The Science(?) in Avatar

Saw Avatar with OhOne last weekend. Awesome cinematography, cool effects, great work. A few random observations, with no particular theme in mind. Note that James Cameron says that “Avatar [is not] science fiction, it is an action/adventure/science fantasy film”. So, I might just being too sciency here.

1. All of Pandora’s animals are hexapods, except for the Na’vi which are quadrupod. The Na’vi don’t even seem to have vestigial limbs. For a species that is supposed to be intimately connected with all life on the planet, they are seriously missing a Hox gene that everybody else seems to have.

2. What would be the fitness increase in having four eyes, paired in twos? Increased ability to gauge distances? Actually, that is kinda cool. Again, only the Na’vi don’t have them. Did they also lose a copy of eyeless?

3. Hometree’s central structure is DNA shaped, a sort of in-your-face symbolism. It’s spiraling the wrong way though. Just saying.

4. What would cause the Hammerheads to invest so much in a bullet-proof armor? Also, with the high density the armor must have, and their body size that means a lot of calorie consumption just to be able just to carry your own weight.

5. Somehow, Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest is not mentioned as an influence to Avatar, but it certainly seems to be. Both have tropical rain forest worlds with sentient humanoid natives that are exploited by invading Terrans. The native humanoids have an intimate connection to the planet the Terran invaders do not appreciate and which ultimately cause their defeat. And yes, both stories are not-too-subtle contemporary political allegories.

6. I doubt a moon orbiting a gas giant would be able to sustain life, the orbit would be too erratic, tidal pulls would be too varied and strong, not to mention the climatic effects of prolonged planetary eclipses.

7. I want one of those AMP suits!

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5 Responses to “The Science(?) in Avatar”

  1. PhiJ says:

    Cheeky question:
    As I haven’t seen the film, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but do you think you be seeing hometree as DNA shaped just because you’re a biologist, or is it quite obvious?

  2. Iddo says:


    The hometree is not spiral shape. It has a spiral structure inside it. I could not find a hometree interior image online, but it is definitely a double-helix.

  3. Rick says:

    “All of Pandora’s animals are hexapods, except for the Na’vi which are quadrupod.”

    There many be a nod to this problem with the creatures shown in the posted video at 1:12 to 1:14, which appear to have the upper portion of their two front limb fused. Maybe the line that led to the Na’vi have continued this development to the complete fusing of the two from limbs?

    I found the large nector eating creature at 1:18-1:20 in the video a little suspect; could such a large animal get significant nutrition from nector?

  4. Iddo says:

    Well, nobody says that the large nectar eating creature (the Direhorse) diets exclusively on nectar….

  5. rpg says:

    Hi Iddo

    thanks for posting the pretty pics 🙂 My non-review is at my Nature blog. I thought the limbs things was quite interesting, and postulate an early evolutionary divergence between hexa and tetrapods–note too that the Na’vi are the only critters to breathe through their noses.

    I was pretty fascinated by the concept of chest-mounted nostrils, and the whole biosphere synapse thing. And helicopter gunships! Yeah!