Netflix are banking a metric ton of cash on their new live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Though the last attempt to adapt the cartoon to live-action can only be described as an unceremonious flop, the streamer clearly thinks they have a winner on their hands, pouring a reported $15 million into each of the series’ eight episodes. That’s late-stage Game of Thrones money. It’s more than The Last of Us money. It’s almost as much as other-Avatar money (but don’t get them mixed up, water n’all).
There’s reason to be cheerful if you’re a Last Airbender fan. Asked about the series by Variety, Netflix’s head of scripted series in the US, Peter Friedlander, called the currently-in-production show “stunning spectacle,” telling the outlet that the streamer’s adaptation both “honours the original and celebrates its new iteration.” He compared their approach to “special IP” a la Last Airbender to that of The Sandman, the wildly successful TV version of Neil Gaiman’s classic graphic novels which hit Netflix last year. Sounds like it’s in good hands, assuming it isn’t cancelled out of the gates.
Here’s everything you need to know about Netflix’s live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series.
What is Avatar: The Last Airbender about?
The original cartoon centred on a 12-year-old called Aang, who lives in a world in which certain individuals have the power to telekinetically manipulate one of the four elements — air, earth, fire or water — at will, a process known as “bending.” With the world in turmoil amid a war waged by the Fire Nation, Aang is the last of his own nation, the Air Nomads. The series ran for three seasons in the mid-2000s, and was heavily inspired by Chinese martial arts, and the nation’s broader cultural iconography.
Original series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are no longer involved with the adaptation, having departed a showrunners in mid-2020, but it’s expected to follow the same story as its animated predecessor. New showrunner Albert Kim, who joined the series in August 2021, says that their creative watchword on the series is “authenticity… To the story. To the characters. To the cultural influences. Authenticity is what keeps us going, both in front of the camera and behind it.”
The series is being filmed using the same VFX technology as seen on The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi, a virtual production stage which uses LED backdrops in lieu of greenscreens.
Who will star in Avatar: The Last Airbender?
After Shyalaman’s Avatar film was denounced by some critics and fans for alleged white-washing, the creators of the new series have emphasised their commitment to “culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed casting.” For Kim, “this was a chance to showcase Asian and Indigenous characters as living, breathing people. Not just in a cartoon, but in a world that truly exists, very similar to the one we live in.” The Stand actor Gordon Cormier will star as Aang, with Kiawentiio as Katara, Ian Ousley as Sokka, Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko, and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as General Iroh.
The expansive ensemble features the likes of George Takei and Industry’s Ken Leung in supporting roles, while Daniel Dae Kim, known for voicing General Fong in the animated series, will portray Fire Lord Ozai.