Creating a Botanical World in “Avatar”

Film-makers set out to create an authentically rich botanical world of ‘Pandora,’ the setting for the latest blockbuster, “Avatar,” directed by James Cameron. Scientist Jodie Holt worked as a consultant on the film to teach the actress, Sigourney Weaver, how to take plant samples and behave like a field biologist, as well as to help the film-makers develop the incredible plant life in the movie. Holt also wrote sections of a book called, “Avatar: An Activist Survival Guide,” with a chapter on invasive species, along with sketches of plants and animals from the imaginary world of Pandora. Part of what was so unique about the Pandora world was that the creators imagined a new kingdom, “zooplantae,” life forms that were part plant, part animal. Holt advised the film-makers to keep to some plant basics, for example, making the plants green instead of the original blue idea. They forgot about photosynthesis!

Scientist brings knowledge of invasive plants and weeds to ‘Avatar’

What I want to know is whether science teachers in high schools are asking their students to think about how “Avatar” presents a comparison to what is happening here on Earth. During an emotional scene where the protagonist, Jake, (as one of the Na’vi People) is communicating with the ancestors through the “tree of souls,” he says, “If Grace is there with you – look in her memories – she can show you the world we come from. There’s no green there. They killed their Mother, and they’re gonna do the same thing here,” which is the only reference to Earth in the entire film. “Grace” is the scientist played by Sigourney Weaver, who teaches “Jake” about life—flora, fauna, the Na’vi—on Pandora. I couldn’t help but recall Weaver’s portrayal of Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist (1988), who had strikingly similar traits and even a few lines—“Murderers!”—shared with Weaver’s character in “Avatar.” Both characters were trying to protect the subjects of their research from the destruction of habitat and unnecessary slaying of life for profit.Avatar is a hi-tech, glossy, CG-enhanced movie with a very similar environmental message that was delivered in Gorillas in the Mist more than 20 years ago. At the climax of “Avatar,” the hero, Jake, speaks to the Na’vi: “The Sky People have sent us a message… that they can take whatever they want. That no one can stop them. Well, we will send them a message…we will show the Sky People… that they cannot take whatever they want! And that this… this is our land!”

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