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January 31, 2012
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James Cameron's 'Avatar' seems to generate a lot of science fiction anger/love around here, so I would like to share the thoughts I have had on it and its various species.

Film-wise, I was entertained, though I became disinterested during Jakes' time getting to know the Na'vi and his various induction ceremonies. However the acting, sound design and visual effects were excellent.

As regards the story, I like the overall concept: Indigenous people in conflict with mining interests is certainly a real concern both now and in the past. Its execution in the film however lacked a level of subtlety; I would have preferred to see the Na'vi tribes using the humans as leverage against each other, or perhaps some Na'vi on the payroll of humans as mercenaries and advisors.  Perhaps we had some chemical or product (guns to make hunting prey easier?) that might appeal to certain Na'vi. The concept of the 'white saviour' also made an appearance, with the human male protagonist developing and executing the plan that saved the Na'vi (at least for now). This narrative can be problematic as it removes or undermines the idea that indigenous people can be the masters of their own destinies, rather than simply a part of the white narrative.

Despite these issues, I got my moneys worth of entertainment :P

The moon Pandora itself was very expertly portrayed, though I did not find it a very alien place. Green foliage, earth like tree and leaf designs made it seem perhaps too familiar. The use of light emitting plants an animals added a level of otherworldliness, however the sheer amount of colour and variety in the organisms made the planet seem perhaps too idyllic, and it came across as cartoonish in comparison to the human base of operations. The addition of select alien plants among all the familiarity was interesting, however the Christmas Tree Worm plants were almost exact replicas of small marine animals we already have on earth!

The mobile life of Pandora, and the quality of its design, was extremely variable. Some of it was very alien and seemed plausible. Other beings simply came across as uninteresting (to me).

Dire Horse - I am always a fan of six legs, but by grouping the front four, it felt a little like cheating :P. They were simply too horse like to be interesting, although the armour plates across the back, and the small mobile head were excellent touches. As a side note, I understand that they grouped the front four legs to solve problems with a complicated walk cycle, which is understandable.

Banshee - Basically a dragon, they combined dinosaur, modern cold blooded reptiles and fish elements. I think they looked excellent and were attractively rendered, though the very tetrapod-like head was a bit too familiar, and the fish type articulation of the jaw seemed quite delicate for a powerful predator. However they fulfilled their narrative role in the movie and looked quite good doing it :)

Leonopteryx - One of my favourite designs from the film. A giant predator with bold coloration, its design was very effective in displaying power and aggression. However, bright orange seems a rather obvious colour for a skyborne predator, and one might expect countershading ie. white underbelly and dark dorsal surface. However if this was a male, the colour might make sense as a sexual display (if they have gender at all). For what probably inspired it, I encourage you to google 'tapejara'.

Titanothere - I adore this creature. As one of the first animals encountered, its sound design and animation were wonderful, as was its threat/mating display crest. It had the wrinkled skin and plantigrade feet that remind me of Barlowe's work, and its four obvious eyes and toothless mouth seemed plausibly alien. Though in retrospect I do wonder how such a wide animal moves through a dense forest without getting its head snagged on every tree trunk....

Hexapede - Cool display crest - stupid face. I like the concept and animation of the animal, but found its head design far too reminiscent of a deer to be an alien.

Prolemuris  - Presumably designed to evoke primates, they seemed uninteresting to me aesthetically. Although the fusing forelimbs may be a clever way of intimating that the Na'vi only have two arms due to their limbs joining over the course of evolution. I could be wrong, but I cant think of any actual examples of limb fusion in evolution on earth... Usually they seem to be reduced or increased in number, but not combined.

Thanator - Evocative of a panther, but with a stupid name, I enjoyed the creature with a few caveats: It used a very vertebrate like limb musculature, and also fell prey to the paired front four limbs issue that the dire horse did. Its behaviour was also rather odd; most predators will rapidly give up on prey if it fights back/hides, however this animal seemed psychopathic to the point of self injury. This felt unrealistic, but could be a specific adaptation to Pandoras' violent biosphere.

Viperwolves - Small pack hunters that looked like they shared an ancestor with the Thanator, I found their humanlike hands unrealistic, their skinless bodies poorly rendered, and their calls too obviously derived from hyenas. They also displayed the thanator's strange hyper-aggressive behaviour.

Na'vi - The species around which the plot hinged, the Na'vi are hard to review as a creature, because they are in all major respects just humans. The neural interface, while interesting, is hidden in a pony tail, a VERY human adornment, and culturally they seemed to be almost a parody of several earth cultures (although it is probably very hard to generate a genuinely alien-looking culture) The blue skin looked nice, as blue often does, but seemed illogical in the green forest setting. The large eyes made little sense as the na'vi slept at night and so did not need nocturnal vision, though perhaps it was an adaptation to living in the dark understory of the forest. However I cannot deny the quality of motion capture an animation that went into their production.

They just weren't aliens. Not really. They existed as a metaphorical stand-in for human cultures that fell victim to colonial conquest.

Again, these are only my opinions. What do you folks think?
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:iconlothlorien-vampyre:
lothlorien-vampyre Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2012
I've always been kind of disappointed with the common practice of making sentient aliens look so human. Especially in movies and television shows. Not that some of these species aren't interesting... it just seems unlikely that, given the diversity on our single planet, that the universe would offer so little variety in intelligent life.

That said, I enjoyed the movie -predictable and stereotypical as it was. I especially loved the thanator and viperwolves, but mostly because they are almost perfect representations of D&D's displacer beasts and the larger displacer beast pack lord ^_~
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2012
Ha i never saw the displacer beasts, they are almost identical!
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:iconneetsfagging322297:
Neetsfagging322297 Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2012
Perhapse, you might come up with a proper design for na´vis?
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:iconcountconkula:
countconkula Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm a layman when it comes to hardcore sci-fi worldbuilding, as I usually opt for a more fantastic approach. But several things about this movie seemed questionable from a worldbuilding perspective. I'm asking not to be condescending, but out of actual things I thought of while watching the movie: so forgive me if the answers are obvious.

:: Pandora is a moon orbiting a gas giant. As a result, I would expect it to have a radically different day and night cycle than Earth, and potentially have one side of the moon that is always in shadow. I don't think this was ever explained in the movie (been a year since I've seen it though, so. . .)
:: Jake Sully sees a resinous material and automatically uses it to make a fire. How does he know that this sap will make fire? Also, how much oxygen is needed to strike a strong flame?; Pandora's oxygen is pretty low, right?
:: Jake Sully is automatically attractive to Neytiri: there is no recognition of the fact that he has five fingers while she has four: something like that may have been interesting.
:: Most life on Pandora seemed to possess six limbs; it seemed very incongruous for the Na'Vi to have four.
There was also something about the gravity that seemed strange to me, but I forgot, I may just be nitpicking too much.

Either way, I thought this was a solid review.
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2012
Point by Point

*I think it does have a radically different cycle - one of the books said that is why the plants and animals glow: to allow them to communicate when the moon goes into eclipse behind the gas giant.

*I agree it seemed weird to me. However he may just have tried lighting a fire and found that wood covered in that stuff burns better etc. Or the Dr could have told him when they were exploring the forest before they got seperated.

*Jake Sully did not seem to be automatically attracted to her, but rather came to like her during their time together as she trained him.

*I agree, the Na'vi should have had four limbs.
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:iconmurky-depths13:
Murky-Depths13 Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2012
The one biggest thing that did my head in was that massive planet in the sky - a gravitational pull from somethign like that would wreck havoc in the oceans, cause crazy winds and possibly pull the planet apart...that do anyone elses head in?
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2012
Hmm not sure, I beleive some gas giant moons are relatively stable, such as Titan.
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:iconmurky-depths13:
Murky-Depths13 Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2012
But if Titan had oceans on its surface wouldn't that wreck major havoc. I guess it depends on the overal mass of the gas giant and the moons. For a planet to have similar conditions to earth (which despite its alien environment Pandora essentially did) the gas giant would have to be of less mass than the planet itself, in the same way the moon is to earth? Meh. I don't know. I just remember that when I was doing uber research for my own novel and wanted to have a planet in an odd plantory system pretty much every scenario such as different numbers of moons, twin stars etc, when I did research turned out to be things that would cause havoc on earth
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2012
I beleive titan does have methane oceans. Distance from the gas giant seems to be more important than mass of the gas giant.
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:iconhop41:
Hop41 Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2014
Like our moon, most the gas giant moons are tidally locked. That is, they always present the same face to the central body.

In this scenario, the gas giant would always remain in the same region of the moon's sky. There'd be no rising or falling ocean tides.
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2014
Its true, it seems that tides could only be generated by other moons orbiting nearby.
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:iconhop41:
Hop41 Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2014
Interesting observation. (looking at Jupiter's Galilean moons....) Jupiter's largest moons are in the same neighborhood as the moon's mass. Moreover, for brief times Io is less than 1 lunar distance from Europa and sometimes Europa is less than 1 lunar distance from Ganymede. If my BOTE's are right these moons occasionally feel tidal forces from their neighbor moons stronger than what the moon exerts on earth. Europan surfers can rejoice as IO passes by.
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:iconvasix:
vasix Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Fact being that this is a movie that humans are watching. A human eye can always relate to a human or an anthropomorphic being with other human beings around. Secondly Wayne Barlowe wanted a slightly less overly-humanish look to the Na'vi but Cameron wanted them to appeal to the crowds. A xenomorph style protagonist doesn't seem to be the most visually appealing creature, or even the kind of thing that the human viewer would class as sexy.
Yes, maybe Cameron did invent these aliens and Pandora when he was young, but still then again, even I have been creating book, comic and art projects of sapient and semi-sapient aliens....I'm now 16 but have, since 7th grade, been creating a variety of alien planets and they have evolved into nonhuman and even non-animal looking beings over the years like yours.
Of course, I don't exactly like the titanothere's size. On a planet with low gravity, you would want absolute super-titans (my own reason for constantly creating such worlds) but this was lower-slung. That's all for now, I guess.

On the whole, however, I recently had the idea of creating alien creatures living alongside a humanish/anthroish species that MAN manufactured. If any alien species looks like a human, it'd have to be created genetically by futuristic humans. :) That's all.,
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:iconsoulslayer317:
Soulslayer317 Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2012
I got a small book about how to survive on Pandora from a magazine. I would agree with your opinion on some of the spices we've seen throughout the movie, I had liked the thought of limbs join gin together over the course of evolution, remind me of the type of animals from Alien Planet, Darwin IV. I did found it odd how the Na'vi could have four limbs while the rest of the fauna life have for. Possibly an alternative mutation like when you mentioned on loosing fingers or parts that the species would abandon like when our earliest known ancestors had tails and once climbed on trees to stay away from predators. I did found it interesting that the Na'vi and many pandoran species have this symbiotic relationship with the planet, a biological computer was something that I didn't expect.

Thanks for uploading this, this would be most helpful for some of us to give thought of making alien species :)
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:iconmudlobster:
MudLobster Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
As I remember, I think the "real world" explanation for the Na'vi being so human and completely different from the rest of the aliens (and probably also explains the silly name with the decorative apostrophe in it), was that James Cameron invented them when he was a kid (or very young anyway; I can't remember how old he was). The other aliens would all be products of the people working on the film, so they wouldn't have the same "flavor", because they'd have to grapple with the issue of trying to make really alien things, or have crappy pseudo-aliens to match the essentially human Na'vi.

To me, understanding that Cameron invented this idea as a youngster also explains the simplicity of the story and much of the naivite inherent in the plot. I think sometimes when ideas are with you a long, long time, you lose track of how many times they've been done, or become sentimental and don't want to change them too much.

So that's the lense I viewed Avatar through, and it made its faults less disturbing. But at the same time, I got really bored because I had already seen Fern Gully years and years ago. :\ I was more interested in things they didn't explain, like the floating mountains and so on, than seeing two hairless furries make out in the forest.
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:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2012
Not decorative--it's a glottal stop.
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:iconmudlobster:
MudLobster Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Nobody pronounces it as one.
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:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2012
:hmm:
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2012
The strange thing is, I invented my birrin when i was a child too. And at first, they were humanoid! But over time I let them evolve.
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:iconmudlobster:
MudLobster Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Yeah, stuff I invented as kid evolved too. But I've known people who have been really defensive about ideas they came up with as kids and never ever want to change them, too. Seeing as how the Na'vi were the kind of thing a 14 year old kid might make up in, what was that for him, 1968?, I decided that maybe Cameron is of that type.
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:iconmagicalidiotsquigoo:
MagicalIdiotSquigoo Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012  Student General Artist
I absolutely hate the movie, but that's only because of the fanbase.
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:iconneptunegate:
NeptuneGate Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
And that's one hell of an argument ....right?
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:iconmagicalidiotsquigoo:
MagicalIdiotSquigoo Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2012  Student General Artist
I never said that it was bad because of the fanbase.
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:iconneptunegate:
NeptuneGate Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Well, your comment I believe was very clear about that - that it is, because of its fanbase. If not then elaborate, as anyone reading it might come to the same conclusion.
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:iconmagicalidiotsquigoo:
MagicalIdiotSquigoo Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2012  Student General Artist
I said that I hated it because of the fan base. Not that it is a bad movie because of the fan base.
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:iconneptunegate:
NeptuneGate Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
That's pretty much the same. You are trying to evade using semantics.
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:iconmagicalidiotsquigoo:
MagicalIdiotSquigoo Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012  Student General Artist
Um. No, I'm saying that I think the movie is not bad, but nothing special, so when I think of all the people who say that it is "the greatest film of all time" and that sort of thing, I find it very off-putting. It is not a bad film on its own.
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:iconmkayum:
Mkayum Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Speechless, I agree with you. c:
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:iconwhalewithlegs:
whalewithlegs Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012  Student General Artist
I don't know if I talked about this specifically in the last entry, but there's a sort of inverse to the uncanny valley in creature design ... call it the 'canny peak,' where creatures can't be too ordinary or too strange. The audience as a whole does not want to see interesting speculation about realistic alien life - they want their archetype buttons pushed.
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
People keep saying that, but has anyone tried?
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:iconwhalewithlegs:
whalewithlegs Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012  Student General Artist
Indeed, indeed ... our community proves that there is a healthy truth to the idea! I'd be as thrilled to see somebody do it as I would be jealous to see somebody beat me to the punch :D

That's why I was so mad when I saw the Clooney Solaris ... one of the ultimate books about the incomprehensibility of alienness, and it was turned into a romance (and a lousy one at that). I shouldn't keep returning to that point, but I want to bring it up again to mention that despite the story's focus on the alien, it's still a very central human plot - it explores the limits of our perception, which is a pretty core philosophical idea. The trick for writers/directors may lie in finding that appeal to human interest in the non-human.

No, wait. I just realized, as I was saying this, that a whole genre totally does this, essentially exclusively - Horror! Hmm, maybe I should refocus my thoughts on that :p
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
It is true that Clooneys Solaris was a dissapointment. A sort of anti-atheist exploration of suicide and regret in space. We get enough of that shit, I wanna know about Solaris!
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:iconblue-f0x:
BLUE-F0X Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think I can mostly agree with everything you mentioned. I think the Na'vi should have had looked like they belonged with the creatures of the surrounding ecosystem. Like you said they were basically a stand-in for humans. At the cost of relateability they could have given them fused arms or double arms; instead of a ponytail they could have had slender tentacles like the other creatures; two sets of eyes possibly; Maybe compound legs.

On your points of creature evolution it's hard to say something is unrealistic and so on since this is supposed to be an alien world with slightly difference circumstances regarding their evolutionary paths. I just take the creatures as what they are and that's how they 'evolved'. But on the other points of being too closely resembling Earth animals I agree.
deviantART muro drawing Comment Drawing
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:iconxxnibinonekoxx:
xXNibiNoNekoXx Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
I pretty much agree with everything you said. xD I just love the eye candy and that it's sci-fi . Can't wait for more eye candy in the next two films. :D
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
Yeah its true. Even with all the problems, I love eye candy too XD
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:iconzande-147:
Zande-147 Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2012
I agree that the na'vi were too human looking. $ arms would have been a better choice. Another thing is how they were so hominid yet they lived in a arboreal environment. Long legs, flat non-gripping feet and only 2 arms. It would not make sense for prolemuris, which lived in the forest, to evolve into a human shaped being only to return to the trees. The 4 arms would have also been more advantageous than just 2 arms. I guess movies have to make their characters look human so the audience will sympathize with them. The director for district 9 even admitted that he would rather have the prawns look more alien, but he wanted people to see them as people and not animals or monsters. Imagine if we replaced pandora with the birrin world. It would be much more realistic and original, but the audience might not sympathize with them as much because they lack human physical traits. It would also seem implausible for a human to fall in love with a birrin.
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
Haha its true, I cant imagine a human falling in love with a birrin... But maybe. Sexually not, but they might become good friends and decide to team up to stop the humans.
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:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2012
If humans can fall in love with horses and balloons, I don't see why human-birrin relations couldn't happen.
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2012
Lol its true :P

And cars it seems.
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:iconamnioticoef:
AmnioticOef Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2012
A-yup.
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:iconglitterboy2098:
Glitterboy2098 Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
honestly, having the humans overcome their innate 'creep out feelings' and decide the inhuman looking aliens shouldn't be exterminated just to get access to a rock would have made for a much better narrative and teach a better lesson than "dances with hyperpituary smurfs".
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:iconmybearjana:
mybearjana Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2012
I think the film would have been more interesting if the Na'vi were, at least in some respect, hard to like. Like if they didn't look like hyper-sexualized blue human teenagers.
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
Lol its true. Maybe more like crab people :P
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:iconexobio:
Exobio Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I am sure this is stated in several comments already, but I don't feel like reading all 139 of them, the Na'vi were made so human for sex appeal. I believe we have actually had a conversation about this in the past! But for the vast majority of people in the audience watching a sex/love scene between a "human" (quotations since Jake was in the avatar) and an alien would be rather disturbing if the alien was not pretty or sexually attractive to us. Though I think they could have easily gotten away with giving the Na'vi 4 arms without making them too "alien." Also, that little worm-hole tunnel of light thing they went through when going into the avatar body was sort of silly in my opinion. I feel like it was just another thing for them to use 3D on.
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
Hmm I agree that sex with a non humanoid would be weird. However, why was there a need for sex AT ALL in the movie? Blockbusters seem to think they need a romance sub plot, but I am not sure they do XD

Perhaps jake could have fallen in love with the pilot lady instead, but still wanted to help the na'vi :P
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:iconexobio:
Exobio Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Sex sells :\ I don't think it added anything to the movie at all, and it may have even subtracted from it for younger viewers.

And that would have been cool if him and pilot lady had a romance instead, but in the movie Norm had a thing with her (according to the deleted scenes at least).
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
Maybe he should have got with Norm then! Really mix it up :)
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:iconexobio:
Exobio Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Ha! That would have been hilarious.
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:iconnighzmarquls:
Nighzmarquls Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
All good points, Barlowe if I recall working as a designer on this and the fused/joined forelimb motif is something I've seen a lot in his 'Tour of Hell' Book.

So that might be as much an affectation of his as a way to try and make the navi stand out less as humanoids.

I really would have preferred if the navi had been more alien and the world as a whole was more interesting.

So that the trip into their culture could be played up as the basis of the story rather then a shortish montage sandwiched between other problems.

but then again I have district 9 already so I guess I got my cake and got to eat another cake too :)

Plot wise It still seems completely obvious to me that the entire world of pandora is an artifact either of an indigenous species or perhaps by some long gone star-faring group.

Everything about it just screams artificial when you think too much into it, but not so much that it feels 'fake' in the film as it seems like an overgrown piece of equipment.
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:iconabiogenisis:
Abiogenisis Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
Hmm though the feeling of fakeness might not mean the world was created by previous species. It might just be bad design on the film makers part.
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