Why Biologists Should Run From Their Labs Directly to the Movie Theaters, Put On 3-D Glasses and Watch “Avatar”

AvatarBiologist Carol Kaesuk Yoon has written one of the best essays I’ve come across regarding James Cameron’s masterpiece (yes, I really think so), Avatar, for the New York Times:

When watching a Hollywood movie that has robed itself in the themes and paraphernalia of science, a scientist expects to feel anything from annoyance to infuriation at facts misconstrued or processes misrepresented. What a scientist does not expect is to enter into a state of ecstatic wonderment, to have the urge to leap up and shout: “Yes! That’s exactly what it’s like!”

So it is time for all the biologists who have not yet done so to shut their laptops and run from their laboratories directly to the movie theaters, put on 3-D glasses and watch the film “Avatar.” In fact, anyone who loves a biologist or may want to be one, or better yet, anyone who hates a biologist — and certainly everyone who has ever sneered at a tree-hugger — should do the same. Because the director James Cameron’s otherworldly tale of romance and battle, aliens and armadas, has somehow managed to do what no other film has done. It has recreated what is the heart of biology: the naked, heart-stopping wonder of really seeing the living world.

The real beauty of it, though, is that you do not have to be a scientist to enjoy the experience. “Avatar” is well within reach of becoming the highest-grossing film of all time. And while the movie’s dazzling animation and use of 3-D has received so much attention, it cannot be anything but the intense wonder so powerfully elicited, rather than merely the technical wizardry itself, that has people lining up to see it.

There have, of course, been many films that have depicted the excitement of scientists during discovery (think of Laura Dern in “Jurassic Park,” gleefully sticking her hand into a pile of dinosaur dung), and, from “Lord of the Rings” to “Star Trek,” there has been no shortage of on-screen fantastical floras and faunas.

But rather than having us giggling at a tribble or worrying over the safety of the children when a T. rex attacks, Mr. Cameron somehow has the audience seeing organisms in the tropical-forest-gone-mad of the planet Pandora just the way a biologist sees them…

[continues in the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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7 Comments on "Why Biologists Should Run From Their Labs Directly to the Movie Theaters, Put On 3-D Glasses and Watch “Avatar”"

  1. How he describes feeling when he watched the movie was exactly how I felt when I watched it. It was like all of my best dreams had been combined into one.

    • Felonious | Jan 19, 2010 at 5:27 pm |

      I haven't seen it yet but I'm looking forward to seeing it b4 I go to prison.

  2. prospectzone | Jan 19, 2010 at 2:16 pm |

    Very Nice Post..Thanks!

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  3. santosfabian | Jan 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm |

    i gotta see this movie. im messin' up

  4. Steven Mento | Jan 24, 2010 at 10:33 pm |

    There is a report of people experiencing 'post-Avatar blues' , but the report is misleading in emphasizing the viewers' desire to live in a world of heightened experience (Avatar also depicts a very dangerous world).
    The feelings of loss are driven home by the use of archetypes e.g. garden of eden, loss of innocence, historical realities such as the genocide of Native Americans, the carnage of industrialization and civilization. Don't be confused by surface values – this myth is the story of the human tragedy made even more relevant by recent news as the Supreme Court's 'Radical and Destructive' Decision Hands Over Democracy to the Corporations. The machine is marching on, and it's not interested in renewable energy or sustainable growth.

    ” Under the Court's new rules, progressive list serves won't stand a chance against the resources of new “citizens” such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats. As would XYZ Corporation, whose owners remain hidden by “street names.” '….http://www.alternet.org/politics/

  5. Alexander Hamlton | Jan 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm |

    Oh my god. Avatar dementia.

  6. Alexander Hamlton | Jan 28, 2010 at 7:20 am |

    Oh my god. Avatar dementia.

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