This essay over at the New York Times explains ‘Avatar‘ from a Biologist’s point of view. Carol Kaesuk Yoon is encouraging everyone who ever loved biology to go see Avatar purely for the wonder of seeing Life.
Please excuse me if I seem a bit breathless, but the experience I had when I first saw the film (in 2-D, no less) shocked me. I felt as if someone had filmed my favorite dreams from those best nights of sleep where I wander and play through a landscape of familiar yet strange creatures, taking a swim and noticing dinosaurs paddling by, going out for a walk and spying several entirely new species of penguins, going sledding with giant tortoises. Less than the details of the movie, it was, I realized, the same feeling of elation, of wonder at life.
Perhaps that kind of potent joy is now the only way to fire up a vision of order in life. Many biologists of my generation (I will be 47 this month) were inspired to careers in science by the now quaint Time-Life series of illustrated books on animals or by the television program “Wild Kingdom,” rugged on-screen stuff for its time (“Now my assistant Jim will attempt to sedate the cheetah”). But maybe that isn’t enough anymore.
Maybe it takes a dreamlike ecstasy to break through to a world so jaded, to reach people who have seen David Attenborough here, there and everywhere, who have clicked — bored — past the Animal Planet channel hundreds of times without ever really seeing the animals. Maybe it takes a lizard that can glow like fire and hover like a helicopter and a staring troop of iridescent blue lemurs to wake us up. Maybe “Avatar” is what we need to bring our inner taxonomist back to life, to get us to really see.
If you are a science fiction/Fantasy writer, you’ll want to pay attention to the world-building done here. Rarely have I seen world building done so well at the biological level, in a movie. The plant and animal life here make sense together. It’s not an anything goes style—if you check out the movie purely from that biological angle, you see a world that fits together well.
And that’s something to take notes from.