Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action adaptation faces a title problem, due to the popularity and timing of James Cameron’s Avatar movies.
The success and timing of James Cameron’s Avatar franchise means that the upcoming Avatar: The Last Airbender now has a title problem. Despite the show’s immense popularity, there haven’t been many attempts to translate Avatar: The Last Airbender to the big screen properly. Not only did M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 live-action adaptation struggle to capture the show’s essence, but its whitewashed cast, poor 3D effects, and rushed take on the story also sparked controversy. Fortunately, Netflix has given the show another chance to shine in live-action, but one issue from the previous attempt that still remains is its title.
The word “Avatar” aligns with both stories and their protagonists accurately. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang is the embodiment of all four elements, and he’s the reincarnation of all the previous benders that share this quality. In James Cameron’s Avatar, protagonist Jake Sully enters Na’vi society by transferring his consciousness into a different body. Despite their shared title, both stories can’t be more different from each other, with the 2D-animated Avatar: The Last Airbender taking place in an Earth filled with human element benders and the photorealistic Avatar taking place in the alien world of Pandora.
Why ATLA Had To Change The Title (Despite Coming Out Before Avatar)
James Cameron’s Avatar was conceived in the mid-1990s, a few years before Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender first hit TV screens in 2005. However, Cameron kept the project on hold until VFX technology was advanced enough to fit his vision. In the meantime, the Titanic director copyrighted the name, which caused the Avatar: The Last Airbender team to add a subtitle. Avatar‘s 2009 release didn’t completely overshadow Nickelodeon’s already successful 2D-animated show, but it did create some confusion whenever the word Avatar was spoken.
Coming only a few months after James Cameron’s Avatar, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 The Last Airbender dropped “Avatar” from its title. This change did nothing to help the movie, and only created the precedent of a poorly received live-action story with such title. Netflix’s live-action series had only three options: (1) stick with the same name as its controversial predecessor and risk negative publicity by association, (2) craft a brand-new name and risk losing the push the original show’s fame, or (3) use the animated show’s original name and risk constant confusion with James Cameron’s record-breaking Avatar franchise. Netflix chose the latter.
Avatar Is Still A Problem For The Last Airbender
The name “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is true to the creators’ original intentions and respects the now-famous subtitle that distanced it from James Cameron’s Avatar. By this point, that subtitle is enough to help audiences associate the series with element benders instead of blue aliens. Even so, Avatar: The Way of Water has revitalized James Cameron’s blockbuster franchise, further linking the Avatar name with James Cameron’s creation just in time to cause confusion with Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. Netflix’s show will also be releasing between Avatar: The Way of Water and Avatar 3, which can make it seem like it is a spinoff show to the movies for those who aren’t in the know.
To make matters worse, Avatar: The Way of Water develops the theme of the natural elements. Avatar focuses on the Earth, its first sequel on the water, and Avatar 3 is set to use fire as an theme. It would only take Avatar 4 to focus on the air to complete The Last Airbender‘s central themes. Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s live-action adaptations haven’t had luck with timing and branding. As a result, Netflix’s upcoming adaptation will have to be very distinct in other areas in order to overcome these obstacles.