Entertainment & Arts

Last Airbender director Shyamalan shuts out critics

Dev Patel
Image caption Patel is grateful for the exposure following Slumdog Millionaire

M Night Shyamalan's latest offering, fantasy film The Last Airbender, has been panned by the critics but its director will not be losing any sleep over it.

The film, starring Slumdog Millionaire actor Dev Patel, exceeded expectations at the US box office when it was released in July and will open in the UK on 13 August.

Eleven years ago, Shyamalan was hailed as Hollywood's latest bright spark after supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense became a global hit.

Two of his subsequent films, Unbreakable and Signs, were generally well received but The Village split the critics. His more recent efforts, Lady in the Water and The Happening, garnered largely poor reviews.

Original voice

But the writer and director says he feels no pressure to re-live previous success.

"I'm so isolated out there, I just close the door and write," he says.

"As an artist it's so foreign to think like that - from the outside - to my detriment probably. I don't think about that at all."

Image caption M Night Shyamalan is planning to make two further Airbender films

The Last Airbender is based on Nickelodeon's animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which first aired in 2005.

It follows the quest of young avatar Aang (Noah Ringer), who has to stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations. He is the only one who can master all four elements and fight off exiled Prince Zuko (Patel) and his father, the Fire Lord (Cliff Curtis).

Shyamalan says he feels grateful he is able to make his own films.

"I'm so incredibly lucky to make these original movies. When we made Sixth Sense in 1999, every film had an original film-maker with an original point of view - American Beauty, Being John Malkovich, The Matrix, Blair Witch Project, Magnolia.

"Clearly that's not the case today. Every movie has to beautiful and fantastic for me," he says.

Martial arts feature heavily in the film and attracted both Shyamalan and Patel.

Public property

"Martial arts films were guilty pleasures as a kid," says Shyamalan.

Patel, who trained in taekwondo as a child, says: "As a kid, I had too much energy so mum put me into martial arts. I still have too much energy.

The young star, who hails from Harrow, west London, describes the pressure to live up to expectation following Slumdog as "tricky".

"There are so many amazing names attached to this film. Everyone compares your last work to what you're doing now," he says.

"What you try to do is come to everything with a fresh slate. I'm proud of Slumdog and I'll just keep trying to do more. They're two totally different films, I'm trying to tap into a different audience."

Patel is keen to stress his gratitude for Slumdog, which won eight Oscars last year.

"Slumdog was a blessing, to have that success... is beyond a dream come true," he says.

Image caption Danny Boyle (right) cast Patel in Slumdog Millionaire

"It was the biggest confidence boost that Danny Boyle believed in me and that the film did that well."

But with overnight success comes a downside and Patel admits the paparazzi can make life difficult at times.

"It's crazy. What was hard was the domino effect it (the paparazzi) has on your family - I can deal with that but my parents have to go into work and explain to a million people: 'No my son's not engaged!'

"But it's brought our family closer together," he adds.

Shyamalan is looking forward to making the second and third instalments of The Last Airbender.

And he says he wants to get "more and more operatic in the second and third films".

The Last Airbender opens across the UK on Friday 13 August.

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