After posting my review of Avatar, I went to the IMDB site and participated in some of the discussions there. While perusing the various threads, I came upon The Tet Zoo guide to the creatures of Avatar by a zoologist/writer named Darren Naish. He published his observations on Avatar the same day I did mine. Naish had “been reading up on the movie for months” – something I had not – and that, along with his knowledge of zoology, led him to comment on the exobiological aspects of the movie. I’m pleased to say that he and I are largely in agreement. In particular, we agree on the problems associated with the humanoid Na’vi:
Finally, the creatures that feature most strongly in the movie are of course the blue humanoid Na’vi. In many ways these are the easiest of the creatures to criticise, if - that is - you’re like me and think that the odds of human-like creatures evolving independently of us are vanishingly small and downright improbable. On the one hand, you can argue that successful alien films can work fine when the creatures don’t look at all human. And - given that humans are meant to be remotely piloting genetically modified Na’vi bodies - it wouldn’t have mattered to the story what the Na’vi looked like.
On the other hand, this movie is about warfare between cultures, about allegiances, and - I suppose - about cool-looking shit, so it figures that good looking ‘people’ need to feature large in the story. Originally, the Na’vi were going to look weirder, with gills, fins and other structures, but over time they were made to look more human simply to appeal more to the audience. Female Na’vi have breasts, specifically for this reason, apparently. So, yeah, the Na’vi are nothing more than attractive, semi-naked blue people with cat-like features… let’s let it go.
I, however, can’t let it go because, as I’ve stated in my review, If Cameron wants to give us a “science fact” background for his story and not a fantasy-based space opera then that it how Avatar must be judged: on the consistency of the science. I think my explanation that the humanoid features and expression were the result of a crash breeding program is the uniquely rational answer. If the Na’vi were modified through a ruthless culling/breeding program, it gives us an insight into how the global brain manages its environment and how it would likely modify its sentient bio-robots so as to better study the aliens who had arrived. I’m close to 100% certain that Cameron will never acknowledge the problem of the Na’vi – I give zero probability that he’ll ever explore the motivations of the global brain. Too bad, because the global brain is potentially the most interesting character of all.