Piling On Avatar

Piling On Avatar
Like most movies, Avatar makes less sense the more you think about it.  I recall others complaining about (and myself noticing) its shallow characters, wooden dialog, overly forced conflict, and its all too obvious message.  But my recent second viewing revealed to me a whole new depth of confusion.  Many spoilers about Avatar’s planet:
A special region destroys human navigation and search tech, but doesn’t interfere at all with their very high bandwidth long-distance remote control of avatars.
In this region huge rocks float in the air, though plants, animals, and water fall normally.  Far more water falls from the bottom of some rocks than falls onto them from above.
The large floating rocks are rough and worn, but no rubble of small rocks float in the air beside them.
Huge human ships and local flying animals weigh far too much relative to their surface area to fly.
Huge human machines and especially certain local trees are far too large to hold themselves up.
The density of jungle plant and animal life, in terms of average energy expended, is far larger than could be supported by the sunlight falling in from above.
Natives domesticate animals, use advanced tech for clothes and weapons requiring specialization and trade, live in groups of hundreds, are a few days travel from thousands of others, are monogamous, with hereditary and elevated leaders.  All of these appeared in humans only a few millennia ago.  Our meeting them at such a similar stage of development is an incredible time coincidence.
Animals on this planet evolved hardware for direct mind contact and control, though this serves no apparent function other than enabling natives to domesticate animals.  Yet a few millennia is far too short a time for such hardware to evolve.
Huge animals live near natives eager to hunt them to gain their meat at a proportionally low cost.  Such animals will be quickly exterminated, as humans did to most huge Earth animals.  An even more incredible coincidence to arrive before then.
A complex global system for exchanging signals between trees, natives, and animals has arisen, though it seems to perform no evolutionary function except in the extreme circumstance of alien invaders of the planet.
In three months a human working an avatar body can outperform every local who has learned their bodies for decades.

Like most movies, Avatar makes less sense the more you think about it.  On my first viewing, I noticed its spectacular special effects, but also its shallow characters, wooden dialog, overly forced conflict, and its all too obvious message.  My recent second viewing revealed to me whole new depths of confusion. Many spoilers about Avatar’s world:

  • A special region destroys human navigation and search tech, but doesn’t interfere at all with very high bandwidth long-distance remote control of avatars.
  • In this special region huge rocks float in the air, though animals and water fall normally.  Far more water falls from the bottom of some rocks than seems to fall onto them from above.
  • The large floating rocks are rough and worn, but no rubble of small rocks float in the air beside them.
  • Huge human flying ships and local flying animals weigh far too much, relative to their surface area, to be able to fly.
  • Certain local trees (and perhaps some human machines) are far too large to hold themselves up.
  • The density of jungle plant and animal life, in terms of average rate of energy expended, seems far larger than could be supported by the sunlight falling in from above.
  • Natives domesticate animals, use advanced tech for clothes and weapons, tech requiring specialization and trade, live in groups of hundreds at fixed locations, are a few days travel from thousands of others, are monogamous, and have hereditary and elevated leaders.  On Earth, all of these appeared only a few millennia ago, and this behavior package is now mostly past.  Our meeting aliens at such a similar brief stage of development is an incredible coincidence, as is their following such a similar path as ours.
  • Animals on this planet evolved hardware for direct mind contact and control, though this serves no apparent function other than enabling natives to domesticate animals.  Yet a few millennia is far too short a time for such detailed matched hardware to evolve.
  • Huge animals live near natives, who should be eager to hunt them to gain their meat at a proportionally low cost. Such animals will be quickly exterminated, as humans did to most huge Earth animals.  It is an even greater time coincidence to arrive while such animals remain common.
  • A complex global system for exchanging signals between trees, natives, and animals has arisen, though it seems to perform no function except in the extreme circumstance of being warned of an alien invasion by advanced natives.  How could unused abilities of a single undying organism ever evolve?
  • In three months a human working an avatar body can outperform every native who has learned their bodies for decades.
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  • Andy McKenzie

    Ah, but I thought that a few days ago you were asking “what’s the point?” 🙂

    I see some upsides to the movie. For example, might Avatar have been the first introduction to a primitive form of brain uploading for many? http://andymckenzie.blogspot.com/2010/01/brain-uploading-in-avatar.html

  • Peter Twieg

    Keep in mind that Pandora is supposed to have lower gravity than Earth. That might address some of these issues.

  • http://t-a-w.blogspot.com/ Tomasz Wegrzanowski

    I’m sure if someone from ancient Rome came to our times by accident, they’d have a similarly convincing list of things which don’t make sense to them.

    1. Confusion is normal when facing other technologies and civilizations.
    2. It’s just a damn movie.

  • http://twitter.com/roblingle Rob

    Perhaps their technology had been far beyond ours and they pointedly chose to return to more ‘primitive’ lifestyles while maintaining their genetically engineered animals and plants, and terraformed, magnetically levitated islands.

    They created their own idea of paradise and then humans arrived thousands of years later. I guess that’s what I took away from the electrical connections observed in the trees and the ‘alters’ that lived on in the sacred tree after physical death.

  • http://bbot.org/blog/ bbot

    That’s it? I had a lot more nitpicks than that paltry handful.

    Also: Unobtainium is supposed to be a room-temperature superconductor, which is why it floats. Of course, the magnetic field of a rocky moon wouldn’t be nearly large enough to float a superconductor, that’s not how superconductors float, (they’re not conventional diamagnets) and no superconductor is valuable enough to justify transport over interstellar distances; but there’s that.

  • John 4

    I certainly found a lot not to like about Avatar. But I think the movie consciously rejects many of the presuppositions behind the complaints you list here. In particular, I think your evolutionary worries are beside the point: like “unobtanium”, Pandora represents (an aspect of) something real without claiming to be realistic itself. Part of what Pandora represents is nature in an Edenic state. That idea is pretty much incompatible with evolution.

    Your technology point stands and is a rather damning one I think, as are some of the others.

  • http://perfectomania.com Roman Nastenko

    Natives have facial expressions EXACTLY like humans.

    • Jayson Virissimo

      I wondered how people would have related to the aliens if they had cockroach like eyes and screeching, unpleasant sounding, voices. Would anyone have cared that they were wiped out?

      • Remus Thirty

        You’re right, District 9 was a good movie.

  • Chris T

    Pandora is nothing more than an idealized view of native hunter/gatherer tribes before European contact. It makes sense if you view it as one man’s yearning for something that never was and can never be.

  • Vastdistances

    A lot of the problems can be solved when you start to consider that the whole planet has been more or less designed by a gaia like intelegence. Given how little the Na’vi grow and adapt they could have been living losely the same lives for billions of years.

  • Bock

    Different movie, but how do the Jedi light sabers work?

    I don’t think popular sci-fi is meant to pass these tests.

    Clearly, from the title, Avatar is inspired by virtual reality worlds, where physics doesn’t matter so much.

  • Josh

    I believe the answer to some of your criticisms here is that for whatever reason or none, life on Avatar’s planet evolved a more overt way of regulating evolution and maintaining ecological stability than exists on earth.

    Much as humanity, having developed culture, may have put an end to many existential threats that would promote natural selection in our species, the biological life on Avatar actively promotes “socialized” wildlife. The native humanoids do not kill all the large game because their will to populate and expand is regulated and checked by the communal mind that negotiates the respective needs of its many different lifeforms rather than elevating a particular species.

    A giant planetary mind such as the one in Avatar might conduct this balancing act at a very low level of consciousness or by simple rule-following, and be raised into activity only when an existential threat or opportunity presents itself; this would explain the delay before the final overt self-protective coordination in the movie, if planetary consciousness mirrors human consciousness as a backup to the instinctive and sub-conscious.

    Of course this reveals a weakness in the Pandora mind. It might be ineffective at protecting itself and its constituents from major geological or astronomical events. Perhaps this unpleasant altercation with alien life will lead the planetary mind to muse, in its ample free time, on whether it should build better defenses or expand and diversify beyond its native planet.

  • y81

    I didn’t see the movie, but, as to the last point, the man in question is an American. It’s a well-known movie fact that an American can master in a few months what those funny foreign people spend their whole life learning and outperform the benighted natives at their own game.

    Remember how the Enterprise crew was always solving some millennia-old, planet-wide problem before the hour ended (while Captain Kirk f—–d the aliens’ princess)? Remember how one right cross from Bogie flattened that Jap? That’s Hollywood.

  • Captain Oblivious

    What I couldn’t figure out is why the Na’vi only have one “comm port” in their pony tails, whereas the animals all have two, in appendages on the sides of their heads. How did the Na’vi end up with just one? In their HAIR, of all places! Some bizarre evolutionary twist?

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    You might wonder why the Na’vi are four-limbed and otherwise humanoid while all other animals are six-limbed (also see Captain Oblivious’ comment above), and in particular why are they so sexy? Here’s a very interesting theory to explain that — helps if you’ve read the Bruce Sterling story Swarm.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    My main problem was that every species was hexapodal except the intelligent natives. This seemed really to just be so they could have the cute monster girl:

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CuteMonsterGirl (and obligatory warning that TVtropes will ruin your life)

  • Cyan

    The biggest coincidence of all, as observed here, is that the Na’vi look just human enough to be beautiful, with a bit of cute cat and cute dog facial features so as to not appear obviously human. Oh, and tits.

  • Dave

    All I could think about when I was watching was, “I think I’d trade some of those rocks for some the technology of indoor plumbing.” Give me a toilet in that tree over some worthless rocks.

  • http://pdf23ds.net pdf23ds

    Oh, oh, and you missed one: glowing moss. WTF? Yeah, that seems like a way efficient use of energy there. I can’t imagine why that hasn’t evolved on Earth. (Maybe it has, but not in forested areas AFAIK.)

  • saf

    For me, the difficulties can be resolved by assuming that the story takes place in the far future, and that the Na’vi are genetically engineered descendents of an idealistic and technologically sophisticated bunch of humans who colonized and bioengineered Pandora.

  • http://stevewhite2.blogspot.com Steve

    There is very low gravity on Pandora (it’s a moon so that makes some sense) so that might help explain why things that seem like they couldn’t fly can.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Yes, the natives looking and acting like humans, was a remarkable coincidence.

    Peter and Steve, humans seem to interact with their bodies and objects much as here, so it can’t be that much weaker. Certainly not enough to support those huge trees. And to the natives, which are twice as tall, slower gravity should make things fall a lot slower relative to their bodies, which we do not see.

    bbot, yes you have many nitpicks, though most are in the plot not the setting.

    John, I doubt most viewers understand eden and evolution to be incompatible.

    Rob and Vast and saf, I didn’t see the natives failing to adapt. And their ideal paradise includes frequent war?!

    Josh, lots of local life was killing other life. What exactly do you mean by “socialized” besides no species ever going extinct. And how could a no-species-extinct system ever evolve via natural selection? What function does that even serve?

    • Josh

      Hi Robin, aside from species not going extinct, they were also maintained in some kind of balance of population and intertwined activity. You readily got the sense the the niches occupied in this ecosystem had been occupied for a long time. It’s unclear for how many millennia, for instance, that mid-sized group of Na’vi had been inhabiting that one giant tree.

      You ask “how could a no-species-extinct system ever evolve via natural selection?”

      What I meant to suggest in my earlier comment (thanks for reading) was that it hadn’t – that it had been steered.

      Much as human culture has blunted many forms of natural selection we would otherwise face on this planet, this planetary mind may also have stopped allowing natural selection to proceed freely, tweaking the development and comportment of species to be something more comfortable or even aesthetically pleasing for it.

      These neural connections could have evolved through natural selection as a solution to gathering energy from the planetary core, perhaps from the despicably named unobtanium deposits. (One explanation for why vegetation can be so lush buried beneath the forest canopy). And in time, and by the happy accident that the energy linkage evolved especially closely with neural tissue, a system capable of supporting a mind emerged.

      Perhaps the planet has been blessed so far with a high degree of geological stability. In which case, why need the system serve any higher function than the comfort and pleasure of the engineering brain?

  • Eric Falkenstein

    And don’t forget, Tony Starks suit in IronMan does not protect him from the large g forces that come with getting smack about like a giant golf ball. His body may stay in one piece inside the suit, but his organs, including his brain, would explode. Plus, the foot propulsion mechanism is not aerodynamically stable.

    • kevin

      And what does Iron Man use to propel himself? He flies like a rocket but he doesn’t carry any fuel, just his sweet fusion device.

  • Aron

    Of course the humor in having all these ‘confusions’ is that Pandora actually does exist! Unfortunately they shut down the simulation after completing sufficient video capture, but the bits are still lying around somewhere.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP
  • Isak

    What is the point of all of this? In my experience, the only consequence of thinking critically about some movie is that your enjoyment on subsequent viewings decreases.

  • Adam

    I recently bought the Field Guide to Pandora, a movie tie-in guide, and they did a relatively good job of attempting to explain a lot of these inconsistencies. It might answer questions about the floating mountains, bioluminescent moss and the different ratio of gases in the air affects air density, which, together with low gravity, let things grow much larger than would otherwise be efficient on earth.

  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

    I thought the problem with Avatar is that it’s what you get when you say “Let’s do FernGully remake, but aimed at teenage boys who play video games all day.”

  • Unnamed

    Avatar is not supposed to have a coherent evolutionary backstory – if you want to imagine one, it would have to involve some kind of intelligent design.

    My take on Avatar is: we’ve all heard a lot of far-talk about respecting nature, Gaia, being at one with nature, and so on, a vague spiritualism typically associated with native peoples and hippies. Avatar applies near-thinking to those ideas, envisioning what the planet would have to be like for them to literally be true. The result is a planet that’s a supercomputer, where every living thing has something like a fiber-optic cable to connect to the mainframe.

    It’s similar to what Ted Chiang does in some of his stories, where he imagines that some religious myth is actually true (e.g., Golems come to life and obey instructions) and considers what it would be like in that world (religious explanations of Golems are fringe beliefs and Golem-programming is like computer programming). The main difference is that Chiang challenges our far-view ideals by showing that even if the beliefs were actually true, the near view of that world would be very different from the far-view meaning that we attach to it. Cameron (rather implausibly) preserves the far-view meaning in that world (the Na’vi have a New Age spirituality) but I still see it as challenging our far-view ideals by showing how different the world would have to be for them to hold up.

  • rsaarelm

    It’d make a lot more sense if Navis aren’t evolved at all, they’re just what human avatars end up looking like when they’re made to be able to live on Pandora. The native Navis are the descendants of an older failed avatar colonization attempt by humans, and have descended into stone age. New avatars made with current technology look and act like the old ones, so they can fit right in, but perform physically better than the natives, who weren’t really built to stay healthy for decades without a technological infrastructure.

    Too bad there isn’t enough future history in the movie’s timeframe to really fit this in.

    • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

      A ship load of reinforcements, mostly avatars, encountered a time warp and ended up a thousands of years in the past where they became the ancestors of the Na’vi and bioengineered the ecosystem. Don’t know where the flying mountains came from.

  • CraigM

    Ferngully?? I thought it was a Pocahontas remake… viewed from that angle, it is an improvement on the original and at least as realistic/plausible…. if I’m gonna have to sit through a pathetically bad movie with my kids a whole bunch of times, it can at least have 3D and adequate special effects. I think of Avatar as “enhancing” the disney Pocahontas story in the same way Ian McKellen’s 1995 version of Richard III enhanced the original Shakespeare. The difference is that frosting a well-made cake is a very different thing than putting icing on a dog turd.

  • http://twitter.com/RetardedAndroid RetardedAndroid

    You stupid idiot!

    Avatar is just a movie and the whole set exists in another world.
    Like every movie it won’t make sense if you think longer about it. Just accept this or stop watching movies.

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  • http://twitter.com/XiXiDu XiXiDu

    I’ve already written this when the first trailer came out: “Ridiculous bullshit. Comparable to BSG in its dullness. I’ve only watched the new Battlestar Galactica until I saw Adama wearing glasses. Never ever watched it again. Besides, it’s too American and too much bullshit army crap. It’s like it was made for injured soldiers entertainment who already had no brains before being wounded. But what did I expect? It’s always the same for stuff which is made for a big audience, it’s reduced to fit the intelligence of the masses. I’ll probably watch it for the visuals. Though my expectations here are different. The contradiction might just hurt too much. I can watch/read fantasy but only as long as it stays up to its possibilities. You can’t resolve such a blatant idiocy. Wheelchairs and wars on exomoons just don’t fit, however you look at it. Besides that it is so obviously borrowed from the current political situations that it’s just silly.”

  • Buck Farmer

    One inconsistency that bugs me…why did human beings try to fight the Na’vi on land?

    It seems obvious to just toss rocks at them from the top of the gravity well. It’s not like we need the planet to be habitable to extract the unobtanium if we no longer care about preserving the natives.

    I imagine the Na’vi would have given in pretty fast once they realized that they couldn’t get out of their gravity well.

    Credit to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for the idea.

    • Roko

      The original ending of avatar was that the mining company nuked Pandora from orbit, but cinema focus groups didn’t like it.

      Sci-fi is optimized for entertainment value, not for realism. I realized this as soon as I read Eli’s sequences here.

      It seems obvious to just toss rocks at them from the top of the gravity well. It’s not like we need the planet to be habitable to extract the unobtanium if we no longer care about preserving the natives.

  • lxm

    So you watched it twice and you are doing your best not to like it. Maybe you need to watch it again.

  • Pangolin

    A number of your questions are resolved by remembering that they are on a moon that has less gravity than earth. The rest, I don’t know. The timing at that level of similarity to human progression just has to be taken as is, since it is one of the basic premises. I’m guessing the Hallelujah mountains are magnetically suspended, possibly by the deposit of unobtanium, or in some other way that related to Eywa, as it was obviously located in the center of the effect. How the minds are transmitted to the Avatars is totally not clear, as there doesn’t appear to be any kind of technological transmitter/receiver (at least on the avatar’s end). The connectors were rather evolutionarily questionable. However, if it was a feature of all life forms from early on, which it seems it would have to be for mammal like beings to connect to a tree-like being. Perhaps it is the progenitor of animals on the planet, or they developed in symbiosis. In any event, the whole neural network thing kind of helps to explain why they might not move to a more industrial mode of life, and why they didn’t hunt large animal to extinction.

  • Price Theory Economist

    I fail to see the purpose of this article. You appear to be objecting to the “realism” of a science-fiction movie. Why? I don’t see this as a criticism worth making, any more than I might object to Jules Verne’s novels, which displayed some basket of impossible or unlikely things.

  • Chris T

    If Avatar didn’t contain any messages, watching it uncritically would be doable. However, it contains a large number of messages (or perceived messages) and tends to be blatant about them. A message is only effective if the premises make sense. The moon’s biosphere is central to the plot and its messages; when you start thinking about how such a system could exist and realize that it couldn’t, the message breaks down.

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com agnostic

    “Such animals will be quickly exterminated, as humans did to most huge Earth animals.”

    That happened to animals who had not coevolved with humans in an arms race, were abruptly introduced to us, and were thus naive to our level of hunting skill — Australia, the New World, etc. In Africa the megafauna evolved in tandem with us, so they were still able to whoop our asses, and we never drove them to extinction.

    In Avatar, do they say how long the people and animals have been living side by side?

  • http://kazart.blogspot.com Mike

    I think all of your objections are handily disposed of with three observations:
    1) Pandora has low gravity
    2) Survivorship bias
    3) Most of what you are thinking is technology on Pandora is biology.
    4) Reality is always stranger than fiction

    The low gravity is consistent with floating mountains, ridiculously tall trees and people, and heavy flying animals.

    Survivorship bias, of all the possible worlds that could be visited and stories written about, only a vanishingly small few will be interesting enough to succeed at the level Avatar succeeds. Thus, any concerns of “unlikely coincidences” may be disposed of this way: the planets on which these things were not true did not yield up such an interesting story as this one. The great success of this story means the unlikely is extremely likely.

    The connectors between Na’vi and animals is biology, not technology. A direct neural connection between two creatures is only one step beyond what we do everyday when we communicate with each other and with our pets. Our behavior, driven by our nervous system, is percieved by and impacts the nervous systems of other people, and of pets. Indeed, the emotional communication between dogs and people is pretty complex and congruent to both creatures. Is the fact that this neural interaction is mediated by a step where the signals travel through light images, or a physical connection but with skin between the two nervous systems mitigating to a slightly indirect connection as when I pet my dog or my wife? Having a somewhat more direct connection is merely a change of mechanism and degree from what we have on our planet.

    Finally, reality is more complex and interesting than fiction. Watch a movie about cuttlefish or the creatures of the very deep ocean. Really stare at some trilobites or even modern lobsters, crabs, crawfish, flies, even bonobos and orangutans. When I saw the movie “Blind side” I knew it could have only been made about a true story, because it would have seemed too unrealistic, too sappy and optimistic, to do as fiction. An interesting comment on human perceptions and stories I thought to myself. But whatever else it does, it drastically reduces my “am I being too credulous in enjoying this movie” feature. Avatar is so unlikely, it just may be like truth!

    Mike

  • Bayesian film-watcher

    These complaints are merely a failure to Bayesian-update on the evidence provided about the hypothetical setting of the film.

    Why would you accept the explicit events of a story without also inferring probable causes for those events and accepting them likewise? Is your complaint that probable causes were not explicitly stated? A good scientist doesn’t complain that nature never told her what its laws were; she figures them out. Similarly for a good film-watcher. The former gets more knowledge, the latter gets a richer film experience. Unfortunately, both types of people are rare.

    Let me illustrate:

    ****************

    Far more water falls from the bottom of some rocks than seems to fall onto them from above. The large floating rocks are rough and worn, but no rubble of small rocks float in the air beside them.

    Clearly, the giant rocks have some low-density mineral near the center (causing a net low-density, hence net floating), and high density rock and water on the outside that falls off if detached (as the film depicted).

    Huge human flying ships and local flying animals weigh far too much, relative to their surface area, to be able to fly.
    Certain local trees (and perhaps some human machines) are far too large to hold themselves up.

    The film even says explicitly that Pandora has low gravity. No problem.

    The density of jungle plant and animal life, in terms of average rate of energy expended, seems far larger than could be supported by the sunlight falling in from above.

    Then life on Pandora is more metabolically efficient than it seemed to you. If it’s more efficient than Earth life (and there’s lots of room for thermodynamic improvement there), Earthlings’ instinctive estimates of energy usage would be skewed to be too large.

    Our meeting aliens at such a similar brief stage of development is an incredible coincidence, as is their following such a similar path as ours.

    This is evidence for lots of intelligent life and, alas, an early Great Filter (common extinction precipitating mechanism) in the Avatar universe.

    Animals on this planet evolved hardware for direct mind contact and control, though this serves no apparent function other than enabling natives to domesticate animals. Yet a few millennia is far too short a time for such detailed matched hardware to evolve. Huge animals live near natives, who should be eager to hunt them to gain their meat at a proportionally low cost. Such animals will be quickly exterminated, as humans did to most huge Earth animals. It is an even greater time coincidence to arrive while such animals remain common.

    Unlike on Earth, this means on Pandora there is actual evidence for the intelligent design of Pandoran life. Like maybe there’s agigantic super-intelligence that pervades the biosphere and preserves the balance and harmony of life… which the film explicitly tells us there is.

    A complex global system for exchanging signals between trees, natives, and animals has arisen, though it seems to perform no function except in the extreme circumstance of being warned of an alien invasion by advanced natives.

    Like I said, and you evidenced, Eywa pretty clearly affected the evolution of Pandoran life. But you’re right that this doesn’t explain how that intelligence itself would evolve:

    How could unused abilities of a single undying organism ever evolve?

    Evidence for Panspermia in the Avatar universe! Planetary-scale organisms would evolve if they competed and reproduced on a super-planetary scale. Sounds like a fun setting, I’ll go with it.

    (Your only complaint that I find valid is the first, because it identifies a mixed message: on the one hand, Grace clearly understands life as an electrochemical phenomenon (as seen in her reductionist description of Eywa), so we infer she’s not transmitting minds in some sort of spirit realm, but on the other hand, electrical interference doesn’t seem to affect the connection, leaving few alternatives. Gravitational waves? I feel the stretch on this one.)
    ****************

    Anyway, stopping your thought process half-way to call something a “flaw” is lazier and less interesting than simply going on to infer what the events of a film communicate implicitly about the setting. These inferences may be disjunctions if more than one explanation exists; I consider this no worse than when a film states an ambiguity explicitly: “No one knows what happened to the body”. The appropriate follow-up to such inferences is simply to call the film “fantasy” if they’re unlikely to happen in reality.

    So if meant to criticize entertainment value, complaints like this really don’t fly for the thinking viewer. I like using my imagination to fill in the logical details, much the way reading requires the imagination to fill in sensory details. Logic is more fun for me, so I actually prefer cinema in general for that reason (and story-to-time ratio).

    Am I making excuses for the film? Well, I’m interpreting it in a way that coheres and entertains me, and am therefore “winning”. Do I think the creators had my interpretation in mind? I don’t really care; if the film was accidentally traced onto the reel by ant, my interpretation of the story would be the same. Do I think most skeptics are update-lazy film-watchers? Definitely.

    So, the most reasonable thing you could be complaining about is this:

    Not explicitly the stating the unlikely implications of a film’s events (like low-core-density mountains, panspermia, etc.) might trick less thoughtful viewers into believing the film is a likely, rather than simply plausible, scenario.

    That’s actually true. But if that is your complaint, it wouldn’t hurt to be explicit about it… unless your main goal, like Avatar’s, is entertainment value and not communication.

    • Buck Farmer

      1UP.

      I recommend the conversation about what the statue means in Last Year at Marienbad.

      • Bayesian film-watcher

        Something else I and no one else mentioned yet: the film explains that the natives have skeletons reinforced with carbon-nanofibers, which could also account for trees that are “too giant even for low gravity”.

        This would also fit right in with Rob’s interpretation that they’re actually a post-technological civilization who bio-reengineered their own ecosphere. Perhaps for sustainability purposes they uploaded most living minds into the Hometree to form Eywa, and had the non-uploaders, who valued traditional material existence, intentionally regress to a more a more sustainable culture that appealed to them… I like it!

    • http://kazart.blogspot.com Mike

      Touché. Just when I think I am too cool for rec buttons, I find I need one.

    • eddie

      I love you.

  • Vincent

    “In three months a human working an avatar body can outperform every native who has learned their bodies for decades.”

    If that’s the impression you got from the final battle scene, I doubt it was intentional. I certainly don’t think that the main character could have taken the lead male warrior in a fight. His strength came from his willingness to take risks that others wouldn’t have taken. Other Na’vi could have jumped onto that big beast and made it their mount, but it was seen as too dangerous. His final fight with the general was impressive, but I got the impression that he was lucky to come out of that alive, and indeed, he got killed. Again, I think a trained male warrior would have done better. Then again, he did have the advantage of knowing what those mechs were capable of.

  • phane

    Pandora’s ecosystems may have been intelligently designed by Eiwa the superintelligent forest-brain, but even if that were true, it doesn’t fix all your issues.
    It’s science fantasy anyways, I don’t think anybody was expecting realism.

  • Divide

    Am I the only one who felt that “unobtainum” was a placeholder name, meant to be replaced by another before finalizing the script, but somehow never had been? I mean, I get it that the Bad Boss could have jokingly called it that, it being difficult to obtain, but it seems that it was, like, an actual name.

    It felt like all those banners with ‘put blurb here’ from designed forgotten to be replaced with an actual blurb.

  • http://geniusnz.blogspot.com GNZ

    Why does our military trained soldier think that charging machines with machine guns on horses is a good idea? and why do the natives follow such an idiot?

  • Largo

    My short-story prof (that is, he taught our short-story class) introduced me to the phrase “counting bullets” — as in counting the bullets fired when watching a film in the “western” genre.

    I say nothing here of whether any particular instance of “counting bullets” is appropriate to any particular genre analysis, but I have found it to be a useful expression. (My wife and I took the same class. Frequently when watching TV I will refer to some comment she makes as ‘counting bullets’) 🙂

  • Largo

    Sorry for two posts in a row, but I can’t forbear mentioning the new element the Army discovered on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show that has wonderful anti-gravity properties: “Upsy-Daisium”

  • John

    Aw man, you’re right! This movie just isn’t realistic!

  • Thomas Lindgren

    The best explanation I’ve read is that the sexy Na’vi and all the rest is a lure set by the planet-mind in order to acquire earth technology. Which, it should be said, it does.

    Here’s the link: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1013387

  • Diana

    Would just like to point out that the trope that the aliens on another world just happen to match contemporary notions of perfect sexiness PLUS of course they naturally run around all day wearing next to nothing except loincloths and jewelry is …. not new.

    Anyone remember Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, and the stunningly beautiful completely-human looking Martian damsel in distress who happens to be the first person he meets there? The beautiful princess who never wore anything other than jeweled harnesses, cared only for honor or love, and never got old?

    been there, done that…

  • Russ

    Movies dont need to be complicated with plot twists at every turn to be good. It was simple, solid and fun to watch and that is what movies are for anyways.

  • Brendan

    Did you know the avatar is actually a story of a place on earth (with some special effects + sci fi added).

    Pandora is Bougainville.
    The tribe Jake joins is the Nasioi.
    The mining company is Bougainville Copper Ltd, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto.

  • Darkwaterninja_98

    what are the bias in the film