In my own quiet way, I enjoy science fiction. I’m not obsessed by it, I don’t know a single word of Klingon, I’ve never listed my religion as Jedi on a census form and I’ve only read one book by Phillip K. Dick. However, I’ve seen some really impressive science fiction movies in 2009, with District 9 and in particular Moon. For one glorious fleeting moment, it seemed like science fiction had rediscovered its brain and decided to appeal to adults again rather than be more concerned with Happy Meal merchandising possiblities. Then I went to see Avatar today. What a jumbo-sized bucket of suck of a movie.
Here’s the plot – humans go to the planet of the Smurfs looking to mine the deposits of the very valuable but never explained in any detail Unobtainium. One teeny problem, the smurfs, or Na’vi as they are called here presumably to avoid unpleasant legal wranglings, live in a tree on the biggest deposit of Unobtainium and aren’t very smurfing keen to move. Crippled Marine Jake Sully is given a remote control Smurf body (the Avatar of the title), befriends Smurfette (aka Neytiri) and meets her dad, Poppa Smurf, and mom, Priestess Smurf, while pissing off her betrothed, Angry Smurf. Eventually Jake Smurf decides life as a Smurf is better than life as a human and joins the Smurfs in the battle to protect Smurfland from the human invaders. A lot of things Smurfing explode.
Ostensibly Avatar is a science fiction film, but it’s actually the opposite – it’s an anti-science film because the science on screen is so appallingly stupid. Nothing stands up to scrutiny. The Na’vi ride horse-like creatures with six legs yet they live in a forest with dense undergrowth and uneven footing. Why domesticate horses in such an unsuitable environment? Horses are plains dwellers. There’s no damn point being a fast runner in a forest where there is no flat surface or open stretches for your speed to be any bloody use. This is why monkeys don’t live on the flatlands and horses don’t climb trees.
The Na’vi themselves are essentially blue humans with funny eyes and ears. Their skeletal structure and musculature are human – they have two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot. They have deltoids, pectorals, biceps, triceps and even belly buttons. This is all fine, it makes sense in terms of how evolution works. Two eyes provide depth perception. Two ears enable you to work out the direction a sound is coming from. So why do the horses on the planet Pandora have six legs? Nowhere in nature do you find vertebrates with six legs, particularly with two front pairs right next to each other. How can the horses run without tripping over their own feet? The second extra set at the front would actually slow them down. The reason all the land dwelling vertebrates on our planet have four legs, not six or eight, is because four is the most functional number. It’s evolution. You know, science and shit.
Why are the Na’vi blue? They live in a world populated by large predators, where the predominant colours are green and brown due to all the fauna. Why be bright blue? And what purpose is served by their photo-luminescence? None that is apparent on screen. They don’t live deep underwater and have no need to generate their own light.
It goes on – the apex predator on Pandora is a flying reptile called a Toruk. Every single large predator on our planet is a stealth hunter – even great white sharks and tigers like to sneak up on their prey. It saves valuable energy that would be wasted in an extended chase and avoids the risk of injury in a fight. This is why even something as massive as a tiger goes for the neck first – for a quick kill. Predators don’t have time to mess around and need to be sneaky. Yet on Pandora the apex predator is bright red – it could hardly stand out more against the blue sky and green foliage if it carried a bullhorn and shouted “Be a winner, not a sinner” at the top of its reptilian lungs. Just on that note, why are all the bloody reptiles in these crappy movies so damn noisy? Seriously, when was the last time you heard a crocodile or an alligator roar? They don’t.
I understand that Pandora is a made-up planet, but evolution is evolution and there are compelling reasons why certain basics work across the board. Physiologically the Na’vi make some sort of sense at least (besides the blue thing and the glowing) but none of the other creatures on Pandora work biologically. Why are all these creatures so badly designed with so little regard for the basics of evolution? The answer is that Avatar is not a hard science fiction film that takes its science seriously, a fact borne out by the name of the mineral the humans have come to gather – Unobtainium. What kind of grade school crap name is that? Avatar is not science fiction at all. It’s a religious film. The ultimate message of the movie is the triumph of faith over technology. The Na’vi worship a diety called Eywa and in the final battle between the Na’vi and the humans, the animals of Pandora miraculously join the battle against the humans, turning the tide in favour of the Na’vi. This comes after Jake, the human-turned-Na’vi, has prayed to Eywa for help. Jake’s prayer is answered – in one particularly ridiculous scene a large vicious land predator called a thanator lets Neytiri ride on its back and leaps into battle at her behest. Why? Because Eywa makes it so. In true Hollywood fashion, a film that purports to be about living in harmony in nature culminates in an orgy of violence and destruction. Victory through prayer, triumph through divine intervention. That’s the message of Avatar. Science can not be trusted. Only God is real. That’s not science fiction, that’s something far more frightening.