A Sneak Peek at M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender

Last night, the first teaser for M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, based on the popular anime-style cartoon on the Nickelodeon Channel, debuted on “Entertainment Tonight” and now, you can watch it here or see it in front of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen starting tonight.

Last week, ComingSoon.net/Superhero Hype! had a chance to visit the set of the production which had roughly two more weeks of shooting in Shyamalan’s hometown of Philadelphia, most of it taking place in an enormous warehouse that’s been turned into as soundstage as well as other sets being built within an even larger naval yard warehouse. We even saw one amazing set that’s reportedly the largest indoor set on the East Coast, taking up the entire expanse of an airplane hanger.

We can’t say too much more about what we saw, because the movie doesn’t come out for over a year and we want to save some surprises, though it was one of the better set visits we had done. We basically had a chance to talk to just about everyone involved with the movie, including Shyamalan himself, producer Frank Marshall, and most of the cast including Noah Ringer, who plays Aang the titular “Last Airbender,” actor Dev Patel from the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire who plays Prince Zuko, as well as Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz, appearing as brother and sister Sokka and Katara. We also spoke with Shaun Toub (Crash, The Kite Runner), who plays Zuko’s Uncle Iroh, while Aasif Mandvi (“The Daily Show”) is Commander Zhao, the closest the film comes to an antagonist. We also spoke with production designer Philip Messina, a regular Steven Soderbergh collaborator, about how they came up with some of the amazing sets we saw (as well as the ones they built on location in Greenland), as well as costume designer Judianna Makovsky.

The film is the first of a planned trilogy, each one centering around a different element, as Aang, Sokka, Katara and Appa, Aang’s giant six-legged flying bison creature, travel this mythical world in hopes of stopping the war that’s brewing between the four tribes as the Fire Nation advances on its neighbors for land. Aang is an Airbender, thought to be the Avatar who can stop the war and maintain peace by learning the powers of the other tribes. Patel’s Zuko is a prince of the Fire Nation who’s been banished, so he wants to get his hands on Aang to prove himself and earn back his father’s respect.

Obviously, it’s going to be a big movie filled with FX-driven martial arts action, but more importantly, the world and mythology created in Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s animated series is giving everyone involved an opportunity to find or redefine themselves.

It’s been well-documented that Shyamalan’s daughters were the ones who introduced him to the cartoon, and since he’d been interested in doing a franchise that would allow him to tell a story over two or three movies, but also one that would allow him to “say something about himself” where his “accent could be complimentary to the piece,” it seemed like a perfect fit.

To realize the fantastic mythology from the series, Shyamalan assembled an extremely diverse cast with the biggest name actor being one making only his second film appearance! Coming off the huge success of “Slumdog,” Dev Patel has the daunting task of taking on a role that’s far more filled with anger and angst than anything he’s done previously, even admitting he wanted to do something as different from the Danny Boyle Oscar winner as possible. With even less film experience, 12-year-old Noah Ringer is making his film debut, coming from a martial arts background with a number of championships under his black belt; the eloquent young man was also a fan of the cartoon, which made him perfect for the role of Aang. Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone (best known from the “Twilight” movies) will also have more of a chance to show their stuff as the two most important characters in Aang’s journey, two of the Southern Water Tribe who find the avatar encased in ice. (You can see from the teaser that Ringer looks just like Aang, but Rathbone’s personality is very similar to his character, too.)

Everyone we spoke to had a lot of enlightening thoughts about how Night was bringing the magical characters and situations from the cartoon to life with a number of large-scale martial arts fight sequences that incorporate the powers used by the different characters. To be involved with such demanding scenes, the entire cast went through rigorous training to be able to take part in the martial arts and swordplay the film requires. Once they finish filming, there will be at least nine to ten months of FX work by Industrial Light and Magic, helmed by Pablo Helman (War of the Worlds).

Unfortunately, Night doesn’t think they’ll have anything new to show at Comic-Con in San Diego next month, being that it’s in such close proximity to the premiere of the teaser trailer. Night wouldn’t even give us a hint of what to expect when we asked him, although he said that it was one long take that he filmed himself. Hopefully, we’ll be able to share more from the set of all that we had a chance to see, because it’s certainly going to be an exciting movie whether or not you’ve ever had a chance to watch the cartoon.

The Last Airbender opens in theaters on July 2, 2010. Be sure to check out the newly-launched official website as well!

Source: Edward Douglas