I was right. James Cameron’s Avatar is a hell of a lot deeper than some would believe. Discovery Channel has reported that real evolutionary science was used in constructing the world of Pandora. So much science was poured into it, that Cameron even had a four-minute conceptual documentary produced explaining the biology of Pandora that was narrated by Sigourney Weaver herself. Strangely enough, she narrated the pre-production short film in the same way that she narrated Discovery Channel’s own Planet Earth series. (Evidence is in the videos below.)
Chances of that special being on the DVD and/or Blu-ray despite being on the movie's YouTube Channel? Likely. Chances of Discovery Channel doing a full hour special? It wouldn’t surprise me, to be honest. Discovery Channel has done this three times before.
This is probably the closest thing to what Cameron has done with establishing Pandora as a scientifically logical place. In this fictional documentary, CGI footage of an alien planet dubbed Darwin was shown to various members of the scientific community who specialize in evolutionary science. It was their job to figure out how the creatures could biologically exist given our understanding of bio-science.
My biggest critique about this program is that the creatures clearly look too much like the toys you would find in the Discovery Channel Store in the mall. In retrospect, this may be due to the fact that Lucas may have had some kind of involvement in the CGI. He is in the program to offer one of the many different points of view on if alien life is truly out there, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Discovery Channel got ILM to do the CGI for the show. It would also explain why the heads of the robotic probes look suspiciously like C-3PO.
The Future is Wild
This program is one that would probably correlate nicely with the evolutionary science used to create Pandora’s creatures. The idea behind this program is that evolution continues to take place long after the human race has gone extinct. It follows roughly three big evolutionary milestones that are predicted to take place starting at five million years in the future. Another crack team of evolutionary scientists were brought in to predict what would happen to the planet, its creatures, and which one would eventually come out as the dominate intelligent species to follow the human race.
It’s really interesting to see where all the speculative science may end up. You have a lot of horrifying images being presented such as the Mediterranean Sea drying up and becoming a salt desert or, my personal favorite, sharks that have evolved electro-magnetic sensors on their noses to help them counter their prey’s camouflaging tactics by honing in on their nerve impulses. You also end up with some really funny images like monkey squids that live in the new rainforest of North America and a six-wing purple crane that lives on the peaks of what used to be Mount Everest.
The program ends somewhere around the 200 Million Year mark, and by then the creatures of Earth only vaguely look like their present-day ancestors that you and I know. When you compare it to the creatures found on Pandora, you start to realize that whatever caused those creatures to evolve differently than the ones we have here on Earth may have something to do with the environment, as that is one of the big deciding factors.
Dragon’s World: A Fantasy Made Real
The only reason I’m including this in the list is because this program was originally a test for the CGI team that worked on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. They were the same team that worked on the Hippogriff scene in the film before it, but wanted to make sure the dragon sequence was something that movie audiences would remember. So they teamed up with Discovery Channel and produced the fictional documentary about dragons. The program essentially reverse engineers nature to make dragons have a biological history that makes sense, even right down to why they became extinct and are now considered fairy tale fantasy.
I can see this program being related to the Banshees in the second half of Avatar. They are the dragons of Pandora, and if Cameron wants real science in his sci-fi world, this program is a good thing to look at. It does a good job in explaining how something that massive can achieve flight given its wing-span-to-body ratio, as well as other things like the possible origins of the sea serpent and why the Chinese dragon looks the way it does compared to the European dragon.
So there you go. Three programs, all aired on the Discovery Channel, similar to that four minute short Cameron produced to establish the conceptual idea of Pandora as a real place with real creatures. All of them fake or speculative, but they all have just as fantastic creatures. Check them out, Avatar fans. Your brain will thank you.