I love it when movies blow my mind. I love to get sucked in, and I enjoy suspending my disbelief for those 2 dark hours. I did think Avatar was good, but it did not blow my mind. It was not able to pull me away from reality sufficiently enough, and the reason for this is that I had the opposite reaction as Carol Kaesuk Yoon did, as she expressed in her NYTimes essay. She laud’s James Cameron’s creativity in developing the flora and fauna of his fantasy world, calling the film “a biologist’s dream.” However, while watching the movie I found myself bored at the redundancy and unoriginality of Avatar’s biodiversity. As a biologist, I thought the choices made, particularly with regards to the mega fauna, were mundane.
One needs no great insight to start with the major categories within a given ecosystem; any environment generally has a major predator, perhaps a few lesser predators, and a whole bunch of herbivores of various sizes and varieties. For instance, the African savannah is home to lions, a keystone carnivore, hyenas and jackals, smaller, more abundant predators, and herbivores of many shapes and sizes, such as tiny dik-diks, giant giraffe, several monkey species, zebra, wildebeest, etc. Cameron started with these main categories, but then proceeded to bore me with what he created to fill each niche. The first animal we catch a glimpse of is a brachiating primate-like creature that makes coos and whoops. Not unlike this brachiating creature that used to wake me up every morning while I lived in Indonesia. These are gibbons, even though Sigourney Weaver’s character dubbed them lemurs:
The top predator that chases the main character? A blue lion. The nocturnal carnivores that chased and pestered the protagonist emitted giggles. Giggles! You don’t have to be a biologist to recognize that earthly hyenas make unique giggling noises.
I saw hammer-headed rhinos, horses that barely looked alien, and antelope. While I agree with Yoon that the neon blue is quite distinct from our earth tones, the consistent leathery skin that covered EVERY animal in Avatar was not enough to distract me from seeing animals that looked all too familiar. In projecting her excitement, Yoon verbalized my disappointment:
“Oh, that looks like a horse, but wait, it has six legs and it’s blue, and whoa, that looks like a jellyfish but it’s floating in the air and glowing.”
Ummmm… there are many species of bioluminescent jellyfish.
I don’t believe that science is always stranger than fiction. But the fiction has to be of decent quality to trump science.