Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The New M. Night Shyamalan: Can The Last Airbender Save Him?

M. Night Shymalan is a director who has branded himself so well that most people recognize his name.

I think I've seen every M. Night Shymalan film in the theater with the exception of The Happening. After it's opening weekend, the film audience for The Happening almost disappeared immediatly due to the fact that this is was of the least satisfying films Shymalan has ever made.

And while films like Lady in the Water and The Happening have recently been generally perceived as big disappointments, the curiousity can't keep everyone at bay.

While M. Night Shymalan plays with different types of paranormal themes, his films end up having a certain feel that is unique, but can also make his very unique films seem unoriginal.

I have long felt like M. Night Shyamalan should stop writing his own original screenplays for awhile, despite his Oscar nomination for writing The Sixth Sense. It's hard to be deeply creative, stylisticly and in creating rich stories and characters, and as a result I think the quality of films branded with M. Night's name have been weakened.

While I could think of a variety of potential stories I'd like to see M. Night Shyamalan adapt (like The Life of Pi by Yann Martel), I am proud, yes, that's right, proud of Shyamalan's attempt to veer away from the original modern paranormal fable and instead do something different. Next year, we will certainly all hear about the great success (or perhaps the failure) of The Last Airbender.

The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender is the popular award winning animated television show about a mystical Asian world with four kingdoms represented by Eart, Wind, Air, and Fire. In this story the Fire Nation is waging war against the other nations, and the last hope is Aang the last known survivor of the peaceful Airbenders.

While a martial artsy mystical film with a full cast of characters doesn't quite line up with M.

Night Shyamalan's previous films, I commend him for working with a new type of genre and adapting from previous source material. I feel like not only does this film have great potential to draw from an audience that might have passed on previous films by this director.

Similarly, I think that Shyamalan's style has the potential to spring some creativity in a martial arts action film, that could create some lasting stylistic elements (I think of what the Wachowski brothers did with the Matrix, and how they really brought some new looks and feel to film).

As a person who even found redeeming qualities of Lady in the Water, I consider myself a moderate Shyamalan fan, and am interested to see how The Last Airbender is received, and really hope it's great. Additionally, this films elemental nature will of course have a water element, which I am convinced is Shymalan's deepest fear/fascination.

I have a feeling that the graph above will have a peak much higher than recent films, and that it will capture a whole new audience for the director and potentially lead the director down a new path, particularly if it is made into a trilogy with Shyamalan involved with each of the projects.


Elisa said...

I watched the "The Village" in cinema and it was the worsest movie ever!

Loren Eaton said...

Shyamalan sure is polarizing, isn't he? My very, very humble theory was that he practiced a certain type of story (the twist story) until he got really good at it, had stupendous success with it and then realized he couldn't build an entire career on it. Hence Lady in the Water and The Happening. It's painful to watch someone practice in public.

Krispy said...

I may give him the benefit of the doubt and check this movie out. The first three movies were wonderful, the under-seen Unbreakable is a real treasure. But everything from the village on has been, IMHO, awful. I saw all of them in the theater, too, and felt that Shyamalan's success had ruined his vision.

Anonymous said...

The Happening was super painful to watch. I am just thankful I saw it on DVD and didn't spend the $$ at the theatre.

That said, for some reason I want to give M.Night the benefit of the dobut. I'm sure we will see The Last Airbender...and I'm sure I will have high hopes...

RC said...

@ Elisa - "the worsest" - really?

@ Loren - For sure, I feel like something very magical happened with the Sixth Sense that in away was an early "peak" and nothing else could live up if it was the same way.

@Fistful, I agree -- I really liked Unbreakable a lot -- probably underappreciated.

@ ehome -- you want to see the Last Airbender? that surprises me.

Loren Eaton said...

RC, here's a theory: You can measure the quality of Shyamalan's films by calculating the ratio of his cameo time to total running time. I'd argue it's an inverse relationship.

Jamie Dawn said...

Who knows?
I really liked Sixth Sense and Signs, and I also enjoyed The Village. I could NOT endure Lady in the Water, and I kept fast forwarding it to the end. It was awful.

Eralel83 said...

We LOVE Avatar- hopefully he will do the cartoons justice.