2010 Preview: The Last Airbender
Release Date: July 2

Studio: Paramount

Genre: Fantasy

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Writer: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Noah Ringer, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Cliff Curtis, Nicola Peltz, Jessica Andres, Seychelle Gabriel, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Randall Duk Kim

Studio Description: In a world where the elements Water, Earth, Fire and Air can be controlled by people known as "benders", the Fire Nation is waging a ruthless, oppressive war to control the other great nations. The only hope for stopping the brutal war rests on the shoulders of a reluctant young boy named Aang (Ringer). The last known survivor of the peaceful Air Nomads and the Airbenders, Aang is the Avatar. The Avatar is the physical re-incarnation of the world, with the power to manipulate all four elements and draw upon the power, knowledge, and experiences of the Avatar's previous incarnations. The Avatar is responsible for maintaining balance between the four nations of the world and the spirit world, hence keeping the balance of the world. Aided by a protective teenage Waterbender named Katara (Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Rathbone), Aang begins a perilous journey to restore balance to their war-torn world. Standing in their way are the Fire Nation's Admiral Zhao (Mandvi) and Prince Zuko (Patel), the banished prince of the Fire Nation who seeks to capture Aang to regain his honor.

Watch the Trailer

Analysis: After writing and directing massive hits The Sixth Sense ($293.5 million) and Signs ($228 million), M. Night Shyamalan was one of the hottest names in Hollywood, seemingly becoming one of the very few moviemakers with recognizably bankable names. And while his next movie, The Village, grossed a solid $114.2 million in 2004, it opened big and fizzled quickly, and Lady in the Water ($42.3 million) and The Happening ($64.5 million) followed suit. What's more, these three movies garnered progressively worse reactions from audiences; The Village received a "B-" from Box Office Mojo readers, while Lady in the Water got a "C+" and The Happening got a "C."

In an apparent effort to get back in the good graces of audiences (and the studios who finance his movies), M. Night Shyamalan's next picture is the first where he is not working from an original idea. Instead, he is directing the live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon's popular Asian-themed animated TV show, Avatar: The Last Airbender (to avoid confusion with James Cameron's blockbuster of the same name, producers decided to drop "Avatar" from the title).

Adaptations of Asian-themed source material have struggled lately. Movies like Digimon: The Movie ($9.6 million), Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie ($19.8 million), Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li ($8.7 million), Dragonball Evolution ($9.4 million) and Astro Boy ($19.6 million) were all disappointments. The Pokemon movies may provide a good comparison, despite being significantly more popular than Avatar: The Last Airbender when the first big-screen movie was released. Pokemon: The First Movie grossed a sizable $85.8 million in 1999, but its sequels faded quickly: Pokemon: The Movie 2000 dropped to $43.8 million and the last movie, Pokemon Heroes, was a limited release in 2003 that grossed around $750,000. However, the Pokemon movies featured animation similar to the Pokemon TV show, whereas The Last Airbender is a big-budget live-action adaptation. In this way, at least, The Last Airbender appears to offer something noticeably different from its original form.

Besides its source material-related challenges, The Last Airbender is debuting on one of the busiest weekends of the year, with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Knight & Day also opening. Eclipse and Knight & Day should monopolize teenage and young adult audiences, and The Last Airbender could still find success with younger kids familiar with the TV show. This built-in audience will help, but, all things considered, it would be surprising if The Last Airbender restored M. Night Shyamalan's box office stature.

Related Movies: Dragonball Evolution, The Forbidden Kingdom, Warriors of Virtue, The Dark Crystal, Eragon, Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie, Pokemon: The First Movie, Stardust, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Lady in the Water, The Happening, Astro Boy, Digimon: The Movie

Related Charts: Fantasy - Live Action; Action - Martial Arts; TV Adaptation (Live Action); Sword and Sorcery

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2010 Preview