Netflix Avatar is “A Remix, Not a Cover”

Recently, IGN conducted an interview with Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender showrunner Albert Kim and executive producer/director/VFX supervisor Jabbar Raisani. They discussed various things ranging from how they got into the show to how their remake was cast. However, I want to discuss comments about how the remake will differ from the animated series. There will be quite a few quotes here, but I’m leaving out most of it if you want to check out IGN’s interview in full. 

IGN: A big question surrounding the show is, how much are you guys changing, and how much is staying the same? How much freedom did you feel when it came to remixing the storylines and putting your own spin and liberties on them?

AK: I’ve used the term that this is a remix, not a cover, in that you’ve got to hit a lot of familiar notes, but you can’t forget that this is supposed to be a new song. So obviously, there are story points and characters that you have to do fairly faithfully from the original. But at the same time, you’re literally translating something from 2D to 3D, and that meant dimensionalizing the story, taking it into new places, filling in some of the gaps.

There are certain scenes that you never saw in the original, whether it’s the attack on the Southern Air Temple or the Agni Kai between Ozai and Zuko. And those are things that I knew we needed to see in order to make it feel much more grounded as a live-action show. So it was about feeling your way throughout the process. Where can we take the story into the new directions that still feels true to the spirit of the original? And that’s what it all comes down to, making sure it feels like it was Avatar in spirit.

JR: And when it came down to directing it or the visual effects on it, I mean, we were really watching the animated series, basing our sequences off of that, using as many shots that we could lift from that as it made sense within the context of the story we were telling. And that stayed true all the way through post-production and visual effects. So when we had final-edited sequences, we were literally going through taking little rips from the animated series, doing picture-in-picture of, “That’s like that moment, that’s like that moment, that’s like that moment.” So visually, even if it’s not a one to one, it should feel really familiar.

AK: There are certain times when we did a very faithful rendition of a famous scene or image from the animated series. We replicated the bit when Aang’s on the air scooter for the main titles, and he crashes into the statue. That was something we always knew we wanted to do, and we took that directly from the animated series.

I get what they’re saying; when you remake something, you have to innovate while keeping what makes it special intact. I genuinely don’t think they’re doing that, though. Showing us the destruction of the Air Nomads instead of artfully implying it isn’t preferable. What could top Aang stumbling on Monk Gyatso’s skeleton? Why do we need to see the actual killing? That just sounds gratuitous to me, and that’s not what Avatar is about. And from what we’ve already heard, they’re changing some of the character’s motivations and personalities an awful lot. I don’t understand why they didn’t just make their own show. 

IGN: That shot in particular is basically a core memory for me.

AK: Because it was in the main title, so you saw it every episode. Every episode ended with that, so that’s something that stuck with everyone. But it’s also, aside from the fact that it was a cool thing that everyone remembers, it gets across a very important character point, which is that despite everything and all the burdens that he’s facing, Aang is just a kid. He’s a goofy 12-year-old kid, and he’s having fun and he’s a big old goofball. And we wanted to make sure that we showed that because that’s as important to the story as all the action and the epic fantasy of it all.

IGN: You touched on something that I’m really, really curious about. I think when we talk about Avatar’s legacy, and all the heavy stuff it touches on, people sometimes forget that it was a Nickelodeon cartoon, and therefore was goofy! A lot! Was that silliness difficult for you guys to juggle in the translation to live-action while also dealing with those really heavy subjects?

AK: Tonally?

IGN: Yes.

AK: I think that’s the essential tightrope that we had to walk, is figuring out, tonally, where this show lived, because you wanted to stay true to the original, which had a large component of humor, lots of action, lots of darkness too. This show, even as a Nickelodeon show, went pretty far in terms of mature themes and scenes, things that you didn’t see before. I mean, I think Koh the Face Stealer initiated nightmares in an entire generation of kids. That’s not something you normally see on a Nickelodeon show.

And especially as the series went on, Seasons 2 and 3 are a lot more mature in theme than, say, Season 1 was. So for us, it was about striking that right balance, of making sure you were true to the DNA of the original. But at the same time, we had to make it a serialized Netflix drama, which meant it couldn’t just be for kids. It had to also appeal to the people who are big fans of Game of Thrones. And so, it had to feel grounded and mature and adult in that way too. So that’s, like I said, the tightrope that we have to walk.

I don’t like this. Not at all. I don’t think a show like Avatar has to cater to the Game of Thrones crowd. Avatar is already kind of like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings in a form your kids can watch with you. Avatar has an epic, sweeping plot, and the characters’ choices have significant consequences. But I think Albert Kim is hitting on the notion of grey morality as well as a show being binge-able. Avatar is about personal choice and spirituality, and I don’t think tailoring that for Game of Thrones fans makes any sense. So far, everything I’ve heard about this show has only justified my uneasiness around it. This interview certainly doesn’t sway me. We will have to wait and see, but I honestly just wish they weren’t making this. 

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our mailing list to get the new updates!