Dev Patel In The Last Airbender

But who's the leading man?

M. Night Shyamalan has announced the cast for his next film, The Last Airbender, and there are some very surprising names in there - not least because few of them are names anyone's ever heard of.

Dev Patel, currently riding high with Slumdog Millionaire, has been cast as Zuko, a member of the Fire Nation who are the baddies of the piece (although if the planned three films follow the arc of the TV series, Zuko himself has a more complicated path to follow). His role was one originally earmarked for popster Jesse McCartney, whose tour dates prevented him from joining the film.

The lead role of Aang, however, goes to 12 year-old Texan newcomer Noah Ringer, who landed the role after uploading a video of himself doing martial arts moves onto Shyamalan's casting site. Aang is the last of the Air race, who can manipulate the element of Air just as the Fire Nation can manipulate fire. Aang is 12 years old, but spent 100 years frozen in a glacier (of course) and is the current Avatar, the spirit of the planet in human form. Which is a bit of a bummer when you're 12 and would rather not be fighting off the entire Fire Nation.

Nicola Peltz (er, Deck the Halls) will play Waterbender Katara, who frees Aang from the glacier and helps him on his quest, while Jessica Jade Anders, lately of Gossip Girl, will play Earth Kingdom representative Suki. Jackson Rathbone (Jasper in Twilight) also has a role, and has managed to juggle schedules so he can shoot both this and New Moon.

The film starts shooting in Greenland (eh?) in March, with a July 2, 2010 release date set. Shyamalan's planning a three-picture story arc, and now that the film's dropped the "Avatar" from its title, avoiding confusion with James Cameron's Avatar, let's hope that he manages it.