The Real Problem with Netflix's Avatar Announcement
Netflix made major waves as the announcement came down that the beloved animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender was being re-imagined and produced to air on Netflix as a live action show. Original series creators Michael DiMartino and Brian Konietzko are attached to the project. While it is still unclear what their roles will be, or really any details about the production, the main sticking points have already been raised. It's a re-imagining of the animated series. It will be live action.
Okay, just take a moment to get all of the M Night Shyamalan related vomiting out of the way.
I'm actually not worried overmuch about the translation of Avatar the Last Airbender into a live action show since we've seen good effects shows run on smaller budgets. Additionally, the core of the show and what made it memorable was less the wow-factor of the effects and more a connection and engagement with character and plot. Don't get me wrong, the choreography and martial arts adaptations into the various bending forms are super amazing to look at and all of the show's effects were top notch. I'm just saying that that the show is memorable more for Iroh believing in you than it is for Jet being stunningly good with hook swords.
As stated we have very few actual details about what is coming with this series. No casting or even a promise of release window has yet been made known. That said, there is one word that concerns me: "re-imagining". Not BASED in Avatar the Last Airbender. A RE-IMAGINING of it.
I honestly don't think there's any reason to re-imagine the original show. It's one of the most beloved children's shows in recent memory and remains forward-looking in its depiction of childhood, growth, war, and dozens of other themes. Doing a re-imagining of the show simply does not make logical sense. Especially when you consider the sheer amount of Avatar lore that has been hinted at but we never actually got to see. Show us the founding of Republic City and the adult lives of these characters, show us the lives of other Avatars and the various struggles they underwent as they maintained balance within the world. Show us life in the Fire Nation colonies and the years of Fire Nation expansion. The establishment of the nations after Avatar Wan. Show us Zuko asking for parental advice from Iroh because he cannot handle a 3-year-old asking about his facial scar.
The other side of the problem here is with regards to Netflix itself. Re-imagining such a beloved series is an easy way to keep and grow subscriber numbers. It's a safe money move. That is especially depressing coming from Netflix because the platform is seen by so many as a place where you can properly experiment. While Netflix originals have seen a dip in quality in recent months, it is self-evident that programs like Bojack Horseman, Final Space, Beasts of No Nation, etc would not have retained their quality had they been produced anywhere else. Netflix has been fertile ground to explore and push art beyond what is simply marketable. Re-imagining the original Last Airbender series strikes a particularly sour note since it is the same lazy money grab we've seen from the rest of the entertainment market. Such a thing was always bound to happen. Any growing business will eventually need to look at profits in a corporate way once it reaches a certain size/market share. It's just sad to see it happening in real time like this.
My point is, with the sky being the limit it seems counter-intuitive to announce or even make a series that is just a remake of what doesn't need a do-over. A few years back there was a fan rumor going around about an Avatar cycle in which the Avatar is a set of identical twins and they each bend a pair of elements. That's super interesting and would be a cool concept to explore. It saddens me that while what we will get will doubtless be a quality work, it will be an unnecessary and repetitive one.