3/08/2013

One thing that I have found most annoying about the movie Avatar is the chorus of praise for its "scientific accuracy." It's only a movie, but I don't know of any movie short of Star Trek that has tried so hard to convince its fans that it's based on real science, and fallen so short. So I thought it would be useful to just make an archive showing that the movie is not science-fiction; it's science mixed with fantasy. This time, we're going to talk about the Na'vi.

The Na'vi are a sentient species that are more powerful than human beings, and have an alien physiology that includes carbon fiber bones. Their most unique feature is that they can connect with all other creatures on Pandora via a physical link in their heads. We'll discuss "tsaheylu" in a later article.

1. The Bones Can't Have Carbon Fiber - Let's start with the bones. It's explained early in the movie that the Na'vi are so tough to kill because they have "naturally occuring carbon fiber" reinforcing their bones. In reality, carbon by itself is actually soft and pliable. It only becomes hard and strong when it's mixed with other elements into an alloy. Alloys don't occur in nature, and they certainly wouldn't occur in a living being. For more on how a strong alloy could be bonded to bones, see Wolverine. But the Na'vi actually aren't that hard to kill. The corporation manages to kill a whole bunch of them by blowing up their tree, and shooting them with guns.

2. Lighter Gravity Means Weaker Na'vi - Now let's talk about their strength. According to the movie, the Na'vi are much stronger and taller than human beings. The lighter gravity of Pandora is supposed to explain why they're so tall and strong, but that's flawed science. The weaker gravity would make them taller, so that's one half right. But low gravity would give them less of a reason to develop strong muscles, so it would actually make the Na'vi weaker, not stronger than humans. (By the way, nowhere in the movie do we see any evidence of the gravity being that much lighter than Earth. People walk the same, objects fall at the same rate, and Jake never once mentions any need to adjust to the gravity.)

Side view of Na'vi Tail
3. The Tail is Useless and in the Wrong Place - Let's move on to the tail. It makes no sense. First of all, it's in the wrong place. On all earth creatures and even the creatures on Pandora, tails extend from the spine at the sacrum, where the hips attach. The Na'vi's tails come out of their spines above the sacrum. Their tail also sticks straight out at a right angle, as opposed to normal tails which follow the curve of the spine.

More than the problem with where the tails are is why they have tails at all. For the Na'vi, the tails are completely unnecessary. Animals have tails for a variety of reasons. Four-legged creatures use tails for balance. Peacocks use them for communication. Monkeys use tails to grip things. Other animals use them for navigation and defense. The Na'vi don't have any of these. They walk on two legs, so the tail isn't used for balance. Their tails are thin and scrawny, so they're not for communication. The tails are too thin to grip, and can't be used for defense. The only reason the tail exists is to remind us of cats.

4. The Na'vi Have Four Limbs - And what about their limbs? Most of the species on Pandora have six limbs, which we discussed earlier. However, the Na'vi have only four limbs; two arms and two legs, just like humans. The design team tried to explain this anomaly by explaining in the background material that the Na'vi originally had four arms that gradually fused together into two. They even briefly showed a primate with two arms, but with two forearms attached to each elbow. That doesn't happen in nature. What is theorized is that the second set of arms would gradually shrink until it disappeared, but no species ever just fused its limbs together.

5. The Na'vi Have Boobs - Now let's talk about what you've all been waiting for: boobs. The Na'vi females have breasts. This would seem perfectly natural and actually preferable, except for the fact that they make no sense from the movie's own rules. First of all, breasts are made of fat deposits. No species on Pandora have any body fat except for the Na'vi, and even then, their only body fat is in their breasts. The rest of their bodies are lean muscle. But the biggest problem is that breasts are strictly found on placental mammals, and Cameron himself confirmed it. Cameron famously said that he insisted in having breasts on the Na'vi, even though it didn't make sense, because the Na'vi aren't placental mammals. This statement caused a bit of a stir, so let's clarify what non-placental animals are.

All placental mammals carry their babies inside of them in the placenta. There are two types of non-placental mammals - egg-laying mammals like the Platypus and pouched mammals which give live birth like kangaroos. Since none of the Na'vi had visible pouches, we can assume they're egg laying mammals. Egg laying mammals don't have or need breasts. That's why the Na'vi boobs make no sense.

By the way, egg-laying mammals also don't have nipples. They feed their young by secreting milk through their pores. They also don't have bellybuttons, since that would require an umbilical cord. But the Na'vi have both.

6. And Other Stuff - The Na'vi have other features that don't make sense, like two enormous eyes. Once again, this is a contrast to most other Pandoran animals that have four eyes. Also the size of their eyes is more suited to nocturnal animals. In bright sunlight, eyes that big would leave the Na'vi blinded.

Then there's the hair. No other animals on Pandora have any hair at all. The Na'vi have that long braid and eyebrows. But they have no visible hair anywhere else on their bodies.

7. The Na'vi Are Too Human - Taken over all, the biggest problem with the Na'vi is that they look far too human for an alien creature. While this is nothing new in Sci-fi (see Star Trek humans with bumpy foreheads), the Navi don't even make sense compared with the other creatures on Pandora. The organisms of Pandora have a lot of different characteristics in common; most of them have six limbs, nostrils on their chests, zero body fat, and no hair at all. The Na'vi have four limbs, nostrils on their heads, body hair, and a blue skin color found nowhere else on Pandora. With so much effort put into the alien appearance of other creatures on Pandora, the Na'vi are kind of boring.

To explain why the Na'vi look so different, some have argued that they must be from another planet and emigrated to Pandora. Since we see the precursor primate with the four fused arms, that clearly isn't true.
The reality is that the designers were more interested in making the Na'vi cute and cuddly than realistic or interesting. Reports are that their original concept was for a much more alien design. However, they changed the design when test viewers found the Na'vi too alien to relate to. The result is that they created a very loveable species, but also a very implausible species. Which is, of course, flawed science.

The Flawed Science of Avatar
1 - Floating Mountains
2 - The Avatar
3 - Six Legs
4 - Pandora
5 - Chest Nostrils

6 - Unobtainium
7 - The Na'vi

What do you think of the Na'vi?

[Image Source: http://james-camerons-avatar.wikia.com/]

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    6 comments:

    Pat Dilloway said...

    But they need the tails to plug into animals--including each other! Anyway, this reminds me of when people praised "Moneyball" or "Million Dollar Baby" as being realistic when both were not all that realistic at all.

    Ray Virzi said...

    Here, here! I had heard that Ubisoft, creators of the Myst series and other game worlds, were behind the creation of the flora and fauna of Pandora, and what a great job they did. I'm sure if they had also been in charge of the "humanoids", they would have been of much closer kinship to the rest of Pandora. For a game, it would have worked great - the more alien the better. For a film, I can see how the Na'vi's kinship with their world would work against the sympathies of audiences.

    Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

    I don't remember lower gravity in the film either. But good point about all the other species having six limbs.
    As for the boobs - scientific or not, I'm really glad he put them in.

    jeremy [retro] said...

    never saw this film... i know for shame!

    MedeiaSharif said...

    Good points. I actually haven't seen this film.

    Nisse Söderström said...

    i never got the braid, that was always my biggest problem. somehow is contains some na'vi penis, but yet still is braided with the genital inside. i simply have no idea how to "braid-in" something. i am no expert braider, but i always found that funny and not really explained/showed in the movie. are the na'vi born with braided hair?

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