While it may have ended in a meme-worthy farce in its final season last year, Game of Thrones was once the biggest show on the planet. Across its run, HBO’s big-budget multiple award-winning fantasy drama was so popular and critically acclaimed, that it prompted a genre arms race among other networks to get their own Game of Thrones. None of them have done it yet, but Netflix also had one major contender with their upcoming live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon’s hugely acclaimed animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender which would be able to deliver all the romance, sex, and blood to cover that Game of Thrones corner of the market AND WAIT JUST ONE CABBAGE PICKING MINUTE! “Romance, sex, and blood”? What?!
My confused response above must have mirrored that of original creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko if a new report is to be believed. Last week we heard the surprising news that the duo was exiting the adaptation as showrunners due to undisclosed disagreement on the direction of the live-action adaptation, but neither the creators nor Netflix spilled any details. Fandomwire reached out to multiple sources at Netflix as well as people working on the production (who asked to remain anonymous) and claims to have found out the reasons behind DiMartino and Konietzko walking away.
The most egregious is the report that Netflix wanted to separate the animated show – which was recently added to the streaming service to huge viewing numbers – from the live-action one by aging up lead characters Aang, Zuko, Katara, and Sokka and giving the show a “darker, mature” tone. In the original, all the main characters are young teens, and despite the deep storytelling (and its popularity with all age groups), the show overall was aimed at kids. DiMartino and Konietzko were reportedly “adamant” about keeping this approach for the live-action adaptation and this was understandably a major point of contention.
It wasn’t just disagreement about overall tone though. Fans had already seen one live-action adaptation butcher their beloved show when M. Night Shyamalan directed a maligned feature film version in 2010, and one of that movie’s biggest crimes was in whitewashing the cast. With the original show pulling heavily from Asian cultures and martial arts, DiMartino and Konietzko had originally made a public pledge that the same crime won’t be committed again, promising that the entire cast would be true to its Eastern roots. However, according to FandomWire’s sources, Netflix wanted to open up casting calls for white actors as well, just as potential candidates, but this was a complete non-starter for the creators.
The final reason for them cutting ties from the production is believed to be that old chestnut of money. Coming from a pure animation background, where your imagination is your only limiting factor when it comes to scope, DiMartino and Konietzko reportedly wanted a much bigger budget than Netflix was offering. Not that Netflix wasn’t already putting up a huge chunk of change. The streamer is apparently committed to matching the scale of the original show and believes it’s already paying exactly as much as it needs to to make that happen, but the creators disagreed.
This is actually not unexpected in the slightest. I doubt there has ever been a showrunner in the history of TV productions who has not wanted more money for their project. This is usually not a dealbreaker and compromises could get worked out, but combined with the other two points of contention though, it makes sense why DiMartino and Konietzko walked away.
That’s if these claims are legit, of course. Neither the creators nor Netflix have responded to the reports yet, and until we get some kind of official confirmation – which I doubt would be anytime soon and may even be contractually impossible – we’ll just have this type of hearsay to go on. Either way, whatever the reasons for DiMartino and Konietzko’s departure, there’s no denying that without them at the helm, this adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender is suddenly a whole lot less appealing.
Last Updated: August 17, 2020