M.Night Shyamalan is known for spine-chilling thrillers with ghoulish final-frame twists like in The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and The Village. But director M Night Shyamalan says he loved getting the chance to be a big kid again when making his latest film ‘extravaganza’ The Last Airbender.
Based on a hit children’s TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the film in which the world is at war and its fate lies in the hand of one small boy. ‘I think each artist thinks of themselves at a certain period of their life and a little bit of me perceives me as a ten-year-old a lot,’ Shyamalan tells AAP from his home in the US.
‘You see it, even in my darker pieces – there’s always a perspective from that age group. Whether it’s Unbreakable when he sees his father in a certain way, obviously in The Sixth Sense and also in Signs which tells the kid’s point of view of what’s going on.
‘It’s always feathered in there. ‘The Last Airbender tells the story of a primitive world which is being threatened with extinction by the Fire Nation, who aims to annihilate the more peace-loving nations of Air, Water and Earth.
But then a ‘waterbender’, who is still learning to control her powers, discovers the long-lost Aang – not only the world’s last airbender, but an avatar sent to save the earth.
It was Shyamalan’s own children who introduced him to the captivating TV series which inspired the big-budget, CGI-assisted, 3D film. ‘Usually people are getting stabbed in all of my movies,’ Shyamalan laughs.
‘It was fun to make a movie that the whole family was a part of from beginning to end. ‘(My kids) were hanging out (on set) and they’re friends with the cast and when I come home, the cast is at my house – it was like that kind of atmosphere.
‘It was a very emotional, fun time – kind of being a kid and doing something for the family and families and thinking with a different part of my brain. It was a soul-enriching kind of thing.’ Wrapping the movie and saying goodbye to the young cast was a tough day, Shyamalan says.
‘It’s always emotional at the end of a movie, but that one in particular was hard,’ he says. Shyamalan is hoping to get the green light on a sequel to The Last Airbender, but he doesn’t think his darker film-making days are over. ‘As the kids grow older and become teenagers, I’ll start to make movies for them at that age, and soon they’ll be adults and we’ll be making only thrillers again,’ he laughs.
‘But it’s nice to make movies for your kids while you have kids.’ The director always had it in his mind to create an alternate world on film, but he acknowledges that in transforming the hit TV series for the big screens he is under a lot of pressure from hard-core fans to get it right.
‘They know the width of the arrow on the head and all that stuff,’ he says. But it was a story that should always have been told on a grand scale, he argues.
‘The ideas were so cinematic … it felt like it was almost too big for what it was before,’ he says. Shyamalan says he had always considered CGI effects to be his ‘arch nemesis’, but he embraced them for this film and soon learned to love them.
‘I’m glad I don’t see it as an enemy anymore,’ he says.
‘I’m a technophobe a little bit. I think it’s just my old curmudgeon ways of not wanting to change, more than anything else.
‘But spending all this time working with CGI I’ve really come to love it as an art form … I think I’ve learned a new tool for the belt.’ Shyamalan, who describes himself as a ‘minimalist film maker’ doesn’t envisage a CGI-dominated movie like Transformers on his horizons.
‘I think when I go back to doing other movies I’ll be able to use it as a tool, but it will still have a minimal part of the story-telling process,’ he says.