29 September 2010

But Why is Their Blood RED?

So, over the weekend I got to see the movie Avatar for the first time. Shiny, SHINY premise, oh my squee how I love it. Whee! Really, overall it was a great (is slightly long) film - but although I would say I love it, there were still a few things about it that bugged me.

One of which, surprisingly, was not 'unobtainium' - for two reasons. Firstly, because I am an English Lit major/teacher and thus came up with a spiffy, thematic reason why it was called 'unobtainium' and all that that was symbolic of; and secondly, because a friend who watched the film with me sent me this link the day afterwards O:) :D Always nice to know people are smarter than I had assumed.

Image from IMDb

No, the unobtainium I could live with. One of the things that really bugged me was this: In a presumably low-oxygen environment (presumed since the humans need to wear oxygen masks in Pandora's atmosphere), the blood of the Na'vi people is red. RED, PEOPLE! Basic biology 101, in case you missed it in school: blood is red when it is rich in oxygen, because the hemoglobins change their structure when exposed to said oxygen etc etc, read all about it. But the key point is that unless the Na'vi conveniently have blood made from other substances that conveniently turn red when exposed to their atmosphere, their blood shouldn't be red.



You see, the reason I had to watch Avatar on the weekend was because my sister is studying Science Communication, and after viewing the film the six-ish of us she'd invited over participated in a lead discussion about science in the film, and the portrayal thereof. And a really interesting and important point came up. It's called uncanny valley, a term coined by Japanese researchers to describe the way we react to things that are almost-but-so-subtlely-not human.

I can't recall why the idea came up, but it did, and of course I put my writer's hat on and mentioned that this is an issue for all authors who try to write stories of the Other; writing about the Other (in whatever guise) is hard, because while you have to make the characters genuinely Other and not just humans in Other skins, you also have to make sure that your human readers have something to connect with. Your Others still need to have human emotions and experiences in order for your readers to sympathise, so you need to make them like humans - but not so like humans that you lead your readers into uncanny valley, nor so human that they are no longer Other except in appearance.

How does this related to red blood, I hear you ask? Well, maybe not, since on the whole people who read writing blogs are pretty smart, so you've probably already figured it out. ANYway.

The Na'vi are Other. They're humanoid, but they have a distinct (and very awesome) culture and a distinct language, and they process and think about the world in ways that are recognisably non-human.* However, they have emotions and reactions that we would expect from humans, and they are eminently sympathetic. So far, so good. No uncanny valley, no humans in alien skins.

Back to the blood. As one friend who watched the film with me pointed out in the course of the discussion, the reason behind the red blood could be really simple: rather than a mistake of omission on the part of the producers, not thinking through their science correctly, it could simply be an attempt to humanise the Na'vi in order to further our sympathies. After all, as my friend said, if they didn't bleed red, we might just wonder why they had grape goo on their faces. :D

So I guess the question is in the end, where is the line? How far do you go to try to make your non-human creatures sympathetic? Is it okay to defy logic if it really will help the general audiences of your story (who I doubt would have even considered the blood, since no one else in the room when I watched it did, and I had a biology/science communication major and a physicist amongst others in there with me) sympathise with your characters?

Facts, or a sympathetic connection?

Personally, I think I still would have prefered non-red blood. But I get that I'm in the minority of even noticing that. So what about you? Does this kind of thing bother you at all??

*Although why they have only four limbs when EVERY OTHER TERRESTRIAL CREATURE ON THE PLANET has six, I couldn't tell you.


Snazel said...

I didn't really notice that the Na'avi bled red, because at that point I'd already lost my willingness to suspend disbelief due to the treatment of the military. Sadly.

HOWEVER, I did hear that it wasn't a low-oxegn environment which made humans have to wear masks, it was some poison in the air? :D

Nick Rolynd said...

I thought the air was like...poisonous to humans or something because it contained a higher concentration of a toxic gas than we have in our air. Hm...

Liana Brooks said...

Lovely. Bad science. Grrr.

I've avoided this movie. Someone gave me the base plot and I find I just can't care, even if it does have shiny spaceships.

Anonymous said...

I thought the movie was a worth seeing if for no other reason than the visual effects. A lot of genius creativity went into this film. I think everyone should see it at least once.

Amy Laurens said...

Yeah, I agree with anonymous. There was a lot wrong - it was kind of like someone went, if we distract them with enough visual shiny, they'll never notice!! - BUT the visual shiny WAS very shiny.

My knowledge of the military is pretty non-existent, so I can't speak to that aspect, but I did think the shiny of the visuals was unique and shiny enough to make it worth a watch. Even if it /was/ half an hour too long from a pacing point of view :P :D

...And now, to have the word 'shiny' surgically removed from my vocabulary...

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