Monday, January 25, 2010

Way Too Much On James Cameron's "Avatar"

"Jakesulley, are you worried?"
"Hmm? Oh, no. I just feel like I left the toaster on 800,000 miles away. You ever get that?"
"On my planet a 'toaster' is an enormous lizard."
"So, no?"
"Is everything on your planet a giant lizard?"
"Mostly, yes."

I saw the movie "Avatar" this weekend. 3D and IMAX. I ended up in the very first row but that just gave me extra leg room and made the 3-story tall people look slightly taller.

I did not have a heart attack from how awesome the movie was like this man.

I do not feel on overwhelming sense of depression that I will never experience such a world as Pandora like these vampire-reading escapist fantasy super 'tards.

I heard from many people that Avatar was basically just Disney's Pocahontas in space and without singing. I thought the environmental parts would lend more towards Ferngully: The Last Rain Forrest in space, but I still walked away entirely satisfied with the movie. If anything, it's a more mature take on the Pocahontas tale with more emphasis on manifest destiny and Euro-centrism and Colonialism than environmentalism, with a much better ending that does not disappoint escapists or literary scholars.

Basically my review is four words:

"Peter Jackson presents: Ferngully."

But enough about that crap. I'm going to make some wild accusations simply because I can.

Today I got hooked into all the jokes about Na'vi sex that spins out of James Cameron including a love scene in his 165 minute alien epic. The following are inescapable facts I have noted from the movie:
  • Pandora is not a planet, but an Earth-sized moon orbiting a gas giant
  • Pandora's trees seem to be routed/rooted into a sort of neural network with some degree of wareness.
  • Pandoran fauna appears mostly reptile-based, but includes horse- and dog-like animals
  • The Na'vi appear to mate with genitals located by the pelvis.
  • Na'vi women have breasts. Boobs the size of your head.
Now, the first part of that is fun, because it means Pandora requires either an inordinate amount of water present in it's stellar system when it formed or a ground-based cycle of water production. That Pandora orbits a gas giant means it is unlikely to have had very many asteroid/comet impacts. The former implies it likely never experienced an extinction event (more on that later) but the latter implies it did not experience the decades of planetary rainfal from comet debris that is thought to have contributed most of the water to Earth's oceans. Pandora's primary, having a massive gravitational field, would have sucked up nearly all of the local objects which could have impacted Pandora.

This leads into the second point, as a lack of extinction events due to massive impacts (Earth has experienced at least 3 major extinction events) means Pandora's ecology has been allowed uninterrupted evolutionary lines. Theoretically, all Pandoran creatures have evolved strictly on the merits of beneficial adaptive mutations from their original forms. Pandora's trees, meanwhile, have joined into a kind of neural net that is capable of data storage, and as evident from the end of the film, has at some point gained a certain amount of autonomy, if not actual awareness. This is a problem because it raises issues associated with Gaia Theory and intelligent design, however we can disregard at least the possibility that Pandora's tree sentience created its other life forms based on the fact that these life forms are not necessary to to continued existence of the trees and are animal rather than vegetable, thus they are not likely derived from the trees nor created to aid the trees like specialized cells or organelles.

Which brings me to the third point. Pandoran zoology would indicate mostly reptile-based life forms, from tree frog lizards to flying lizards to dog/cat lizards to hammerhead rhino dinosaurs. Now the standard evolutionary progression on Earth went from single cells to plants, to fish, to reptiles, to mammals. Since Pandora is unlikely to have had a cataclysmic impact-extinction, its larger reptiles would have been able to exist where Earth's dinosaurs died out. However certain characteristics from the dog/cat critters and the Na'vi themselves seem to point towards mammalian characteristics. Both appear to have skin and fur/hair rather than scales or leathery hides. The dog-cats have carnivorous fangs, but they are canine in nature, rather than the large, serrated teeth shown in a Toruk skull midway through the film. As the Na'vi posses very human, omnivorous teeth with slightly larger canines, it is more logical to assume that Pandoran fauna is not all reptilian.

HOWEVER! Since the planet appears to be all relatively warm and suitable to very large reptiles, it stands to reason that both the dog-cats and the Na'vi could potentially be reptile-descended along lines of parallel evolution to our own mammal. A warmer planet would mean it is more suited to dinosaur-like "luke-warm blooded" circulatory systems and megafauna's ribcage-assisted respiration. While many larger dinosaurs died out with the depletion of O2 levels on Earth, the fact the the Na'vi are so much larger than humans could be a result of evolution from this type of respiring reptiles. The Na'vi's lack of body hair would support this, as dinosaurs are now thought to have frequently had fur and a sort of proto-feather, something seen prominently on Pandora's six-legged horse things and its smaller pterosaurs. Parallel evolution is an option.

Unfortunately for that theory the Na'vi have boobs. The men have visible nipples and the women have very clearly some fatty tissue in that area carefully covered at all times. This is actually a HUGE problem as only humans really have boobs. In actuality, nature doesn't need them. Milk ducts work just fine in all lactating mammals. Only humans really developed breast tissue in females, and the general evolutionary theory is that they only developed as a front-facing mating reminder for bipedal mammals. "Oh, look! I can have sex with that!" That's the theory, anyway. There's no reason a mammal has to have breast tissue, unless it walks upright. Now there's certainly nothing to say a parallelly-evolved reptoid couldn't evolve the same trait as a mating display of for some complete other purpose, but working under the assumptions that the simplest answer is generally correct and that evolutin finds similar forms to conquer similar problems, it stands to reason that the Na'vi are mammalian rather than incredibly similar reptile analogues. After all, one must consider that it was relatively simple for humans in the year 2154 to grow human-Na'vi hybrid clones in a short while, and this process had been going on since at least 2144 and for as much as twenty years. Mammals would be substantially easier to crossbreed. The cool ramification of this is since Na'vi can at least maintain what appears to be "backwards giant cow-girl" as a mating position, and since they cover their nether regions and not much else, it seems logical that Na'vi genitalia is all down there. If they're mammal-analogues, they're likely to have wing-wangs and vagoos as well (anatomical terms). Yes, it's possible they don't, but there was some thrusting that insists there is male-to-female penetration going on there. [However testicles are an entirely different CRAZY possibility.]

So as far as I can tell, Na'vi are bipedal mammalian creatures with a fur-covered secondary spinal chord protruding from their craniums. This last assumption is based on their ability to neurally link with animals, sacred trees and each other via the specialized neuron tips in their ponytails. There appears to be no muscle there, however when Col. Quartich holds Jake Sully by his it causes him great pain, leading me to believe it is in fact a secondary spinal chord packed with neurons and wrapped in a very thin sheath of flesh. The fact that most of Pandora's larger life forms share these secondary nerve columns leads credence to the unidirectionality of Pandoran biology, but it is also a bit unnerving that trees, reptile-, equine-, and ape-analogues can all interlink readily through a system that should evolutionarily long predate any intelligent species on the planet. In all likelihood, secondary spinal columns serve more direct purposes, probably in cementing life-time mating for species, while higher lifeforms (the Na'vi) have simply learned that they can use a more finessed link for controlling semi-domesticated species. Contacting the Pandoran tree consciousness obviously founded their religion, though I am still somewhat fuzzy on the biological means by which the Pandora Consciousness can 'wirelessly' control her animal populations.

Now someone go get me a towel, because I believe I have just blown a few minds. A very few. Like exclusively those of biologists who saw this movie. Who didn't already think all this.

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