James Cameron's current epic film Avatar continues to receive critical acclaim. Though it cost well over $500 million to film, produce and distribute, it is well on its way to being the most popular theater release of all time as well. Entirely new technology and special effects were created specifically for this project, supporting a well-crafted story with jaw-dropping visuals. How well-crafted? This writer would love to experience living as a Na'vi (image above) on Pandora.
Carol Kaesuk Yoon's article in today's NYTimes reveals another break-through aspect of the movie: Cameron has managed to convey the awe of discovery which every scientist (in this case, every biologist) feels as he/she explores new realms. Side-stepping conventional cliches depicting scientists as mad or naive, the biologists in Avatar are both informed and appropriately thrilled by their discoveries in this strange, richly-endowed new world. Yoon's article is highly recommended reading.
During my university studies, I was privileged to do rudimentary field work in paleontology, oceanography, mammalogy, herpitology and ornithology, as well as lab work in genetics, cell biology, and comparative anatomy and physiology. That thrill of newness, being on the verge of discovering something wondrous and meaningful, cannot be described adequately with the written word. It can only be experienced. Beyond its monumental entertainment value, Cameron's film allows the viewer to experience, however vicariously, that fragile and beautiful wonder.