“The Last Airbender” hit theaters this week, offering moviegoers a live-action adaptation of the hit Nickelodeon animated series — or more accurately, its first season.
In order to cram 20 episodes of cartoon story into 103 minutes of movie, however, some parts of the “Airbender” tale had to be left on the editing room floor. And when I spoke to director M. Night Shyamalan about the film, I asked him about the scenes that didn’t make the final cut.
“The single most difficult decision was [cutting] the Kyoshi Warriors,” he said of a chapter in the story that involves Aang, Sokka, and Katara encountering a group of female warriors along their travels.
“We shot [the scene] and they were amazing, and we spent an unbelievable amount of time choreographing them,” he explained. “And they just distracted from the movie, because the movie wasn’t about them.”
According to Shyamalan, the decision to edit out the Kyoshi Warriors had a lot to do with their lack of involvement in the final chapter of the first season — and therefore, the finale of the film itself.
“It was like introducing these great characters who had nothing to do with the third act,” he explained. “That’s what happens in the series, but in the short form of the movie, it becomes blatant. Where did they go? Why aren’t they in the third act?”
“So I made the very difficult decision of pulling them from the movie and introducing them in the second movie if we have the opportunity,” he added.
Along with the removal of the Kyoshi Warriors, Shyamalan also admitted to cutting much of the slapstick humor of the story.
“I did it naturally in the first draft, and as the drafts went on, I kept on doing it more,” he said of cutting out the jokey side of the trio’s adventure. “Then when we shot it, I did it even more, and then when we were editing it, I kept on reducing it.”
“What I found was… the audience wants to take this seriously,” he explained. “They want this to be real and important to everyone, and if a character is being too silly, they go, ’Okay, I guess he’s not very upset. I guess there’s not a big threat. I guess the fact that an entire culture’s been wiped out is not a big deal.'”
“When everyone has the same threats and value systems going on, you really start to lean in more,” continued Shyamalan. “You have to be really careful — a slapstick moment can really drain a movie.”
Did Shyamalan make the right choice in the editing room? Let us know what you think in the comment section or on Twitter!