It’s finally opening day for The Last Airbender, the epic Avatar adaptation that arrives under a gloom of mean-spirited and short-sighted reviews, many outraged about the racial issues surrounding its casting. More on that a bit later with my review.
A couple of days ago, in the lead-up to the chaos, we were able to snag M. Night Shyamalan via cell. (Also: Check out our new Inception review)
I wanted to ask him a couple questions about the astonishing look and tempo of this movie. Relying on long takes, naturalistic battle sequences and some of the closest close-ups you’ve ever seen, it’s a defiantly anti-Bourne adventure. It wants to pause and breathe and marvel – and I kind of dig that. Our quick Q&A:
At what point in the process do you decide that you were going to allow the film to breathe like this? There are sequences of such silent splendor, and some of those long takes are actually kind of hypnotic…I look at something like “Clash of the Titans” and this is just a 180-degree turn.
I just don’t believe in making movies in the editing room. That’s not cinema. You have to set out to create something very, very designed. When you think of the classic movies of all-time, the Hitchcock movies or The Godfather, they’re all so designed with an intention of seeing the world with a certain point of view. The editing room’s to fix our mistakes, not to create. So instead I go and hunt for a specific sort of energy, and color, and I try to create these moments. And I have no buyer’s remorse whatsoever, I decide and move forward and feel totally at peace. (More from CNN’s Geek Out beat: The Last Airbender fan reactions)
You talk about energetic moments, you really hold of some these crescendos a whole lot longer than I think many filmmakers would have even attempted. There are big, big moments here, when things happen they sort of explode.
Well I think you saw a little bit of it in Unbreakable, the poetry…action as more opera. Thinking on that scale, of creating the proscenium. And when we did the score for Airbender, we were watching the film without any dialogue, and you had these powerful images mixing with the music, and that’s your dream version really – if you could just turn off the dialogue. But James Newton Howard’s score is my favorite score that he’s ever done – it’s the the best we’ve ever done together. When we approach scoring, we do it very differently; he writes themes based on the script, and writes a suite of music, and then we pull the score from there and match it to the movie. The 14-minute original suite is what’s going to be on the CD. (More at Techland: Twilight’s Edward Cullen – Worst Movie Character Ever?)
This book – Book 1, as the movie says in the beginning – ends on a note that clearly points to more movies, and I’ve read that this is aiming to be a trilogy, right? Are you already committed for parts two and three?
Emotionally committed, absolutely, but that’s definitely on them. The whole point for me was to make a long-form story. Not to have those repetitive chapters, where the characters all start again on a new adventure, I wanted to see the complete picture. And so the story ahead, there are much more issues in the second chapter, and we’re all going to a large-scale evening the 3rd and final moment. I’m a big fan of the origins stories, that’s my thing and so I wrote a first draft of the second movie in hopes that we get to make one. It’s darker, a whole lot goes wrong, and I like the idea of getting darker with each movie, that as the kids get older, the story gets older. But we’ll see.
And of course I have to ask about the racial controversy – that you didn’t cast Asians in the lead children’s roles. I couldn’t help but notice that the rest of the cast is quite racially diverse – was it just that you needed the best kids that walked into those auditions on those days?
The whole scandal is ridiculous and it’s ironic and it saddens me. At the same time I get it, people are sensitive, but it’s an incredible small but vocal group that is upset here. And I don’t want to dismiss them but I am the poster child for diversity and this is the most culturally diverse tent pole movie trilogy ever. It’s staggering in its diversity, and I’m not bragging, it’s just the way I see the world. I don’t think there’s an ‘appropriate Asian’ or ‘inappropriate.’ Anime is based on an art form where facial form is ambiguous; I see the whole world.
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