Jackson Rathbone & Nicola Peltz – The Last Airbender

July 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Interviews

In filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie “The Last Airbender,” actors Jackson Rathbone (“The Twilight Saga”) and Nicola Peltz (“Righteous Kill”) play siblings Sokka and Katara, two teenage warriors from the Southern Water Tribe who must help stop the evil Fire Nation from destroying the earth.

During an interview with me, Rathbone and Peltz talked about working with director M. Night Shyamalan and what it was about the original animated series that made them want to be a part of the feature film adaptation.

Jackson, “The Last Airbender” is completely different than anything director M. Night Shyamalan has ever done in his career. What was it like working with him on the set and did it feel like it was a learning experience for everyone?

Jackson Rathbone: M. Night was one of those directors that I always waited for his next film to be released. Now to be a part of his film is very exciting. This is the first family film he has ever done. It’s very cool to work with an artist that is well known for doing one thing and now he’s switching it up. I definitely learned from him. Every time I work with someone, I try to pick up as many tricks and tips and techniques as I can.

Nicola, you’re fairly new in the film industry. What was the most challenging part about working on “The Last Airbender?”

Nicola Peltz: Honestly, the most challenging part was the last day of filming and knowing you would have to leave each other. We all became a big family – the cast, the crew, everyone. It was definitely upsetting leaving on the last day.

Nicola, I read you were a fan of the original animated series. What specifically was it about the show that you liked?

NP: Yes, I was definitely a fan. I have six brothers and a sister and I would watch the show with my two younger brothers. I loved the series because in every episode you go on a new journey and learn something different. There are a lot of family values and morals. I loved Katara before I even auditioned. She’s a fighter, but at the same time she has a big heart and cares for everyone and has a great relationship with her older brother.

Jackson, is there something specific about the original show that you enjoyed?

JR: Yeah, it really has a beautiful sense of spiritually that we were able to bring to the movie. There is a message about having faith in one’s self. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make the next two films. The great thing about this first film is that it’s based on Book One, which is water. I’ve always been a big fan of Bruce Lee and his teachings and philosophies. In his book “Artist of Life” he talks about being like water. The four elements are something that has always been prevalent in a lot of mythology. It’s very cool to be part of a project where everyone wanted to make it as honest to the original series as possible while at the same time maturing the story enough so it can be appealing to all audiences.

Jackson, is there a philosophy or motto you live by in your daily life?

JR: Yeah, my family has a motto, which actually goes with our family crest, which says “Suaviter et Fortiter.” It’s Latin for [“mildly and firmly”]. It means being strong in your beliefs and in who you are. It also means being very genuine. You can be very firm in your beliefs but at the same time you can be very open to other people’s ideas.

What about you Nicola? Are there any deep-seated ideas you live by?

NP: I just always follow my dreams and follow my heart. I work hard and give 110 percent in everything I do.

Jackson, is there any added pressure on the cast and crew because this story had a fan base that followed the original TV series? How does that compare to the fan base that follows the films in “The Twilight Saga?”

JR: It’s very interesting because in “Twilight” we are bringing literary characters to life. There wasn’t necessarily imagery to these characters yet, so we had to become the imagery. With “The Last Airbender,” you have all these animated characters. We have to become these animated characters and bring them to life in this live-action format. There is definitely some pressure in trying to appease the fans as much as possible. Basically, you can please some people some of the time, but you can’t please all people all of the time. That doesn’t mean you can’t try.

The Last Airbender

July 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Noah Ringer, Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”)
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”)
Just when you thought director M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “The Village”) couldn’t get any more incoherent than he did with his last three films, he veers from his usual twisty cinematic offerings and lands somewhere below rock bottom with “The Last Airbender.”

What makes things even worse for the one-hit-wonder is that his new film carries with it a $150-million price tag that could end up professionally crushing the director if Paramount Pictures doesn’t at least break even by the end of the summer. With what “Airbender” delivers, it’s almost inevitable that it won’t.

“The Last Airbender,” which is adapted from the popular Nickelodeon anime cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” could have been exactly what Shyamalan needed to pull himself out of the rut he has been in for the last six years. Instead, the filmmaker who scored two Oscar nominations in 1999 for directing and writing “The Sixth Sense,” comes out of this latest fantasy project more lost than ever.

In “Airbender,” actors Jackson Rathbone (“The Twilight Saga”) and Nicola Peltz (“Deck the Halls”) stars as Sokka and Katara, sibling warriors of the Southern Water Tribe who unearth the legendary Avatar, the only person who can control all four elements – Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire.

In this case it’s 12-year-old Aang (Noah Ringer) who is called upon to bring peace to the world. Missing for over a century, Aang rises from his frozen state in an iceberg and is given the responsibility of uniting the Four Nations before Prince Zuko (Dev Patel in his first film since “Slumdog Millionaire”) and his uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub) of the Fire Nation wage war against their elemental enemies.

While there is enough mythology to create some interesting storylines here, Shyamalan somehow takes a promising narrative and drains it of all its enjoyment by tacking on longwinded narration and uninspired dialogue to a majority of the scenes. The disastrous screenplay is marred by everything from its sluggish pacing to its uninteresting romance.

Moreover, it’s shocking to see that 11 years after Shyamalan directed an extremely memorable Oscar-nominated performance by then-child actor Haley Joel Osment he has absolutely no insight into what young actors can offer anymore. Even worse than Mark Wahlberg’s laughable performance in “The Happening,” first-time actor Ringer (who voiced the character in the animated series) delivered his lines with such stiffness you’ll wonder why no one on the set stood up and pointed out the obvious lack of acting talent.

Besides the inexpressive performances across the board (with the exception of Toub), “Airbender” is a halfhearted and terribly dull adventure and the most disappointing movie of the year thus far. Shyamalan should probably take a step back from making feature films, reevaluate his place in the industry, and see where he should go from here. At this point, it might not even be his choice anymore.

Pablo Helman – The Last Airbender

July 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

As the visual effects supervisor on the fantasy film “The Last Airbender,” two-time Academy Award nominee Pablo Helman was in charge of managing a 300-man visual effects crew whose job it was to create a new and exciting mythological world based on a Nickelodeon anime cartoon.

Helman, who has worked on the visual effects for films such as “War of the Worlds,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” and “Saving Private Ryan,” saw the project as a challenge he was ready to meet head on.

During an interview with me, Helman, who was born in Argentina, discussed how the four elements of Water, Earth, Air, and Fire had to be created with special software and what it was like working with filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan who had never directed a visual effects-driven film before.

Were there any challenges in “The Last Airbender” that you never experienced before working on the visual effects in past films?

There are always technical challenges that come up. In this particular film it was the digital particle work for Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. We had to create those things in a brand new way. Working with Night [Shyamalan], his vision is that everything needs to be grounded and realistic and believable.

Hadn’t you ever created visual effects with some of these elements before? I remember lots of fiery explosions in “War of the Worlds” and plenty of waves in “Master and Commander.”

I had worked with water and fire before but not to the degree we are doing it here. In this film the fire has to act. It has to perform in a specific way. It has to tell a story. To do those kinds of things we had to develop brand new software.

So, basically you had to visualize these elements almost like they were living, breathing characters?

Yeah, and the challenge is that if the director wants something that is realistic then we have to look at two things: the way it looks and the way it behaves. We can make fire look like fire, but if fire behaves in a way that is not natural then you start questioning the things you are seeing. We had to come up with ways to make the fire look completely natural while it’s doing something that is not natural.

It almost sounds like you are an “airbender” yourself since you have to manipulate these computer-generated elements just like the characters.

(Laughs) Pretty much. You spend a lot of time with these ideas. It’s a very creative process. Essentially, you do become a bender yourself.

Since this is M. Night Shyamalan’s first film with major visual effects, was it easy for him to express what he wanted to see or was it a learning experience for him? Did he ask for things that were simply impossible to deliver?

Everything is possible! (Laughs) No, I think he adapted very well. He is very visual. He always started by telling us exactly what he wanted the shot to be about. Once we understand what they want the shot to be about, that makes our job a lot easier. His vision shapes what we are seeing.

Since this movie is adapted from an animated TV show, were you able to use any of the imagery from the original series to recreate some of the effects for the film version?

I think that is one of the challenges. You take a lot of the stuff the fans like so much and adapt that to a real environment. We did take a look at the show in the beginning. But then after that you want to forget about it and use your creativity to do something a bit different that resembles the work that everybody likes.

This is the first film you’ve worked on that has been formatted in 3-D. What are your thoughts on this 3-D trend that the industry is going through right now? Do you think it enhances the movie or could it take away from all your hard work?

I think if you don’t get it right it takes away from the movie, but I think this specific movie lends itself to 3-D because of the way M. Night tells the story. It’s the same as if you’re writing a book and then right there in the middle of your page you put an illustration of something. Your illustration is enhancing the experience of whoever is reading the book. 3-D is like a tool to tell a story. I don’t think it’s a trend. I think it’s here to stay.

As someone in the visual effects industry, do you keep up with others who are doing the same type of work as you? Do you like to keep tabs on what everyone else is up to?

(Laughs) Yeah, generally we do. We are all friends because it’s a small business. We all have worked with each other throughout the years especially if you’ve been in the business for 20 years. We do look at each other’s work because we are an industry that is very technology-driven. Everything we do we’re doing it on top of one another’s shoulders. It’s not a matter of topping each other, it’s a matter of using what other visual effects artists have done and building on that.