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If I Were in Charge Of… “Avatar: The Last Airbender”

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Okay, right off the bat let’s address the title. The original Nickelodeon show was called Avatar:The Last Airbender,however James Cameron has sort of bagsied the title of Avatar with his remarkably dull remake of Fern Gully. When M. Night “I’m sure he made good films once upon a time” Shyamalan made his disastrous cinematic adaptation, he titled it simply The Last​ Airbender, which sounds quite silly, and certainly less cool, without the Avatar bit at the start. I could write a whole essay on why M. Night “Did he call himself M. Night to sound cool?” Shyamalan’s version was an utter train wreck (though it did make decent money back, but still less than ​The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge O​ut of Water). I don’t want to do that, though. I’d rather write about what I would do if I had been put in charge of bringing one of Nickelodeon’s best franchises to the big screen, and the first thing I’m doing is trying for a cooler-sounding title with ​The Avatar:​ Book of Water.

 

Setting and Backstory

The story unfolds in an ancient world divided into four groups: Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, Air Nomads and Water Tribes. Each nation has a different society, and highly skilled individuals able to manipulate their signature elements, which is known as bending. One person in the world is able to manipulate all four elements: The Avatar.

 

Characters and Dream Casting

When I thinking of my casting choices here, I imagined making the film on a very high budget where I could afford the services of anyone I wanted. My choices should hopefully give you a flavour of what I’d be going for, with the younger lead roles played by new and unknown actors for the audience to discover this world with.

Aang​: The current Avatar and last known Airbender. He is twelve and full of joie de vivre and is very protective of his friends.
CASTING: Unknown actor.

 
Katara​: The last waterbender of her tribe, she is warm and adventurous. She is a couple of years older than Aang, and finds him with her brother, Sokka.
CASTING: Unknown actor.

 
Sokka​: Katara’s older brother is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s a brave warrior when it comes to a fight. He’s the most sarcastic of the main trio, but has a pure heart. CASTING: Unknown actor.

 
Zuko​: The prince of Fire Nation, exiled (along with his Uncle Iroh) by his father, Fire Lord Ozai. Zuko is sixteen with a hot temper and acts as the primary antagonist of the film, believing that he can win back favour by capturing The Avatar.
CASTING: Unknown actor.

 
Yue​: A water tribe Princess with hair as white as moonlight. She is compassionate and gentle, with the ability to use waterbending for healing.
CASTING: Unknown actor.

 
Iroh​: The older brother of Fire Lord Ozai, Iroh was usurped and denied the throne, instead serving as a general for the Fire Nation. He appears to be a kindly old man, but is a actually a fierce warrior and superb tactician. Iroh chose to go into exile with Zuko.
CASTING: Jackie Chan – who else could capture the comedy and wisdom of one of Avatar’s most iconic characters?

 
Shinu​: An ambitious and driven Fire Nation captain who is assisting Zuko in his quest to capture The Avatar, though shows him little respect.
CASTING: Daniel Dae Kim – The former Lost star has some great acting chops, and it would be fun to see him exploring a truly sinister character.

Kanna​:
Grandmother and chief carer for Sokka and Katara,Kanna is also one of the wisest people in any water tribe.
CASTING: Lisa Lu – she has the perfect look and grandmotherly tone.

 
Arnook​: The Chief of the Northern Water Tribe, and father of Yue. Initially he is mistrustful of Aang for leading the Fire Nation to his people, who are not warlike.
CASTING: Hiroyuki Sanada – an actor with the experience to pull off portraying this dignified leader.

 
Pakku​: A waterbending master sought out by Aang in the hope he will teach him to master waterbending.
CASTING: Fengyi Zhang – the role calls for someone who can pull off the dry and harsh nature of the character, but have a warmth underneath.

 
Admiral Zhao​: Firelord Ozai’s right-hand man, a master-manipulator who truly believes in the cause of making Fire Nation a true super power.
CASTING: Takeshi Kitano – an iconic Japanese comedian and actor, who can bring a gleeful menace to this sinister figure.

 
Avatar Roku​: The avatar preceding Aang, betrayed and killed by Fire Lord Sozin at the beginning of the wars which engulf the world.
CASTING: Ken Watanabe – He has the ethereal quality and calm required for the role. Firelord

 
Sozin​: The grandfather of Ozai and Iroh, Sozin set The Fire Nation on their path of world domination, plunging the world into war.
CASTING: Chow Yun Fat – A famous face for an important part of the world’s history.

 

PROLOGUE

Since the world of The Avatar is rich and complex, the best way to kick off a film is with a prologue, as found in Peter Jackson’s excellent ​The Lord of the Rings films and Peter Jackson’s terrible ​The Hobbit films. The prologue will explain the world of the film, discussing the four nations and the concept of bending and that balance is kept by The Avatar – but the balance would soon be tipped.

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With the coming of a great comet a new power would rise in The Fire Nation, which Fire Lord Sozin intends to use to make a push for world-domination. He is confronted in his palace by Avatar Roku, who demands he stop, but he refuses and the two begin to battle. During the fight it becomes apparent that the two were friends once. Roku’s mastery of all four elements proves too much for Sozin, and the palace is destroyed. However, Roku cannot bear to see his friend die and saves him – only for Sozin to betray and kill him.

Sozin begins a war that will consume the four worlds for the next hundred years, but he is plagued by the fear that a new Avatar will rise and cast him down. We see elements of the war played out, as Sozin obsesses over the identity of the new Avatar – and finally tracks him down to one of the Airbending nomad groups – and Sozin destroys them all, effectively wiping airbending from the world. However, the child Avatar escapes him, never to be found again. And The Avatar slips from memory to legend…

 

ACT ONE

We begin a hundred years on from the prologue in the Water Nation. Our introduction to this world should be through Katara, whose adventurous spirit propels her and her friends on. We see her waking up and going about her day as a member of the Southern Water Tribe, a large fishing community. She bids a good morning to people she passes and we establish that she’s a fairly open and friendly person. We see her bringing food to Kanna, her grandmother, and helping care for the older woman. There are few men here, only women and children – the men set sail to war some years ago and none have yet returned.

When she finds a quiet moment she ducks into a tent and begins to practice Water Bending, a martial arts technique that allows her to manipulate and control water. The tent door opens and Sokka enters, causing her to panic and lose control. Sokka hurriedly closes the tent door and reprimands her, stating “she knows Bending is banned”. They argue, and we learn that their tribe live in territory controlled by Fire Nation – their tribe was defeated during the war and Waterbending had all but died out. Frustrated, Katara heads out to practice outside the city walls. Sokka can’t stop her, so has to follow reluctantly – his loyalty to his sister prevents him from abandoning her.
 
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At the gates of the town they must negotiate their way past Fire Nation guards,inventing a poorly substantiated story about going fishing. The guards barely care though, and let them through. After all, they’re just kids. The pair, still bickering, get in a boat and set out on the river – Sokka reasoning that if they’re going on a pretend fishing trip he may as well try fish. While mucking about, they suddenly find themselves in rapid waters and are thrust out to see, where they just manage to escape from the boas as it is crushed between plates of ice. They find themselves stranded on a large stretch of ice, formed from an iceberg.
As their bickering erupts into a full fight now, the pair of them manage to crack the iceberg. Inside they can see the figure of a boy. Katara abandons her feud with Sokka and begins to work toward freeing the figure, Sokka joining in eventually. The two of them chip away until one crack blasts air at them and they stumble back. The iceberg begins to blast itself apart from the inside, and a column of bright light shoots into the sky as it erupts blasting Sokka and Katara back.

Across the sea we find ourselves with a Fire Nation boat, a metal monstrosity belching fumes out into the darkening sky. Here we meet the film’s primary antagonist, Prince Zuko. He stands at the bow of the ship, appearing furtive. His Uncle comes out to meet him, and through an agitated exchange we learn a little of their backstories – not an exposition dump, but hints of the depths there to be mined in the future. Their discourse is interrupted by the eruption of light in the distance. Iroh tried to dismiss this as an effect not unlike aurora borealis, but Zuko is immediately convinced – from everything he has read and studied, this is the sign that The Avatar has returned. And by capturing him he can regain his father’s approval. He orders his second in command, a calculating individual names Shinu, to make for the light source.

Back on the iceberg, Sokka and Katara come to – confused from the shock of the explosion. The confusion isn’t abated by what they see: a young boy enthusiastically playing with an enormous, hairy creature. Katara introduces herself, and the boy explains that he is Aang, and this is his flying bison, Appa (something Sokka isn’t keen on believing until he first sees it take off). It is important that we see the fun-loving and humorous side of both Aang and the world of the film – it will have serious moments, and it is set during difficult times of war, but it needs the light to bring sharper relief to the dark.

Katara is curious and tries to find out more from Aang, while Sokka is more hostile. Through their conversation, Aang learns he has been frozen for nearly a hundred years and that The Fire Nation have seized control of the world. At the mention of Fire Nation, Sokka becomes suddenly panicked – realising they will have seen the light and they’ll be heading here right now! He says they have to go, but Katara refuses saying he’s over-reacting – when suddenly a fire bolt hits the ground near them. A group of Fire Nation guards approach telling them to calm down, and they try find out what is going on and what caused the light. Katara hits them with water and shouts to run. They have a fight with these guards, in which we see Aang’s airbending skills and Sokka handling himself well too.

After the fight they realise that Aang is the last airbender, and must therefore be the legendary Avatar. He reluctantly concedes it is true. While travelling back to their village they see Zuko’s ship arriving. Sokka wants to return and fight to protect his village, but Katara says they have to leave to protect The Avatar. Aang interrupts them, and says he has a plan – they rescued him from the ice, so he owes them.

We cut to Zuko and his men arriving at the water tribe, greeted not with a fanfare (as one might expect of a Prince) but with indifference. The most respect goes to Iroh, and even then not all are respectful. Zuko and Shinu round up the people of the tribe and begin interrogating them. As a note, Shinu should go too far and have to be told to back off by Zuko – especially when threatening Kanna. This should set up conflict and insubordination between Shinu and Zuko. As they are working their way through people, aang arrives in the village and explains that he is the Avatar. After explaining how he became trapped in the iceberg, Zuko believes him and has him taken aboard the ship and they leave, though Shinu has to be shouted down from raising the place to the ground.

While aboard the ship and restrained, Aang learns from Zuko and Iroh that the Air Nomads are all gone. Neither revel in telling him this, it weighs upon them seemingly. Aang is devastated, and defiant – refusing to believe them. During the end of this exchange, they are sailing back out far into the sea – and suddenly the sailors shout and point at something emerging from the clouds – Appa is racing toward the ship. Iroh and Zuko become distracted, allowing Aang the chance to free himself from his bonds, and use his airbending to get
himself some room, but he is surrounded. Sokka throws him a stick from Appa’s back, which Aang catches. The Fire soldiers laugh derisively at him, asking how a stick will save him from their fire attacks. Aang joins in the laughter, then opens the stick out into hi glider and launches up into the air, landing with Appa and the trio escape. Zuko is left on the ship fuming and swearing that he will capture The Avatar.

 

ACT TWO

Away from trouble, Aang is still struggling to believe that the Air Nomads are gone. Katara and Sokka try to calm him, and gently reaffirm that it is true- but Aang needs to see it for himself. He offers to take them back to their tribe, and thanks them for their help. Sokka and Katara both state that they need to go with him. They are impressed that he didn’t abandon their village, and they believe that he can help bring an end to this terrible war. Their first stop will be The Southern Air Temple, where he was raised.

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It is important to have Aang experience the loss of his people, so that we can understand the weight of the situation. The Southern Air Temple is at the top of a small mountain surrounded by forests, though everything is very autumnal. As they arrive a cold breeze blows through the place. Aang can explore seeing memories of himself and his family, friends and teachers here. He becomes overwhelmed with emotion, and his eyes light up bright blue – entering the Avatar state. Katara catches him as he falls prone.

Aang is able to journey to a spirit world, a bizarre and cold echo of reality. Here is is surrounded by hooded figures, who seem menacing at first – Aang becoming scared as they close in on him, before one lowers their hood and we see it is Avatar Roku. He explains that they mean him no harm, and explains who he is – and that the other figures around them are also former avatars themselves. Aang is confused and scared, but Roku is understanding. He explains that Sozin’s comet is returning, and the war must be concluded before it does or Fire Nation will have the power to destroy everything that remains in their path. Aang doesn’t know what to do, what he can do? Roku remains calm, telling him he must master the four elements in order to master the Avatar State. He then tells him to travel to Bajau and, before he can ask anything more, Aang wakes up.

We jump to Zuko’s Fire Nation ship, pulling into a port. It’s full of a rabble of soldiers. Iroh is counselling Zuko against what he is about to do, but Zuko counters that they’re going to need men. They walk through the port together, and are shown no respect by other Fire Nation soldiers. This seems to especially sting Shinu. They enter into the building where they are greeted by Admiral Zhao. He does little to hide his contempt for Iroh and Zuko, but listens as the young prince explains that he believes he has found The Avatar. After hearing him out, Zhao declares that he thinks this all sounds highly unlikely, but as he is The Prince he will grant him two ships from his fleet – on the condition that Shinu captain one of the vessels. Zhao is one to hedge his bets, backing as many horses as possible. He manages to find a moment to have an aside with Shinu, where he says that if The Avatar is indeed returned, and Shinu can capture him for Zhao – the rewards will be there. Stop at nothing to bring the boy to me.

Meanwhile back at The Air Temple Aang is still in a malaise over events. He explains that they need to head to Bajau, which is met with concern. The Southern Water Tribe have not heard anything from Bajau in years and the journey will be hard taking them into the frozen north. The group suddenly become aware that they are being watched. There are some tense scenes of investigation, which reach their climax with the introduction of Momo, a flying lemur – who plagues Sokka. Aang finds Momo’s antics hilarious, and as his playful nature wins out again he realises what he has to fight for. His new friends, they are already becoming his new family. They reach a resolution to set out together to find a waterbending master to teach both Aang and Katara.

 

ACT THREE

The gang make their way to Bajau, enduring freezing temperatures and blizzards. At one point, near giving up, they find a ship frozen into the ice and are able to take shelter inside it. They find diaries and letters which suggest this boat once carried a group of the men who had left the Southern Water Tribe. We have a nice moment of bonding for Sokka and Katara as they find evidence that their father, Hakoda, was here – and managed to leave the ship and keep on with his journey North. They sleep in the ship and in the morning the blizzard has calmed, allowing them to resume their progress.

Meanwhile we also see Zuko’s progress, with him briefing his men on their destination: Bajau. He is certain The Avatar is heading there, not only from the fact they were last seen heading north – but also that place is one of few still out of Fire Nation control – but not for long. Shinu explains that the reason it’s out of their control is that it’s a frozen waste. Zuko adds on that it is also one of the last havens of waterbending, and is seeming security would make it the perfect place. Zuko then unfurls new plans for the ships, with attachments that will let them cut through the ice. Iroh is proud of his nephew’s intelligent deductions and strategy.

When near Bajau, the group are met by a group of waterbending warriors in thick furs. There is a brief skirmish before one of them recognises Katara and Sokka. Lowering his hood, Katara and Sokka recognise their grandfather, Pakku. Their reuniting isn’t warm, how could it be with all this snow? But he does welcome them into Bajau. It is hardly the sprawling city one might have imagined, but is instead little more than a village full of people who live in fear of being discovered. When they realise that Aang is the Avatar, the group are introduced to the tribe’s chief, Arnook – and his daughter Yue, a beauty with hair as white as moonlight. She and Sokka share an immediate attraction and connection. Arnook tells them that their father is not here, and he hopes wherever he is that he is safe.

We see some scenes of Sokka and Yue together, with her bringing out his more sincere side. She is a good influence on him, and he can make her laugh. There is definitely the beginnings of a romance here. Meanwhile, Aang and Katara implore Pakku to teach them more of waterbending – but he refuses due to Katara being a girl. He is won round after his refusal does not dissuade the pair form learning, with Katara practising anyway, and teaching Aang. Seeing that their commitment to learn is sincere, Pakku relents and begins their instruction. He tells them that the power of waterbending is derived from Tui and La, the
moon and water spirits who reflect and balance each other – and the true secret of Bajau is that they guard these entities. He takes them to a hut in the middle of the city, and inside is a pool where two koi fish swim. By studying them and being in their presence, your waterbending will improve.

At the same time as Aang and Katara are learning this, Yue has taken Sokka to a quiet spot just outside the city. Here she tells him that she was gravely ill as a baby and her father took her to the spirits, and they restored her – which is why her hair shines in the dark. In return Sokka can tell how he had to watch his father leave and help raise his sister. This should be pretty intimate, and end in a kiss. The pair can be interrupted by the sound of war drums. They race back to Bajau, where they see the oncoming Fire Nation ships. Yue rings warning bells and the siege of Bajau begins.

 
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This fight is fierce, and an intriguing one. The Fire Nation have the numbers, but their fire is weak to water. The fight rages on, with Fire Nation unleashing beasts of war, destroying Bajau’s outer wall – allowing the invading forces to enter. This fight should be fairly epic, with Iroh and Pakku going toe to toe. Zuko hunts down Aang, and the two have a showdown amidst the chaos. Zuko manages to gain the upperhand in this fight, when Shinu betrays him and tries to capture the Avatar – only to be thwarted by Katara, who blasts him with water, and then sides with Aang against Zuko. They fight, and together manage to incapacitate Zuko. Shinu runs and takes shelter in the hut where the koi fish are. He looks around at the scrolls and into the pool, and he realises he has a chance, and he takes out his sword.
Outside the battle seems to be going the way of the waterbenders, when suddenly they lose their abilities. Shinu emerges, triumphantly holding the slaughtered moon spirit. Pakku is grief-stricken that he has failed his charge to keep them safe, being distracted. Iroh puts up his weapon, seeing the fight is over – and he seeks out Zuko. All seems lost, when suddenly Aang’s rage causes him to enter the Avatar state. He unites with the Ocean Spirit, Tui, and uses his power to rout the Fire Nation forces – destroying all but one of the ships, allowing others to escape. Shinu is dragged into the depths of the ocean, never to be seen again – while Iroh and Zuko vanish together.

Speaking through Aang, the Ocean Spirit informs the waterbenders that there is a way to restore the Moon Spirit, and he turns to Yue. She understands, and takes his hand. She turns to her father and Sokka and says this was her destiny, and that she’ll always be with them. There is a flash of light and she is gone, with Aang returned to normal. The waterbenders have their abilities back. As thanks for their help, Pakku presents them with scrolls which will teach them the techniques needed to be true waterbending and the group prepare to make the next step of their journey – heading to Earth Kingdom.

 

CREDITS

So there it is. That’s my plan for a first film in The Avatar series. Huge thanks go to Siôn Clarke who provided the artwork for the article, and you can find more of his work at http://flyingcubs.tumblr.com. Please share any and all thoughts in the comments below, and if you enjoyed – share and like! Hopefully we’ll be back soon with Part 2 – The Book of Earth!
 

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