I think if there’s one thing that’s true fans of science fiction might all agree on, it’s that we long for another world. I don’t mean an “if only things were different” other world — though that’s sometimes certainly true — but a literal ’nother world: another planet to visit, another ground to walk on, another gravity to experience, another sky to see. And that is what James Cameron has given us in Avatar: this movie is a gift to anyone who takes science fiction seriously. I really do feel as if I’ve visited the planet Pandora… and I didn’t even see the movie in IMAX, just in regular ol’ 3D. (I hope to remedy that next weekend.) It was a little bit of a letdown to come to the end of the movie and take off my 3D glasses and discover that I was still on Earth. Avatar is the closest I will ever come to visiting another planet, and it was an exhilarating trip.
No, really: I’ve been wondering whether any movie could possibly justify the eight gazillion dollars rumored to have been lavished on Avatar, but damn if every single penny isn’t up in there on the screen. And I don’t mean just in visual effects, though they are beyond stunning. This is a real world, so fully realized that surely geologists and biologists and cognitive scientists and other conceptual specialists had to have been onboard. Because all the many creatures, for instance, who populate this lush world are clearly products of their own separate evolution, evolved together and related to one another and specialized for all the available ecological niches beautifully. Because even the mindblowing physical aspects of the planet — the impossibly tall trees (impossible to our Earth-attuned eyes, at least), the gravitational anomalies — are the result of the solidly realistic facts of Pandora: its gravity is lower than ours; it orbits in the shadow of a massive gas giant (which would make things gravitationally and magnetically different). That might sound like unnecessary detail to have been heaped on, but even to minds of nonscientific bent, it lends it all a plausibility that, you’d think, couldn’t be faked. Our brains just know when things feel right, even if we don’t always understand why we feel that way. Pandora feels real.
It’s all so awesome — as in the old-fashioned sense of the word: inspiring awe — that I, at least, found it easy to forgive the fact that the story, also by Cameron (Aliens of the Deep, Ghosts of the Abyss), takes few risks: it’s a straightforward narrative the likes of which we’ve seen many times before, though it is pulled off extremely well, with just a few moments that are cheesy or obvious… and a damn few more that are absolutely stunning in how they play out here on Pandora despite their familiarity. It’s Dances with Wolves, basically — and I don’t mean that as an insult; if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington: Terminator Salvation) is the soldier going native on Pandora, a Marine who’s been paralyzed from the waist down and subsequently given the opportunity to take over a job his identical twin brother, a scientist, started, and cannot finish because of his untimely death: Inhabit a body, an avatar, cloned from the DNA of both humans and the natives, the Na’vi, and go amongst the Na’vi and learn from them. The avatar bodies are keyed to particular researchers, so Jake is the only one who can fill in for his brother.
We humans are on Pandora for all the reasons we’ve ever gone anywhere, it seems: to take what we want from this place, in spite of what the people who are already there may have to say about that. I wish that weren’t so tediously familiar, but it’s hard to imagine, unfortunately, a human future that doesn’t unfold along these lines, especially not only a century and a half into the future: if human nature can change, it’s not likely to change that quickly. So, if there’s a Na’vi village right atop a hella big cache of the, ahem, “unobtainium” the humans are keen to get their hands on, well, the natives — “savages” and “blue monkeys,” as the mining company twerp (Giovanni Ribisi: Public Enemies, Perfect Stranger) in charge likes to call them — will have to go.
Jake is exuberantly enjoying the freedom of his new Na’vi body — 11 feet tall, blue-skinned, and at least as athletic as Jake himself would have been — and learning about life among the Na’vi from a sort of warrior princess, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana: Star Trek, Vantage Point), who initially sees him as an ignorant child. And much that’s new in Avatar is concerned with the idea of how inculcated we all are to our ways of thinking. The scientists on the planet, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver [The Tale of Despereaux, Wall-E], inhabiting another kickass Cameron heroine), are initially skeptical of Jake, since he hadn’t been trained in using the avatar or in the Na’vi culture, both of which his brother had studied for years; the military protecting the mining colony, led by Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang: The Men Who Stare at Goats, Public Enemies), assume that Jake, as one of their own, will work as a double agent, gathering the intelligence that the humans need in order to undermine the natives… which Jake readily agrees to. All the many assumptions at work — including on the part of the Na’vi — are so taken for granted that no one can see past them. As Moat (CCH Pounder: Warehouse 13, Orphan), the Na’vi shaman and Neytiri’s mother, explains to Jake, “We have tried to teach Sky People [that is, the humans, of course]. It’s hard to fill a cup which is already full.”
Jake’s cup will be emptied, and refilled, and by the time the inevitable showdown between human and Na’vi occurs, yours may be, too. For the Na’vi are entirely sympathetic — Cameron created them via motion-capture-assisted CGI, with human actors supplying the performances, and they are as completely realistic as their environment; Cameron has solved the problems that had rendered organic CGI characters dead-eyed and unwatchable. Not that the Na’vi are perfect or their world a paradise; Pandora may be beautiful, but it is rife with dangers. It’s just that they’re… different, and different in ways that humans cannot even begin to conceive of until we — through Jake — become part of them.
• Avatar: The Way of Water movie review: blueface on a blue planet
Oh, you have no idea how relieved I am to see you give this movie a green light. I’ve been torn over this movie ever since I first saw the trailer. I WANT it to be incredible and beautiful, and I was really afraid I was getting my hopes up impossibly high.
There was never any question in my mind that I was going to see it, but to see you review it so positively is very reassuring.
MaryAnn, after you see the movie on IMAX 3D could you write an update on the review or another article saying if it makes that much of a difference?
I read a couple of comments that said that it’s too much to take in and to appreciate it better it’s preferable to see it on 2D
I have a multiplex 2 blocks from my apartment but I have to drive 40 miles for the IMAX
There’s a minor brouhaha over “unobtanium” which truthfully is an actual term used by scientists. But, it does beg the question, even if it is an actual term, could it sound enough like a joke to warrant changing the name to something else more convincing, yet more false?
Like maybe Cameron got a little too sci and it’s fucking up our fi. :)
Its interesting to see you talk about everything being so evolution base after seeing this quote from Cameron about the female Na’vi:
“Right from the beginning I said, “She’s got to have tits,” even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na’vi, aren’t placental mammals.”
Also do they explain why predators in green jungles are bright non-camoflagued blue?
Because as a scientist it seems a bit strange…
Glad to see you gave it a good review though, the trailers left me very unimpressed, but now I will probably see it.
Yeah, sure. But I won’t see it till next Sunday — so you won’t know till Monday.
Me too. They did not do justice to the film.
Well, there’s no indication in the film how they reproduce, but even so, they’re still remarkable convergent with humans. So I guess tits aren’t any weirder than two forward-facing eyes or four limbs.
The jungles aren’t quite green, actually — the Na’vi blend in pretty well.
I’m sort of glad the trailers don’t do justice for the film. I want to leave the best parts for when I actually see it.
Glad to hear it MaryAnn.
Can’t wait to see this in 7 days!
This is a ripoff of “Dances with Smurfs”
“District 9” had aliens that displayed convergent evolution: bipedal tetrapods. That’s relatively believable. But here? They’re blue, and a bit gangly, but apart from that their skeleton and musculature is exactly human. Their whole design is embarrassingly Star Trek: throw some paint and forehead ridges on them and call them aliens.
If any of you feel like going to the Nov. 2009 issue of Scientific American, Michael Shermer relates his argument with Richard Dawkins about the probability of humaniod aliens. Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, believes the probability to be essentially zero, while Dawkins believes it to be merely improbable, going on to remind us that given a large enough number of worlds that a low statistical number would still result in a high absolute number.
Thus while Star Trek is not realistic in its protrayal of interstellar biological diversity, when a stand alone movie happens to have humaniod aliens it is not committing some sort of sin. It is committing artistic liscence to make it easier for us to feel empathy for them.
I personally believe that certain biological shapes would be more conducive to intelligence, just as certian shapes would be more conducive to life in water. Unfortunately there is no way to test this theory until humanity gets off its military spending addiction and gets us into outer space – way out in space, way, way, way out. But give me half of the Pentagon’s budget and I’d have us colonizing the Moon by 2020.
Well tits are actually extremely weird on a non-pacental mammal… much more than forward facing eyes (a predator or tree living trait) and four limbs (a very generalized body shape). It just concerned me in terms of how much influence science actually had in the design of the aliens to see the Director acknowledging (and even doing interviews in playboy about it) that the Aliens gots to have the boobies. Even though within the science based structure they seem to have come up with for the aliens it makes no sense.
But as I say, glad it works out – and since as you say, there is no mention of how they reproduce in the movies nobody will notice.
Gasp. Did Zuko and Katara finally hook up?
Oh wait. Wrong Avatar.
I’m sure the effects are fantastic, and I can’t wait to see the film–but is Cameron really the first person to achieve this? As described, this seems to be the same process used to CGI-ify Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean, and he seemed pretty watchable to me.
I know it’s fun for many people to pick apart the actual science of a science fiction film, tv show, book, etc. For many of you, biology and evolution are extremely important for you. Maybe you work in the field. Maybe you just need it to be realistic for you to enjoy it. I know I even giggled at the rogue neutrinos in 2012.
Still, the whole point of science fiction and fantasy (you could argue Avatar is more of a fantasy film than Sci-fi if you wish) is to examine what it means to be “human.” So who cares if the aliens are blue with mammary glands if the main character learns something about his own morality, or if the audience walks away feeling something similar.
@Alli: True, but I guess it depends on the story and what it needs to work. I’m perfectly happy to forgive Star Wars all of its scientific inaccuracies. But some SF stories really do benefit from being grounded in science, or at least in what’s hypothetically plausible; if it seems like it could happen, then it makes whatever moral questions it’s exploring even more meaningful. I think that’s what gives films like 2001 and Contact a lot of their power.
Having said that, I don’t think any scientific errors in Avatar is going to make it any less fun for me.
P.S. There’s an amusing story about the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson complaining about bad science in movies, particularly how the night sky in Titanic was inaccurate, and his long debate with Cameron about it. Tyson tells it best:
After reading your review, and several others, I am back to being excited to see this. I wonder if I can take my 8-year old, though. He would freaking love this, but I need to know if there is anything “inappropriate” for a boy his age. He’s loved the Star Wars movies, Jurassic park, even Fellowship(I have yet to show him the other 2 due to the war scenes…and my wife’s concerns. Ok, more my wife’s concerns. lol)
OK, I know you’ve seen the movie and I haven’t, but I still think you’re overstating the case here. In all the dozens of screen images and clips we’ve seen, it looks like Cameron has “solved” the dead-eyes problem the same way animators have “solved” it forever: they’ve made he eyes impossibly big, and thus both more sympathetic and easier to animate. He’s avoided the Uncanny Valley, sure, but by moving the Na’vi to the left of the graph, not past the valley to the right. We’ve seen that done convincingly since Gollum, and he was done 8 years ago.
Oh please! Any literary genre can do this. A lot of science fiction is pure escapism. Though I’m sure some scholars (or at least fanboys) have tried to make the case, I doubt that the Star Wars movies were intended to function as a deep meditation into what it means to be “human.”
The potential problem with putting bad science into a story is that it can be *distracting*. The thermodynamic poppycock in The Matrix diminished my original enjoyment of the movie (I’ve since gotten over it).
That’s part of it, but a small part. The really annoying thing is the artistic laziness of it. Cameron had the talent at his disposal to design something anatomically believable and yet still fully alien, and he chose this.
As I said, it’s not merely that they’ve got a torso, two arms, two legs, and a head. Take a look at how their arms connect to their torsos. If you’ve got a good grasp of human anatomy you’ll notice that they’ve got scapulae, clavicles, pectorals, deltoids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi. Look at their necks, you’ll notice that flanking their gullets are a pair of SCM muscles. From their human ribs to their human pubis runs their rectus abdominis. Their spines bend in exactly the way ours do.
It goes on and on. Apart from some stylization of the proportions there is a 1:1 anatomical relationship. It’s not just a failure of scientific believability, it’s a failure of imagination.
Oi, what is it about the build up to this flick that makes me want to rant so…
The unironic use of the term “unobtanium” grates on me. For any who don’t know, unobtanium is used by engineers, typically of the aerospace variety, to describe any material that would solve of their design problems. Unobtanium isn’t difficult to find, it’s impossible to find because it specifically doesn’t exist. It’s an idiotic term, because it describes an idiotic solution:
Engineer A: How do we rebuild these struts so thay’ll hold up to the stresses?
Engineer B: Oh, easy. We machine them out of unobtanium.
Before anyone mentions it, The Core got away with using the term for two reasons. First, it was used by Delroy Lindo’s character (and the writers) ironically, as evidenced by his embarrassed expression, and the chuckles from the other characters who get the joke. And second, because in The Core, the unobtanium was a plot enabling device, not the MacGuffin.
Only you can say what you think is inappropriate for your child. Lots of people think violence is inappropriate for children — I would. On the other hand, many people would prefer their children watch extreme violence rather than loving sex — I wouldn’t.
That said, there is no sex in this film. There is a lot of violence.
No, that’s not true. Genres other than science fiction cannot compare what it means to be human to what it means to be something other than human while still also intelligent, sentient, conscious, part of a larger culture, etc. That doesn’t mean that *all* SF is an experiment in what it means to be human. I do think that only SF can be about taking away elements of what we do consider to define humanity — like, perhaps, a biological body — and see what happens. (For instance: Is Robocop still human, even though he’s mostly machine?)
Think of it as similar to a character named Macguffin. It really doesn’t matter *what* the mineral is here that the humans want: all that matters, to the plot and theme, is that the humans want it. Cameron could well have called it macguffanium.
But all the things that we are being compared to are human, in that they are products of the human imagination. In Star Trek, it’s pretty obvious the alien races are all just humans in which certain traits are exaggerated.
I’m doubtful that the majority of science fiction is about the role our physical form plays in defining us. Culture and technology are also given prominent roles and both can explored in other genres. Even certain aspects of our physical reality, such as gender and race, can be explored outside of the realms of Science Fiction. And in any case, what does Robocop’s status as a human really tell us about ourselves? Some ideas in science fiction may be fun, but I suspect they are also often of a trivial nature.
But SF does allow for coming at issues at an angle that the literary genre does not. For example, the original Star Trek attempted to show the foolishness of racism by having two groups of people fighting because one group was black on the right side and white on the left and the other group was reversed. Humans look at them and say, so what, but the aliens thought it was incredibly important. In the same way, an alien biologist might come to Earth and take gene samples, and notice that there is far less difference genetically between blacks and whites than there is between men and women. But by looking at the alien racism, we can think about racism without assuming all the old arguments about blacks and whites on Earth; it’s a dodge around our preconceptions.
SF also has the advantage of being set in the future, so writers can, say, put a woman in command of a space ship, or have a black man as a highly respected expert on artifical intelligence (original ST again). Even without ever addressing sexism or racism, the fact of having those characters is a statement against sexism or racism.
In the case of this movie, Americans can go to a movie about the immorality of capitalist imperialism and feel sorry for the Vietnamese . . . opps, I mean aliens. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I don’t know the best reality to compare to this metaphor yet.
Well, the entire six-film arc of Star Wars pretty much traces how Darth Vader loses and then regains his humanity. And Lucas has acknowledged that the films were influenced by Joseph Campbell’s exploration of mythical archetypes and how he thinks they inform human culture and experience. Whether the films treated those themes successfully or not is a separate issue; but it seems pretty clear that Lucas consciously intended the films to explore “what it means to be human.”
The most effective means of doing this often come by way of relying on the kinds of story ideas and tropes that are more readily explored by science fiction and fantasy. Take for instance the exploration of what it means to have a soul in many robot stories or what it means for something to be “alive” or “human”.All concepts that are more easily parsed out by sci-fi and to a certain degree fantasy.
A lot of fiction in general is pure escapism. That has no bearing on the few pieces of fiction that aren’t.
You could use that question as a springboard to other interesting questions. Here’s a try:
– If we consider Robocop human even when he mostly lacks a human body, does that mean “humanity” resides entirely in the intellect and the emotions?
– If “humanity” is entirely separate from biological features, then isn’t that a powerful argument against racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice that seek to deny certain groups of people their full humanity?
– And if and when Artificial Intelligence is achieved, and if and when we recognize it, at what point do we grant AI entities human status with full rights?
So it seems to me that SF scenarios can provide the starting point for conversations about humanity that, beyond being fun, have the potential to have real-world implications.
Good old Star Trek had all the subtlety of a wack in the back of the head with a shovel. Everything is constructed, often clumsily, to champion a particular set of human values. Some people have this strange idea that putting the words of a screenwriter into the speaking orifice of an extraterrestrial (or whatever pure energy beings speak from) gives them extra weight. Or into the mouth of a real historical Indian Chief, as the Chief Seattle/Ted Perry incident reveals.
I’m not disputing that well-crafted science fiction is literature. My point was simply that literature in general explores “what it means to be human.” To me, the point of saying that SF does this is to defend SF as a legitimate literary form (which it is), rather than claiming that it is somehow unique in this regard.
Based on what I’ve read/seen so far, Avatar strikes me as having thematic similarities to movies like Dances with Wolves.
But I can easily twist this in directions I suspect you wouldn’t like…if the realization of “full” humanity requires a concentration of resources, shouldn’t we all seek to define humanity in a way that’s most favorable to our own circumstances? I am of the view that the project of “civilization” has historically involved the concentration of power. Of course, in a fictional world, such relationships are no longer conjectures but laws of motion.
Of course any literary genre can do this, because that’s what literature and art is: it’s a glimpse into the human mind and spirit. That’s why we’re all so passionate about it, and why every person has a different opinion on it. But as Maryann suggested, Sci-fi allows us to compare humanity with the otherwordly, which you can’t always do in other genres.
How can a man who is mostly machine still hold on to his humanity? It’s his choices. His morality. What makes him human isn’t what he looks like but how he thinks, sees the world, relates to others, etc. That is what Robocop and almost every Sci-Fi film or novel tells us about ourselves.
You want to talk Star Wars? Unlike Robocop, There are times is Sci-Fi when making a character look less human or more machine, reflects how he or she has distanced himself from his humanity. Stars Wars for example: Anikan Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, a machine, after joining the dark side. Anikan’s drive for power and conquering death made him a monster. Yet, he was able to redeem himself at the end of Jedi, when we see his soul intact. He’s the classic Greek tragic hero. Moral of the story: Lust for power destroys your compassion for others and your ability to relate to them, and those two characteristics are part of what makes you human.
Was Lucas’s main point to make us think deeply about humanity? No, he wanted to make a successful film that made a shit ton of money. But he still made a series about the duality of man and choice.
Wow. I didn’t expect such a conversation to spring up. To be honest, I find this humanity debate rather boring, and skipped over most of your posts. I’m just looking for a fun movie here. If it gets me thinking afterwards, then all the better.
Carry on, I guess.
Oh, absolutely. My point was that SF scenarios such as those in Robocop can spark conversations (such as the one we’re starting to have right here) about the nature of humanity and its implications. You’re right that SF is as legitimate a literary form as others, and that SF, like all literature, can explore what it means to be human–which makes me wonder why you then go on to ridicule Robocop and Star Wars as being unable to do exactly that.
Sure. He could also have called it pandorite, or Element 121. Unobtanium is a stupid word, deliberately so, but it has a specific meaning. Maybe he supplies contextual clues to the joke in some scene other than the one on the web (with Giovani Ribisi and Sigourney Weaver arguing about “jarheads”). If not, then a part of his core audience is going to find the term misused, while the rest of he audience thinks its a dumb name. Macguffinium would grate on me for the same reason. It’s too meta to toss aroud like that, particularly in a film the director thinks will become a division point between eras of filmmaking.
All kinds of events can spark interesting conversations. I don’t really consider something to be a literary achievement unless it also adds something new to the conversation. Star Wars may well be intended as an update to a particular myth, but as far as I can tell, it’s new sheen on an old story (I actually do value the first three movies, based on release date, but not as literary accomplishments. They were technical accomplishments and have stood the test of time as entertainment). People may have talked about racism after seeing Crash, but in my opinion, the movie itself didn’t offer any compelling new insights into the nature of racial relations. I think that the defining feature of great literature is that our engagement with the work itself has somehow made us wiser.
@Jolly: I know Star Trek isn’t SF at its finest. In many ways, Star Trek and Star Wars have more in common with old pulp, pre WWII SF than they do with modern SF. But since this is a movie review site and I can more safely assume people have seen Star Trek than read “Left Hand of Darkness,” it makes sense to me to use Star Trek examples. I’m not saying that to be snobbish, BTW; ten times as many books are published each year than movies are made, so even book lovers are more likely to have seen the same movies or TV shows than read the same books.
You know I can’t believe all the people with so obviously bitter and twisted views on life in general not only on films. Those with such negative, back-biting attitude I doubt have the mental state to enjoy any film on the level it was meant to be seen and when, ‘nauseating 3D’ is thrown in on top I’m sure it must be a big problem for them. I’ve not seen the full film, only the long trailer. Anyone who watches this film on anything other than full IMAX GT giant-screen would be better giving the ticket price to charity. If true IMAX GT upsets your eyes/brain go and get both checked out by a specialist – don’t moan to everyone on the internet about it. I can tell everyone here that if you sit down in front of full-size IMAX and let yourself go you will be blown away. I’m still laughing my head off at all the, ‘expert gamers’ that decry the film after only having seen a 1080p version of their 24″ LCD home monitor – My advice to them is to stay in your bedroom get some beers in, call for a pizza and relax, AVATAR is really not for you.
First of all, it’s really rude to suggest people should see a doctor just because they cannot stomach imax..there is such a thing as too much of a good thing..and some people find it impossible to get used to the ginormous screen.
Second of all, a good film should stand on its own, not some technological gimmick. If a films such as Avatar has good plot, good character development, memorable action scenes, then it will be a good experience for the viewer, regardless of what sort of cinema they see it in.
MaryAnn seemed to have thoroughly appreciated all of the films virtues, even if she hasn’t (yet) seen it in 3D/Imax…technological wizardry cannot supplant a good story and believable characters.
So ..please..give us all a break about seeing it in Imax ..or whatever..in order to do the film justice…it is a matter of personal choice..and some people are simply not into the whole 3D/imax thing…
I agree that engaging with great literature can make us wiser. (Is there a better word than “literature” when talking about film?) I wasn’t arguing that Robocop or Star Wars are great literature, only that they say something about what it means to be human–not necessarily something new, or better-said than anything that has gone before.
In any case, isn’t “new” a problematic standard? We all experience books and films by ourselves, on our own, and what’s new for one person may be old hat for another. If Star Wars is what gets a young child thinking for the first time about the idea of losing one’s innocence, and the danger of being consumed by anger or fear, and if the child grows a little wiser as a result, then the films have performed a valuable service, I think.
Anyway–Avatar! I’m looking forward to seeing it and maybe coming back here with more on-topic comments. :-)
I agree. This is why I get annoyed when people argue that film critics should be “objective.” When we go to a movie or read a book, we’re carrying with us everything that we’ve experienced to that point in our life. Of course it influences how we react to the work we are experiencing. I saw Chinatown, which some have claimed is a defining moment in film noir, a few years ago and wasn’t really impressed. It occurred to me that part of the reason is that I had already seen so many movies that were influenced by it.
I suppose only the screenplay itself is technically literature. Is “performing arts” the right term? Or is film something else again?
With regards to comments by both Paul and Bluejay, I think that “pulp” can and does enrich our lives.
Unfortunately I suspect that by the time I actually get around to seeing Avatar this particular thread will have been long abandoned…
I was not really looking forward to Avatar, given I found Titanic a great-looking but over-long exercise.
As much as I dislike movies that look like big video games, there seems to be a little more going on in Avatar. So we plan to go see it Saturday morning.
Generally, I dislike cross-marketing, but the Avatar promotion as part of Bones last week was very funny.
drt rocketscience, i totally agree with you on that point about the name of the material. he could have thought up a “cooler” name that wouldnt sound silly when spoken aloud.
Already, I am reading negative feedback from people who have not seen the movie. How miserable can individuals be? I would love to see the naysayers go out and do something that is 1/10 of what Cameron has done. Until then, SHUT UP!
Science could have had an extreme influence on the design of everything in the film, yet still not trumped boobs (and the overall human-like design). I have to give Cameron a nod here for a very practical decision — let science dictate the design, up to the point where it conflicts with Cameron’s goals.
I think it’s worth comparing with District 9. As JoshB mentioned, that’s a movie where the aliens exhibit convergent evolution, but yet are still distinctly and very non-human. Now, is this a question of how much science was allowed to influence the design? Or is it a question of wanting different things from the result? In District 9, the prawns were supposed to look hideous and utterly non-human. The whole point is that at the beginning, you’re supposed to understand the racists’ point of view: These things are weird, ugly, seemingly dumb, violent, and uncivilized. Boy I can’t blame the people of Johannesburg for wanting them to be walled off! And then you slowly come to sympathize with them.
Cameron is obviously going for ‘aliens’ who are more sympathetic from the get-go. You’re supposed to automatically assume they are capable of human thought and emotion, and the easiest way to do that is to make them look roughly human.
Unless there’s a strong scientific reason I’m unaware of as to why milk glands couldn’t evolve in anything other than an earth mammal, then this decision is ultimately just as arbitrary as all the other “evolution” that informed creature designs. Just instead of it being “a hammer-head on a big quadruped dinosaur-thing looks awesome”, it’s “boobs are awesome”.
More to the point, “Unobtanium” is a mythical material that has the properties you require, when no such material is known to exist.
People talk about how having a Space Elevator Climber Challenge is silly because we don’t have the “Unobtanium” to make an elevator. A valid point, but on the other hand, at some point we may develop a way to synthesize nanotubes of sufficient strength and length to make it feasible. At that point, the “unobtanium” will actually exist.
And the engineers may keep calling it unobtanium for a while, as a joke. And upper management may pick up on it, and think that’s what it’s called. And they’ll keep asking when they’re going to be getting enough Unobtanium to finish the project. I can see a prospector returning from Pandora telling their superiors: “Uh, sir? We’ve found the Unobtanium”.
I realize I’m adding backstory to a movie I haven’t even seen, but frankly “unobtanium” strikes me as an in-joke, especially if they play it straight.
The Core got away with it because it was an exceedingly dumb movie, and the usage of a word like “unobtanium” would be 1000th on the list of complaints of any scientist no matter how egregiously they abused it. ;)
This doesn’t look like a big video game. It really doesn’t.
They do play it straight, and I do think it’s meant to be an in-joke, particularly because there is *no explanation whatsoever* what this mineral is, why it’s valuable, or why the humans want it. Which is fine: it doesn’t matter. We want it, and we will find a way to take it. That’s the only point that matters.
The fact that it is a “practical decision,” let alone an apparent first thought, that a female alien must have “tits,” makes me inutterably sad.
Moot point, since I can’t see the movie anyway (wearing 3D glasses over my regular ones for even 20 minutes gives me headaches), but between Cameron’s quote and the “What These People Really Need Is A Honky” storyline, I can’t muster too much sorrow.
the “What These People Really Need Is A Honky” storyline
This is what I want to know: how bad is the “Noble Savages rescued by white guy” aspect? (And the “disability is so very very awful that naturally he would want to pretend to be another species” aspect?). Visually it looks kind of intriguing, but I don’t want to throw money at it if it’s as racist as the previews looked.
A couple of months ago I thought this looked like a tremendous waste of time and money, but having now seen it in 3D, I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen that is more visually stunning.
But I’m fairly fantasy-prone, so I can easily forgive the common story-telling devices and lack of authentic character development.
Anyone so sensitive as to be worried about accurate science or racism in this movie should probably stay home — in general.