The writer-director of The Sixth Sense is back, though this time around no one sees dead people. Instead, M. Night Shyamalan is taking on something perhaps riskier: a live-action retelling of a beloved animated series. If he has his way, The Last Airbender will be the first of an epic trilogy that follows Aang, a young avatar who can control the elements, as he tries to unite Air, Water and Earth against Fire. Sound like deep stuff? That's because it is. It may be a family-friendly film, but it's clear that Night doesn't take his moviemaking responsibilities any less seriously just because this isn't a thriller. In fact, when young viewers are involved, the stakes just might be higher.
Oprah.com caught up with the director about staying true to the original series, his spiritual side and the controversies of casting a culturally diverse film.
Rachel Bertsche: The Last Airbender is based on an animated series that's beloved in its own right. Did you feel a lot of pressure to please the fans of the original series? Did you try to stay true to the original story or to put your own spin on it?
M. Night Shyamalan: Both, actually. I'm a fan of the original series. I wasn't hired to do this, you know? It was as if one of the fans petitioned Paramount Pictures to make the movie. So I didn't have to go, 'Well what do the fans want?' I'm the fan. I wasn't brought into someone else's world; it's my world. I have as much ownership as they do. So it was exciting from that point of view because I know what I love about the series and I'm going to protect it. One hundred percent of the fans who see the movie will say the spirit of the movie and the show are identical.
However, I now have the opportunity to make a live-action movie, and I have the resources and the ability to do things that Mike [DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko, the original creators] were unable to do. So I'm going to try to raise it up, to make it more realistic. That was a great opportunity for me. Even the smallest of things—like that instead of pronouncing Aang "Ang," it's "Ong." You know, pronouncing it correctly, small little things like that I literally fought for like bloodshed. That is symbolic of what we're doing here. For the cartoon, it's "Ang" mispronounced. For the movie, I can't do that. I'm Asian! I'm not going to mispronounce the name! It's like that times a thousand. If you approach the film like that, it's like looking at a painting and knowing it has integrity. You can smell it. And fans can smell it as soon as they see the marketing materials. They'll go: "Wow, this was not catered. This is someone's point of view."