Avatar: an Alien Invasion Film

“This isn’t a war,” said the artilleryman. “It never was a war, any more than there’s war between man and ants.”

― H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

 

The plot behind Avatar is simple: aliens leave their home planet, which they have depleted of natural resources, and invade a new planet with the hope of stealing its natural resources. Luckily, the people rise up and kick the aliens out with the help of a handy computer virus and the President’s kick-ass fighter pilot skills! Oh, wait a minute, that’s Independence Day… Joaquin Phoenix melts their skin with water and beats them with a bat? Nope, that’s Signs. Right, right, this movie is where the cowboys blow up the aliens that are searching for gold.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Avatar is just another alien invasion film, except that this time, humans are doing the invading. And what are they invading for? Energy resources of course!

The corporation that is inspiring the ruthless invasion in this movie is referred to as “the Company,” as James Cameron is rarely a fan of subtlety. The Company is after a super-conductive mineral named unobtanium, which is used for all sorts of things, including energy production. They fund an expedition to a moon, referred to by the humans as Pandora. Pandora appears to be a giant rainforest and is inhabited by the Na’vi, giant, blue-skinned humanoids with cat-like features and cat-like reflexes. The Na’vi live in complete balance with nature, so naturally they are upset by the idea of humans mining their world for unobtanium. The Company funds a project called the Avatar program, where scientists mix human and Na’vi DNA to create Na’vi bodies that humans can “drive”. Being inside an avatar allows for humans to explore Pandora since its air is toxic to humans and its environment is difficult to navigate. The Company, who is represented on Pandora by a character named Selfridge (more subtlety), also hopes that humans who appear to be Na’vi will be more effective in convincing the Na’vi to allow humans to mine on Pandora.

Selfridge to Grace Augustine (lead scientist in the Avatar program): “Look, you are supposed to be winning the hearts and minds of the natives. Isn’t that the whole point of your little puppet show? You look like them, you talk like them, and they’ll start trusting us. We build them a school, we teach them English. But after, what, how many years, relations with the indigenous are only getting worse.”

Augustine: “Yeah that tends to happen when you use machine guns on them.”

Selfridge: “Right. Come here. [holds up mineral] This is why we’re here. Unobtanium. Because this little gray rock sells for 20 million a kilo. That’s the only reason. It’s what pays for the whole party. It’s what pays for your science. Comprendo? Now those savages are threatening our whole operation, we’re on the brink of war and you’re supposed to be finding a diplomatic solution. So use what you’ve got and get me some results.”

The Company recruits Jake Sully, a paraplegic former marine, to take over his late twin brother’s avatar. Sully is approached by the head of security on Pandora, Colonol Quaritch, and asked to spy on the scientists, whom he believes to be less and less accepting of the idea of mining unobtanium. Sully becomes a bodyguard to Dr. Grace Augustine, the lead scientist in the Avatar Program, and her assistant, Norm Spellman. While Augustine and Spellmen are out researching the local flora, Sully’s avatar is attacked by the local fauna and is forced to flee into the forest. He is rescued by Neytiri, the Na’vi chief’s daughter. Neytiri determines that Sully is protected by the Na’vi goddess, Eywa, after Sully is touched by a seed of the Eywa tree. She then takes him to her her mother, Mo’at who is the clan’s spiritual leader. Mo’at says that it is the will of Eywa that Sully learn the ways of the Na’vi. As Sully becomes more and more integrated into the Na’vi’s society, he begins to regret his mission to spy on them for Quaritch. Sully learns that Selfridge and Quaritch want to mine directly under the Na’vi’s village, (called Hometree). Quaritch becomes impatient and threatens to use force to remove the Na’vi if Sully does not convince them to move in a timely manner:

Selfridge: “Sully, find out what the blue monkeys want. You know I mean, we tried to give them medicine, education, roads. But, no, no, no, they like mud. And that wouldn’t bother me, it’s just that their…their damn village happens to be resting on the richest unobtanium deposit within 200 klicks in any direction. I mean, look at all that cheddar.”

Sully: “Well, who gets them to move?”

Col. Quaritch: “Guess.”

Sully: “What if they won’t go?”

Col. Quaritch: “I’m betting that they will.

Selfridge: “OK, OK, OK. Look. Look. Killing the indigenous looks bad. But there’s one thing that shareholders hate more than bad press, and that’s a bad quarterly statement. I didn’t make up the rules. So, just find me a carrot that’ll get them to move. Otherwise, it’s going to have to be all stick. OK?

Col. Quaritch: “You got three months. That’s when the ‘dozers get there.”

 

Instead of convincing the Na’vi to move, Sully takes out a bulldozer that is set to destroy a sacred sight to the Na’vi and Quaritch manages to catch it on film. Quaritch also raids Sully’s personal video logs and shows Selfridge one of the logs where Sully admits that the Na’vi will never leave Hometree, so Selfridge, somewhat reluctantly, orders a raid on Hometree.

Col. Quaritch to Sully: “You let me down son. So what, you find yourself some local tail, and you just completely forget what team you’re playing for?”

Augustine: “Parker, there is time to salvage the situation.”

Col. Quaritch: “Shut your pie hole.”

Augustine: “Or what, Ranger Rick? You gonna to shoot me?”

Col. Quaritch: “I could do that.”

Augustine: [to Parker Selfridge] “You need to muzzle your dog.”

Selfridge: “Yeah, can we just take this down a couple notches, please?”

Sully: [to Col. Quaritch] “You say you want to keep your people alive? You start by listening to her.”

Augustine: “Those trees were sacred to the Omaticaya in way that you can’t imagine.”

Selfridge: “Aw, you know what? You throw a stick in the air around here, it’s going to land on some sacred fern for Christ’s sake.”

Augustine: “The wealth of this world isn’t in the ground. It’s all around us. The Na’vi know that, and they are fighting to defend it. If you want to share this world with them, you need to understand them.”

 Col. Quaritch: “I’d say we understand them just fine thanks to Jake here…

[Sully on tape]: “They aren’t going to give up their home. They’re not going to make a deal. For what? For lite beer and blue jeans? There’s nothing that we have that they want. Everything they sent me out here to do is a waste of time. They’re never going to leave Hometree.”

Col. Quaritch: “So, since a deal can’t be made I guess things get real simple, Jake.”

Augustine, Sully and Spellmen are able to escape from the base, with the help of helicopter pilot, Trudy Chacón. Sully is able to rally of the clans of the Na’vi to attack the Company forces, in an attempt to drive them from Pandora for good.

Sully prays to Eywa to join their fight against the humans. The Na’vi fight against the humans and just when it appears that all hope is lost the animals of Pandora launch a concentrated attack and take out the remaining humans. The humans are forced to leave Pandora with the exceptions of Sully, Spellmen and a few other scientists. Sully says: “the aliens went back to their dying world. Only a few were chosen to stay.”

The plot’s similarities to an alien invasion film are a metaphor for how ridiculous it is for a company to come in and take a society’s natural resources. The audience is always behind the humans in an alien invasion film and feels a sense of global pride when they work together to kick out the invaders. So why do we think it is okay to send a company to a foreign country to drill for oil and commit atrocities to the people and the environment there in the process? Sully claims that the Company was able to do this by making the Na’vi their enemy: “This is how it’s done. When people are sitting on s*** that you want, you make them your enemy, then you’re justified in taking it.” The humans develop a convenient racism towards the Na’vi, calling them blue monkeys and referring to them as if they were animals, and so they feel justified in destroying them. Fortunately in this narrative, the weaker force is both able to revolt and win their revolution (with aid from nature herself!) against the invaders, even if that is not the way it is in real life.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this movie: life=energy, environmental degradation and destruction, nature fights back, religious element, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, segregation, convenient racism, nomadic existence, insurrection.

Advertisements

Futurama: The Birdbot of Icecatraz. A Tragic but Faraway Story

Professor Farnsworth sends the Planet Express crew on a mission to tow the Juan Valdez, (reference to the Exxon Valdez), “an orbiting supertanker full of rich Columbian dark matter.” Leela refuses to go on the mission because she concerned that the tanker will leak dark matter oil into a penguin preserve on Pluto that the tanker must pass by.

Leela: “Dark matter oil? What if we hit something? The tanker could leak.”

Professor Farnsworth: “Impossible. The tanker has 6,000 hauls. So unlike me, it’s entirely leak-proof.”

Leela decides to join a group of protesters instead of captaining the mission, leaving Bender in charge. Naturally as a result of Bender’s inferior piloting, the tanker catches on an iceberg, which cuts through all 6000 hauls and causes dark matter oil to leak into the penguin preserve.

Bender is ordered to five hours of community service to clean up the oil spill. In addition, the dark matter oil causes the penguins to greatly increase their reproduction causing overpopulation.

Just like the episode in my last post, “Birdbot” uses extremes to point out the ridiculousness of how governments and corporations handle oil transportation, spill prevention and spill management. Granted, this episode also pokes fun at environmental groups as well. However, a supposedly unleakable tanker leaks into an animal habitat (adorable penguins instead of fish, gulls and other ocean dwelling creatures) due to lack of corporate and government oversight. The environment is severely damaged and is unable to be cleaned up and the animals suffer horrible consequences, just like in the event of a real oil spill.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, environmental degradation and destruction, corporate ruthlessness, nomadic existence.

The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz Episode highlights

Futurama: Oh poop.

An Introduction

Futurama takes place in the year 3000. The main characters Fry, Bender the Robot, Leela, Amy and Zoidberg work at a spaceship delivery service, called Planet Express, which is owned by the crotchety genius Professor Farnsworth. The professor’s arch nemesis is Mom who is the head of earth’s one major corporation, Mom’s. The characters also have run-ins with the government and military, the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP). The main source of fuel throughout the series up until the episode “Bender’s Game” is dark matter. Of course this series, which was created by the same creators as the Simpsons, is utterly ridiculous, focuses mainly on parody and completely disregards the rules of physics and narrative continuity. However, Futurama does provide a humorous look at various environmental causes including energy use.

Loves Labours Lost in Space

The episode begins with the Professor giving the crew an explanation of their next mission. He wants them to travel to Vergon 6, which was once filled with dark matter. The dark matter has been mined out of the planet leaving it hollow, as capitalism has run amuck by this point in time and environmentalism apparently did not stick.

Planet Express is sent on a mission to rescue the animals of Vergon 6 before the planet implodes. On the way to the planet, Leela, Fry and Bender run into Zapp Brannigan, one of the most famous captains in the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP). Leela asks Brannigan for help in rescuing the animals but he refuses, citing Brannigan’s Law, which forbids the interference with underdeveloped planets such as Vergon 6 (*cough, the prime directive). Leela tells him that it was a DOOP mining crew that created the problem in the first place therefore the planet has already been interfered with, but Brannigan refuses to listen. Brannigan places the crew under arrest to prevent them from reaching the planet, but he lets them go after Leela begrudgingly has sex with him.

The Planet Express crew is able to round up all of the animals before the planet implodes but they encounter a tiny and adorable creature that was not on their list. Leela becomes enamored with the animal and names it Nibbler. The crew places Nibbler in the cargo hold with the rest of the animals but while the crew is off doing other business Nibbler devours all of the animals in the hold. Leela tries to take off from the planet but realizes that Bender has forgotten to put fuel in the tank, leaving them stuck. However, the crew discovers that Nibbler has pooped as a result of his feast and that poop is composed entirely of dark matter, which they use to fly safely back to Planet Express. Nibbler’s poop is what fuels the Planet Express ship on the rest of their journeys until dark matter is rendered inert by the events in “Bender’s Game.”

This episode is supposed to parody the human consumption of energy by displaying it in extreme terms. There is no way that human beings would mine a planet so much that it became completely hollow, even if it were physically possible. But the episode uses humor to point out that over-mining is a common problem that government constantly sweeps under the rug.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, environmental degradation and destruction, corporate ruthlessness, political oppression, nomadic existence.

Doctor Who: 42. Humans! You Grab Whatever’s Nearest and You Bleed it Dry!

The Doctor and Martha land the TARDIS onboard a cargo ship that is going to crash into a sun in 42 minutes; exciting, huh? One of the crew, named Korwin, has been infected with a parasite that causes his body temperature to skyrocket to an impossible level. He slowly picks off the crew one by one by burning them to death with heat escaping from his eyes. During this time, the Doctor realizes that the captain ordered the crew to mine energy from the sun. In an attempt to save Martha from Korwin, the Doctor becomes infected with the same parasite and realizes that the parasite is part of the sun from which the captain mined energy, making the sun a living thing.

 

Doctor (Infected): “You mined that sun, scooped its surface for cheap fuel. You should’ve scanned for life…that sun’s alive—a living organism. They scooped out its heart and used it for fuel, and now it’s screaming!

Cpt. McDonnell: “What do you mean? How can a sun be alive?” (to Martha) “Why is he saying that?”

Doctor (Infected): “Because it’s living in me. Humans! You grab whatever’s nearest and you bleed it dry! Aah! You should have scanned!”

Cpt. McDonnell: “It takes too long. We’d be caught. Fusion scoops are illegal.”

The sun is desperate to get the parts of itself back that are still remaining in the ship’s fuel tanks. The crew is able to vent the fuel back into space and so cure the Doctor and save themselves.

Episodes like this are one of the reasons for my love affair with science fiction. Writer, Chris Chibnall is able to create both a unique moral/ethical issue and one that is eerily familiar. It is unlikely that humans are going to discover that oil, coal, water, sunlight or nuclear energy have been sentient beings all this time and so using a sentient being as an energy source is a unique problem found in science fiction, one where, once again, life is payment for energy. However, if we assume that the sun found in “42” is a metaphor for the environment itself, then this narrative becomes an exercise in personification. The environment is speaking up for itself and fighting back, which is a common characteristic for an energy narrative. So think of it this way, if the earth could speak about fracking, deepwater drilling and climate change, what would it say?

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, environmental degradation, nature fights back, corporate ruthlessness, nomadic existence.

Doctor Who: The Impossible Planet. We could revolutionize modern science. We could use it to fuel the Empire. Or start a war…

The Doctor and Rose travel into humanity’s future and discover a space station that is sitting on top of an “impossible planet”. The planet is orbiting a black hole without falling in. The team of scientists in the space station discovered that a power source deep inside the planet is causing the planet to counteract the black hole’s gravity, in addition to creating a gravity funnel, which allows for a spaceship to safely travel to and land on the planet’s surface without being pulled into the black hole. The scientists are drilling down into the planet to learn about the energy source so that they could potentially harvest the source and use it to power the Human Empire.

Chief Science Officer: “We could revolutionize modern science.”

Chief Security Officer: “We could use it to fuel the Empire.”

Doctor: “Or start a war…”

 

The humans in this narrative intentionally put themselves in a dangerous situation in order to research and potentially harvest a power source, because this power source is potentially worth their lives. Here again, is an example of the life and energy equivalency in energy narratives. In addition to putting themselves in danger, the scientists are using a race called the Ood to do the drilling. According to the scientists, the Ood presented themselves to the humans and asked to serve them saying that that is their desired purpose in life. While, we never see the crew members abuse the Ood, they tend to treat them like cattle as a result of their convenient racism.

Of course, the power source is something much more dangerous that it appears. The humans discover that it can never be harvested and only some of them make it off the planet with their lives, which is more than can be said for the Ood.

Energy narrative characteristics found in this episode: life= energy, religious element, political oppression, convenient racism.

Force of Nature— do we still have time to make it better?

This episode is a different kind of energy narrative than I have discussed thus far, usually I focus on the energy resource rather than the effect of the technology that the resource on the environment, but I couldn’t resist writing about this episode. As I’ve mentioned before in my discussion of the original Star Trek, warp cores use dilithium crystals as fuel. I’ve also written about the political struggles that dilithium has caused between the various warp capable species. However, in Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) there appears less of these political struggles and so I found interesting that the TNG writers decided to through a wrench into the perfect “warp drive”. Now it appears that warp drive may be as damaging to the galaxy as gasoline was to earth. It appears that the utopian solution of the future is not a solution after all.

TNG 7×09 ‘Force of Nature’ Trailer by TrekCore

 

The Enterprise travels to a region of space where warp travel is difficult, in pursuit of a missing Federation ship called the Fleming. The Enterprise discovers that the Fleming has been destroyed and finds an unusual object amongst the debris. The object begins generating a verteron field, which is dangerous to the Enterprise. Before the Enterprise can take evasive maneuvers, the field disables their warp engines and takes down their shields. A ship approaches the Enterprise and beams two of their crew aboard Main Engineering. When Lt. Cdr. Geordi La Forge asks the intruders why they have boarded the Enterprise they say, “we are trying to make you listen. You are killing us.”

The intruders are Herkaran scientists, who have been disabling ships in their region for some time. According to their research, warp fields cause a “dangerous reaction” in their region of space and if “something isn’t done” their planet will become “uninhabitable”. La Forge comments that the Herkaran’s research has been reviewed by the Federation Science Council and that they saw no link between warp fields and the degradation of their planet. The Herkarans respond that their research was only preliminary at the time of the Science Council’s evaluation and that if they requested the Science Council’s review again that it would take too long for them to conduct another evaluation and in the meantime their planet would be destroyed, so the Herkarans started disabling ships to get the Federation’s attention. The Herkarans agree to help the Enterprise repair its engines in return for their agreement to review their research, and Picard accepts their offer.

One of the Herkarans, Serova, assists La Forge in fixing the Enterprise engines. La Forge complains to her that she has caused him weeks of extra work. Serova responds by saying: “I’m sorry you’ve been inconvenienced. But that’s all it is—an inconvenience. Our concerns are much more important than the condition of your engines.” Serova later exclaims that there is no point in trying to talk to La Forge, who is one of Starfleet’s warp experts, because he has “already decided not to listen,” and then she storms off.

La Forge talks to Serova’s brother Rabal after Serova leaves. He claims that Warp Drive has been around for three centuries and that it is a proven technology. Rabal says he held the same position four years ago before he began to study his sister’s research. Rabal tries to explain just how dangerous he and Serova believe warp drive is to their system by explaining that they will need to convince the rest of Herkaras to forgo using warp drive, which will leave Herkaras isolated from the rest of the Federation.

Cdr. Data reviews Serova and Rabal’s theories and concludes that they are theoretically possible but that there is no evidence to suggest that the phenomena is occurring now. Data also claims that in order to develop the rift that the Herkarans are afraid of that there needs to be a warp field that is much more powerful than any that could be developed by a starship. The Herkarans argue that the warp field effect is cumulative and that the many starships over the area will create this effect. Data again agrees that this is possible and suggests that the Science Council send a research team to further analyze the Herkarans data. Serova complains that this will only cause more delays.

In act of desperation, Serova transports back to her ship and engineers a warp core breach, this causes Serova’s ship to explode and the rift that she theorized to develop in space. The Enterprise realizes that they now must travel through the rift to rescue the Fleming. As Data and La Forge are working to get the Enterprise safely through the rift, they discuss Serova’s proven theory. La Forge regrets not listening to her more closely, but Data reminds him that if she had been willing to wait and do further research on the effect of warp fields the rift would not have formed and she would not have lost her life. La Forge asks himself why he was so resistant. Data responds that perhaps Serova’s “aggressive methods” that created an adversarial situation. La Forge remarks that he taking Serova’s assertions personally: “Maybe…I was a little threatened, the thought that warp engines might be doing some kind of damage.”

La Forge meets with Rabal in Ten Forward while he is waiting for the preparations to the Enterprise to be done.

Rabal: “I don’t think we can look at space travel the same way anymore. We’re going to have to change.”

La Forge: “I’ve been in Starfleet a long time. We depend on warp drive. I just don’t know how easy it’s going to be to change.”

Rabal: “I won’t be easy at all.”

As usual after some difficulty, the Enterprise is able to rescue the crew of the Fleming and navigate through the rift. In the dénouement of the episode, La Forge claims that the warp field effect will not only effect this area of space but other areas as well given enough warp traffic. The Federation Science Council issues new orders that until they can figure out how to counteract the effect that they should slow the damage as much as possible, therefore areas of space that are likely to be effected by warp fields will be restricted to essential travel only and all federation ships will be limited to a speed of warp 5 except in cases of extreme emergency. The Federation will share this information to other warp capable planets that are not in The Federation.

The episode ends with the following conversation between La Forge and Picard:

Picard: “You know, Geordi, I’ve spent the better part of my life exploring space. I’ve charted new worlds, I’ve met dozens of new species and I believe that these were all valuable ends in themselves and now it seems that…all this while I was helping to damage the thing that I hold most dear.”

La Forge: “It won’t turn out that way Captain. We still have time to make it better.”

This episode is analogous the fossil fuels/global warming debate. A group of scientists realize that warp technology leads to the degradation of the environment. However, the Federation, which has become dependent on warp technology, is slow to accept this idea until there is a major environmental event. Fortunately, the Federation calls for change in the warp-use of all of its ships except in emergency situations. This immediate and expansive action is not something that has happened yet in regards to global warming. Whether or not there are more pressing matters is technically up for debate, but ultimately I think that before it’s too late we need make sure that La Forge’s words are still true: “do we still have time to make it better?”

Battlestar Galactica (1978): Tylium

An Introduction to the series:

There have been three major series in the Battlestar Galactica (BSG) universe. The original series debuted in 1978, followed by a continuing series in 1980 and a reimagined series in 2004. For those of you who do not follow Battlestar Galactica, the series does not take place on Earth. The humans in the series inhabit the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, which are twelve different planets. At the beginning of both original and the reimagined the colonies are attacked and destroyed by the mortal enemy of the humans, a species of artificial life-forms known as Cylons. The series follows the survivors of this attack, which are protected by the military ship, Battlestar Galactica. The goal of the survivors is to outrun the Cylons and eventually settle on a new world. The main fuel source for these ships as they travel through space is “tylium”, which is a substance that is mined and refined into fuel. Remember, there are spoilers in these posts.

Battlestar Galactic (1978) Episode: Saga of the Star World-parts 2 and 3—

These episodes take place immediately after the Cylon attack on the human home worlds. Cdr. Adama gathers as many survivors as he can to protect them. The convoy needs to gather more food and fuel. The stop at a nearby planet, Carillon, where they think they will go undetected by the Cylons.

The convoy makes it to Carillon and everyone travels to the planet’s surface. Carillon seems too good to be true. The planet has more than enough food for the refugees and there is a fully functioning casino for their pleasure. Carillon also has the largest tylium mining facility in the galaxy. Starships use tylium as fuel.

Eventually Adama discovers that the native population of Carillon, the Ovions, mines the tylium on Carillon exclusively for the Cylons in exchange for their continued survival. The casino serves as a distraction for the humans from the incoming Cylons.

Eventually the Battlestar Galactica crew catches on to the plan of the Ovions and Cylons and is able to save themselves. They get into a firefight and the tylium mine is ignited. Tylium is so volatile that the ignited tylium triggers a massive explosion and destroys the planet, taking the pursuing cylons with it.

This episode is an example of a negative energy narrative. It is unclear what the motivations of each side are so the narrative could be structured in one of two forms. First, the stronger force, the Cylons, is threatening a weaker force, the Ovions, with their extinction unless they provide fuel to the Cylons. The Cylons are also manipulating the Ovions to destroy the humans. Second, the Cylons could have promised the humans as a food source for the Ovions (Ovions were seen feeding humans to their larvae in the episode) in exchange for the Ovions providing a fuel source for the Cylons. In this case the Cylons and the Ovions combine to be the stronger force and the humans are the weaker force. The Cylons also know that the humans need fuel in order to continue to flee from them, so they seek to control that resource and lead the humans into a trap.