While it's definitely exciting news that Netflix is going to be tackling a live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon's beloved series Avatar: The Last Airbender, there's also a quiet hint of terror in the air surrounding this announcement. After all, Avatar: The Last Airbender fans have been burned once before with a promise of a live-action retelling of this cherished tale, and we all know how that ended... M. Night Shyamalan screwed up literally everything.
Hope springs eternal though that this new series will honor the work of original series and right some of the wrongs the movie made. Just in case Netflix needs a little help, though, here are a few suggestions for how to make this series awesome instead of unwatchable.
1. Cast the show diversely. This cannot be emphasized enough, but there are basically no white people in this series, and whitewashing characters of color is the surest way to make this new series fail. Just ask Shyamalan. Aang and a handful of other characters could pass for Caucasian, but the rest of the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender is incredibly diverse. The Water Tribe was originally based on the Inuit and Yupik Tribes of North America, while the Fire Nation obviously had distinctly Japanese and Chinese elements to their culture. The Air Nomads had strong Tibetan influences, and the Earth Kingdom was predominantly Chinese. Let's take advantage of the opportunity to easily diversify the fantasy genre by casting characters appropriately.
2. Go hard on the fight scenes. It's not going to be an easy feat to create the visual effects for all that bending on screen, but one of the worst parts of the live-action film was that all of the flair and energy was ripped out of the fight scenes, making them stale and kind of boring. Watch any bending fight from Avatar: The Last Airbender (I recommend this piece of beauty), and you'll realize that a bending battle is fast, fierce and based on a ton of different martial arts styles. Think Daredevil, but with fire!
3. Don't flub the mythology. A strange element (pun totally intended) the movie added to the Avatar: The Last Airbender mythology is that firebenders could not create fire, they had to bend existing flames. While it certainly clicked more with the other benders mythology — they needed water or earth nearby to bend it — this change completely blew past the point of that particular bit of mythology. One of the reasons firebenders were able to conquer the earth so soundly was because they had an incredibly destructive element at their disposal whenever and wherever they needed it. Duh! Similarly, the mythology of the Avatar itself (the reincarnation cycle and all Aang's previous lives) is sick, and glossing over it would be throwing a ton of awesome storylines out the window. Don't even get me started on the Spirit World. There's so much stuff there, and every part of it is necessary to the story.
4. The introduction should be the same, word for word. "Water. Earth. Fire. Air. My grandmother used to tell me stories about the old days, a time of peace when the Avatar kept balance between the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads. But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar mastered all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless firebenders. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years have passed and the Fire Nation is nearing victory in the War. Two years ago, my father and the men of my tribe journeyed to the Earth Kingdom to help fight against the Fire Nation, leaving me and my brother to look after our tribe. Some people believe that the Avatar was never reborn into the Air Nomads, and that the cycle is broken. But I haven't lost hope. I still believe that somehow, the Avatar will return to save the world."
Don't you change a damn word, Netflix.
5. Take your time. Part of what made Avatar: The Last Airbender so amazing was that the story was constructed carefully and well in advance, giving all three Books, aka seasons, a coherency and synergy that TV often lacks when it's created by the seat of the writers' pants. Thanks to that careful attention to detail, each character's journey and development fits together like a work of art, which means trying to jump around or introduce certain stories or characters too early will kill the effect. I love Toph and Azula and Ba Sing Se as much as the next fangirl, and I'd understand the temptation to add these dynamic elements in sooner rather than later, but they were saved for Season 2 for a reason. Focus on the journey, not the destination.
6. Give me hair loopies or give me death. OK, this is a relatively lame ask, and ultimately it has more to do with the styling and costuming department than the writing of the actual show, but it's still going on the list. Not only was Katara's hair actually inspired by the cultures creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino used as inspiration for the Water Tribe, they were fly as hell, and iconic. The movie got rid of them, and that was honestly one of its greatest offenses.
7. Go with the original pronunciations. For some strange reason, the movie adaptation decided to change the pronunciation of nearly everything,right down to the main character's name! Ong? Please stop. This isn't a book series where you have to squabble over everyone's personal pronunciations as they read it in their head. You've literally got 61 episodes at your disposal. Just call people and things by their names, sheesh.
8. Give the Air Nomads their due. Something that didn't get much development even in the original series was the life and death of the Air Nomads. A few flashbacks here and there are really not enough to fill in Aang's backstory — the kid grew up 100 years prior to the start of the series, how can you not dig into that? — and they're certainly not enough to convey the tragedy of an entire people and culture wiped out via genocide. In this new live-action version, we've got to learn more about the Air Nomads and Aang's time with them.
9. For the love of God, make Appa cool. This is a tall order. I get that. An enormous flying bison isn't something that you can just deliver on a regular basis, even in a Netflix show, but I humbly request that when he does appear, he looks as awe-inspiring and realistic as possible. And it probably goes without saying, but "Yip-Yip" needs to stay too.
10. Give us all the Easter eggs! There are a few tried and true staples of the Avatar-verse that shouldn't be overlooked in the new version, no matter how silly. It will be incredibly easy (and enormously satisfying for fans) to see a few quick shots of the poor cabbage merchant whose cart keeps getting destroyed or the foaming mouth guy, even if they're not necessarily integral to the plot. Sometimes you just have to give the fan what they want, Netflix.
11. It's OK to skip the filler. Like all good shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender had its fair share of filler episodes, and they were painful. Episodes featuring characters learning important lessons about teamwork and cooperation but ultimately making no progress in the overall story — or heaven forbid, where they just watch an entire hyperbolic play about their own lives — can and should be scrapped to focus on more interesting stuff.
Avatar: The Last Airbender will start production in 2019.