the Transformers version and have Megan Fox.”
“I didn’t do that,” he stated. “That would have felt like, ‘Well, I’m going to make a movie about a kids show that my 10-year-old is watching and not make it for her. I make it for my guy friends.’ That felt like a betrayal of the innocence of the piece.”
“I go out and 10-year-olds are like, ‘That’s my favorite show! I love that movie!’” Shyamalan recalled, before claiming, “Parents come up to me and go, ‘They’ve watched The Last Airbender 74 times!’”
“Those kids, it’s for them,” he affirmed. “It was for them, to talk about mysticism and Eastern philosophies through a 10-year-old’s vernacular.”
“So, you know, these are business propositions, which have very little interest to me, of like, ‘Hey, the business proposition is to get Megan Fox to be [such-and-such character],” Shyamalan elaborated. “You know, ‘You should age it ’til it’s that.’ That wasn’t the source material.”
“Whereas, also, like a Transformers, it’s really fascinating, because it’s valid for Transformers,” the director ultimately concluded. “You know why it’s valid? Because it’s the little boys that were playing with them are grown up now. They’re the ones who wanted to see Megan Fox. That’s absolutely appropriate, you know what I mean?”