I went to see Avatar last Sunday night at the gigantic IMAX theater in the Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, MA. (I admit it’s the second time I saw it, but who can resist the IMAX cinematic experience and the “butt-kicker” personal speakers behind every tempurpedic seat?) Sitting far too close to focus during the frequent aerial action scenes and feeling rather woozy, I realized that maybe there may be something to a Slate article I read a while ago about why 3D may just be a passing fad. But, on to what people really want to know: how did James Cameron’s new block-buster, action-packed, fantasy-filled adventure fare when it came to the science it portrayed?
From interstellar space travel for mining the rare mineral, unobtanium, to remotely controlled alien-human hybrids, Avatar’s creators tried to draw on known science, although most not practically applicable yet. They imagined the technological advances that might plausibly take place in the future to allow much of what goes on in Avatar.
First off, here is a fantastic commentary by Cameron and others from Discovery on the Science Behind Pandora.
One quote I love is Cameron describing how the creature design team for the movie referenced real animals’ features and anatomies:
“We were going back to nature the whole time and using nature’s resourcefulness and imagination to fuel what we were doing which is why the creatures feel real.”
Here’s a smattering of interesting, well-written reads on the topic that covers things not in the short video:
Popular Mechanics had a great article on their website where they go into 4 different technologies in Avatar – the two I mention above, as well as the Aliens-esque robot-suits that the humans wear, and the possibility of the existance of the Earth-like Pandora in a remote solar system. The article gets opinions from experts that study the current science that inspired the movie and reveals real work going on now that might make these things possible in the future.
Another great article I found is from MSNBC. It explores some similar themes but also talks about how many of the animals in the movie have six legs. This may seem weird but as the writer points out, most of the living things on our own plant, insects, are similarly hexapodal. They also mention how both the Na’vi and their flying mounts, the banshees (ikran if you’re Na’vi) both have 4 legs, enticingly suggesting they may be more closely related. Very cool references to evolutionary biology.
I applaud the movie makers for doing, on the whole, a great job with the science, and incorporating so much of it – biology, physics, astronomy. Whether you liked the film or not, judging from the plethora of articles about it on the internet, it undoubtedly does a great job getting people thinking and talking about science.