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
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
. 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?