Where is the sense of wonder in 'Avatar: The Last Airbender', Netflix's big bet?

See E.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
22 February 2024 Thursday 04:12
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Where is the sense of wonder in 'Avatar: The Last Airbender', Netflix's big bet?

See E.T. recurrently at the request of the children is being counterproductive in my way of seeing audiovisuals, especially those that are focused on children, youth or, well, let's say family audiences. Steven Spielberg filled a studio with plants and said that this was a spaceship from an unknown planet, and he introduced a rubber figure and made him one of the most memorable characters in film history.

Compared to today's resources, he possessed very little. What he did have was an artistic look and a sense of spectacle with the framing, confidence in the lines of dialogue and also in the silences that he had to maintain to create tension, the timing, the use of internals by the extras, the music of John Williams to underline an emotion accessible to all audiences.

It is possible that comparing any current television or film production with one of the great films of cinema is unfair but perhaps it is necessary. Television has evolved to have a cinematic mentality: it has resources, it has time (both in development and filming and post-production), it has the visual effects that we previously only saw in films released in theaters.

At the same time, platforms like Netflix have accustomed us to watching their proposals from the couch at home, whether on a state-of-the-art television or on a mobile phone, transmitting a clear message: living rooms are not necessary. And, without entering into debates, they have also surreptitiously introduced an idea into the viewer's mind: since series and movies come with the subscription, we cannot ask for anything more than entertainment from them.

So, when a series like Avatar: The Last Airbender arrives in the Netflix catalog, you might think that the efforts of Albert Kim, showrunner of the first season, are enough. He took over production after Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, the creators of the original animated series, left production due to disagreements with the platform during the development process.

It is based on a fictional universe where the planet is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation and the Air Nomads. Each of these nations has masters who master their respective elements and, to unify humanity, there is a being that controls both water and earth, fire and air: the Avatar, who is reincarnated in normal, ordinary people.

In the live-action adaptation, as in the animated version, the story begins with the Fire Nation at the beginning of its imperialist expansion: it wants to subjugate the other nations. But the new Avatar named Aang (Gordon Cromier), who has just discovered his superhuman role, is too young to prevent the warlike course of the times. When he leaves his homeland to learn to master the elements, he drowns and freezes.

When he wakes up, a century later, the world has changed. He is the last Air Nomad left alive and humanity, without an Avatar to restore balance, has lost faith, with the Water and Earth benders hiding their powers so as not to be pursued by the Fire Nation. Luckily, he finds two allies who will help him in his accelerated training process: Katara (Kiawentiio) and Sokka (Ian Ousley), who have never left his frozen village.

The reader can understand, therefore, that Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a fantastic world, very dear to those who saw the Nickelodeon children's series that later had an extraordinary youth sequel, The Legend of Korra, which became an example of a feminist, environmentalist and anti-fascist series for all ages.

Michael Goi, director of the first episodes, abuses dark contexts to prevent us from demanding sharpness from the visual effects and these may be evident, but what is seen is wonderful. The performances are irregular, more marked by the good will of the young actors than by the results. And, regarding the script, he has problems rewriting children's material, with phrases and attitudes that can be ridiculous when translated into real action.

These points, however, are not what make Avatar: The Last Airbender a disappointment but rather the absolute lack of the sense of wonder, what Americans call sense of wonder, and which Spielberg was able to evoke in E.T. with some flashlights or the light from the shed and a finger-sausage or the introduction of music at the right time. He had so much elegance, he understood audiovisual art so well, that even aged visual effects maintain the magic after more than 40 years.

But, in this Netflix proposal, there is no ambition to build and fascinate with the universe they have at their disposal. It settles for an unimaginative representation of history. There is no anticipation or atmosphere. There is no such search for iconic moments with the introduction, for example, of Appa, the giant six-legged flying bison. No audiovisual tool is used (the frames, the music, the montage, the effects) to create one's own imaginary and transcend.

Seeing this universe so wasted and after mediocrities like The Witcher or Shadow and Bone, one gets tired of that resigned “it's entertaining” to describe streaming titles that should be synonymous with spectacle and, instead, were conceived for television bulimia (that is, see and forget).

The search for entertainment is laudable but it is not always enough and, after series like Avatar: The Last Airbender, perhaps it is time to make a monument to the Duffer brothers for creating such an amazing (and referential) work from the voracious Netflix machinery. like Stranger things.