December 20, 2009
Avatar. I See You.
The poignant storyline has successfully appealed to our deepest essence as a sentient being, as a tribe and as a civilization. Indeed, it has allowed us to see ourselves within a simple story, with that familiar pattern of discovery, conquest, colonization and exploitation which has occurred countless times on the islands of our planet since humanity began--and that which will probably occur in the outer reaches of space, on fertile new worlds yet to be known.
I am delighted by the rich set of planetary values, environmental virtues, spiritual awareness, and respect for life that is taught within a simple tale set on Pandora--an exomoon orbiting a gas giant in a distant exoplanetary system.
Pandora is home to a variety of life that includes the Na'vi, the dominant species. One can see that painstaking detail was crafted into Pandora and all its local inhabitants. In terms of the Art and Science of that world, the Aesthetics is a pure win. How about the Science? Did the filmmakers consult a planetary scientist or an astrobiologist during their brainstorming sessions? To begin with, i see it proper that the atmosphere on Pandora is toxic to humans--thus the need for the Avatar on a Xenosociological mission to learn more about the Na'vi culture. In reality, an atmosphere that is inhospitable to us would likely be the case even for "earth-like" worlds that we may discover in the future.
Although I admire the breathtaking sceneries on Pandora, what distracted me was the concept of the floating mountains which in my opinion, is quite odd with respect to the geological or chemical properties of Pandora. I don't think it's possible with the known laws of physics in that setting. Correct me if i'm wrong but making rocks levitate has something to do only with powerful magnets and ultracool superconductors.
As for the lifeforms on Pandora, i like them enough to want to see more variety. Only a handful were depicted when there should have been more (even as extras) within the ecosystem as rich as a jungle depicted in the film. I quite didn't notice any insect-like creatures which, based on my bias--should be one of the most numerous type of animals on any inhabited planet. Also, the extra pair of legs on their "horses" don't offer any advantage so i tend to question the evolutionary idea behind it. The animals look like plastic at times but it's all trivial, so that's alright, the design team made up by sporting a lot of Bioluminescence--of which i'm a big fan, in their flora and fauna.
Convergent Evolution may allow cat-like humanoid creatures such as the Na'vi. So I dont mind having thundercat creatures on exomoons. And yes, i know it's a cliche but I am happy about the references to an emergent organism--that of the trees linked to each other to make a global consciousness.
The last one of my observations is about the concept of the Avatar itself. The Na'vi avatar is a fully functioning biological creature with a brain capable of cognitive abilities. It would be possible for it to attain its own set of consciousness. What if it starts to dream in it's sleep? Many existential or ethical questions then arises if the avatar wakes up unlinked to Jake. Perhaps the sequel would answer that!
These blue avatars are way advanced compared to the robotic probes that we currently use to explore other planets. Yes, Spirit, Opportunity and even New Horizons are our Avatars, believe it or not. And the longstanding problem is the lagtime of the signal throttling back and forth the controller and the probe. Perhaps taming Quantum Entanglement is only possible with a scifi movie such as this. One can only hope. A real-time quantum link would indeed open up tremendous possibilities for space exploration.
Avatar's impact is strong. To me, the personal inspiration it gives is simple yet direct: With one chance at Life, what do you do with your body--your one and only Avatar?
On a global scale, I see this film as a major achievement because it opens up the idea of distant worlds to the general population at a perfect moment when science is on a hot trail of planetary discoveries, and at the fringes of discovering the first truly earth-like world. The recent discoveries of super-earths punctuated by a waterworld called GJ 1214 b somehow collaborated to launch this immersive film. The timing is all so perfect.
James Cameron's film has lived up to my expectations when I wrote about it nine months ago. And yes, the film-makers did actually consider habitable exomoons! Avatar is truly an epic Exoplanetology film. Do not leave Earth without watching this movie.