“I wrote the first [movie], which I’m just finishing and polishing up – that’s what I was doing this morning,” grinned M. Night Shyamalan this week when we caught up with him to talk about “The Last Airbender,” his upcoming film based on the hugely-successful Nickelodeon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
While making a film for a younger audience is a big change for the man behind such thrillers as “The Sixth Sense” and “The Happening,” he told us that the gig is a great chance to stretch some new muscles. “What’s great about doing something like that is that let’s say your instinct is to distill me down into three characteristics: thrillers, scary, twist. Let’s just say, ‘Oh, that’s what he does,’” Shyamalan explained. “Then when they come see ‘Last Airbender’ – which has none of those three things in there – and yet, you’ll be able to tell in 30 seconds that I directed it. Now you’ll have to go, ‘Wait, I realize there are other things that define him. [Things] I knew, but was never really acknowledging them on the same level as these other characteristics.’”
According to the Indian-born, Philly-raised writer/director, his “Avatar” is far from kid’s stuff; in fact, there’s plenty of adult themes to capture the attention of fans of all ages.
“The spirituality, the centering on relationships and family, on inherent optimism. Things like that, you’ll see,” he explained of the series, which tells the story of Aang, a 112-year-old monk who appears to be 12 years old, and can control the elements. “It seems like an odd fit [for me], but when you see the movie, literally, it’s full of Buddhist philosophy, it has all this stuff. All the elemental stuff that really lends itself to…almost a Hindu kind of connotations; there’s a lot of Hinduism in it. So suddenly you’ll see those kind of things in the [future] movies, and I think it’ll reflect really well and make the relationship more accurate and more complex, which will be a great thing.”
And yes, you read that last quote correctly. Although Shyamalan has held off on re-visiting hits like “Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable,” he is eager to break into the sequel business with future “Avatar” flicks.
“I’m supposed to write the second one this Fall when we’re prepping,” he said, noting that the first “Avatar” will hit theaters in July 2010. “I don’t want it to feel like ‘Oh, the first one made a lot of money, let’s make another one.’ It’s not that at all. This is a story told over three movies. A very clear, Shakespearean story that’s told over three movies. And for me, that’s when a franchise works the best, like ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ It’s when it’s all plotted out in advance [that sequels work], and this is the clarity of what we’re doing.”