Geek Rant: Inaccuracies in Sci-Fi: Avatar
I feel the need to preempt anyone that will inevitably point out that the second part of the abbreviation in Sci-Fi stands for "fiction." I know this, but this is a little thought fart for a lazy Sunday evening, and moreover, James Cameron once said to Sigourney Weaver that Sci-Fi helps us understand what it means to be human. Moreover, it is with James Cameron, a veritable master of the genre that such a self-indulgent #GeekRant begins. Avatar was shown on TV today, and anyone that saw the groundbreaking epic knows many of the themes within the movie are concurrent with human present and history, parcelled into a futuristic setting. Avatar is a parable of how American Manifest Destiny sealed the fate of an unprepared indigenous population, a wider inspection of history's empires overrunning the conquered and a more poignant reminder of how we are diminishing the Earth's natural resources.
Avatar never specifies how far into the future the movie takes place, yet it seems far enough to for our race to have mastered the ability to journey through space to other planets, so in all likelihood, about two hundred years from now at least. It has taken roughly five years for the craft to reach Pandora and those aboard the ship awake from hypersleep. Earthlings, therefore, would have mastered some form of light speed perhaps to reach Pandora - likely located somewhere in the nearby galaxy. Viewers get the opportunity to see the ship, and it seems to generate power from stellar energy via huge solar panels at one end; apparently, the humans in this future have managed to make solar energy far more efficient. Pandora, the ship's destination, is an exomoon, a natural satellite orbiting a planet around a planet outside our Solar System, the planet around which Pandora spins seem akin to a gas giant, like Jupiter and Saturn. Discoveries courtesy of Kepler have shown planets even larger than Jupiter orbit their sun closer than Mercury spins around ours, so it is entirely feasible a gas giant could inhabit the so-called "Goldilocks Zone," allowing liquid water. For a moon tagging along with a such a planet, one small enough to remain rocky, water and possibly life would thrive into perhaps an intelligent species. Exomoons did not surface in Sci-Fi movies with Avatar though, having appeared over 25 years earlier as the Forest Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi.
Here is where the inaccuracies come into play, to begin with, the main character, Jake Sully being a paraplegic, which is explained away due to issues with the economy and health insurance on his veteran benefits unable to cover such surgery to restore his ability to walk. Be that as it may, Jake enters the Avatar Program in place of his identical twin brother, a scientist recently killed, so the fact that Jake shares the genome of his brother Tom allows him to occupy the Na'vi built for him to inhabit. Surely when on a spacecraft where scientists could cultivate an entirely alien species and enable human minds to connect remotely to a different body and control it, why was Jake's paralysis such an issue? Sure it is a plot point to develop the movie, as being in the Avatar of a Na'vi allows him the freedom that has been denied him on Earth, pretty much through greed that drives humans to Pandora. Their interest in the moon is the valuable mineral "Unobtainium," which presents another flaw in the film.
Wikipedia defines Unobtainium as follows: "Unobtainium can refer to any substance needed to build some device critical to the plot of a science fiction story but which does not exist in the universe as we know it." In Avatar, humans lust for Unobtainium because of its use as a room temperature superconductor, making the substance extremely precious for various purposes, as superconductivity allows flawless transmission of electricty without losing energy through resistance. In the past, superconductors only worked at temperatures close to absolute zero (-273ºc), although in 2017, certain breakthroughs towards superconducting at warmer temperatures are growing ever more attainable. In 2015, a team at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry claimed to have seen hydrogen sulphide superconduct at -70ºc, far warmer than absolute zero, hotter even than the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth. Elsewhere, Eurotapes, a European company working towards superconductivity, have developed a tape that is a form of copper oxide that they claim could double the capabilities of current wind turbine power. So human capabilities for achieving these breakthroughs are already in our hands, so some centuries ahead of our current understanding of science, they will probably be so adept as to render us looking savage. Nuclear fusion also isn't taken into account, a benchmark that scientists claim is roughly a decade ahead, with the first fusion reactor launched by 2025, the ITER Project in France, an international collaboration. Dubbed "Star in a Jar," fusion will provide near limitless energy that is also clean, combine this with superconducting, humanity could have the all of the power they might ever need, enough to journey across the cosmos, perhaps even feed on stars and the energy they emit. I stress that I know all of these elements in Avatar are plot devices, but for one such as I with a mind that over thinks such straightforward things, even just run-of-the-mill entertainment, I cannot help but #GeekRant!