Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pandora is heaven for biologists

Over the Christmas break I saw the 3-D movie Avatar with the kids, and loved it. OK, I admit, I only saw it because I was told that Sigourney Weaver played a botanist. But, it turned out to be a really good movie.

But what surprised me most was that they must have employed some real biologists to work on the movie (see article here). Animals, fungi, and plants were based on shapes and forms that exist on Earth, just in new compositions, combinations, and colors. Take a spiral algae from the ocean and put it on a tree branch in the rain forest. Aquatic hydra colonies are becoming branched fungi. Animals are still vertebrates, but are hexapods instead of tetrapods.

Everything is connected, like a large Gaia, and luminous, like feelings and neurons showing of light. Of course, as a botanist, I can't help think about what they didn't change. Tree trunks and branches are the same, fern leaves and palm stems are just like on Earth - someone needs to do some biometric studies to see if this is likely (especially since humans can't breath the air, but everything else can). But I think it is more a fact of that it is easy to create large masses of green with palm and fern leaves, they are so easily fractalized and scaled up or down.

Seeds that swim like fluorescent jellyfishes in the air - gorgeous!

Of course there was lots of violent action, bad people vs. good people, story lines from Fern Gully, Pocahontas, Save the Earth, Greenpeace, the Iraq War crazy president we finally got rid off, and grassroot heroes. But the real take-home message was: Life is beautiful. That Sigourney Weaver is a botanist is just mentioned once ('she is famous, she write THE flora of Pandora"), but science and biodiversity is portrayed in an unusually accurate way. You can read more about this aspect in this great article in New York Times. (And here is a kind-of-stupid article as a contrast.)


EH said...

I loved this movie when I saw it, would like to see it in 3D too. The animals and the ecosystem really appealed to me and I thought about "my sister, the botanist" and how she would love it. And you did!

I also connected to a special book of mine, Efter oss, (After us) by Douglas Dixon, an artist who has made up fantasy-animals, which could be our followers when men dies out.

LisaAsil64 said...

I loved the look of this movie too. Beautiful. I could have lived without all of the explosions, and the U.S. invasion. That part was too much like real life.

PP said...

I will die never having seen this movie, and will be glad of it.