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STEM Movie Spotlight: Avatar

By Rital Miller and Joslyn Stamp

James Cameron’s Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all time gaining 2.9 billion dollars at the box office. This movie is set on the lust planet of Pandora which is inhabited by the Navi. Pandora is filled with exotic wildlife and its nature has been preserved for centuries by the Navi. Pandora’s atmosphere is filled with carbon dioxide, so humans must build fully enclosed buildings and go out in masks filled with oxygen. To fund buildings on Pandora, they must acquire unobtainium which lives below the ground of the land of the Navi clan named Omatikaya. These people don’t trust the humans, so the humans must mind-link with a genetically lab-made Avatar. Our main character, Jake Sully, was a Marine veteran who was called to mind-link with an Avatar that was made for his brother who passed away. Since Jake matched his brother’s DNA, he could mind-link with the Avatar. So Jake goes off and meets the daughter of the chief of the Omatikya clan who at first was going to kill him but instead spared his life since Ewya, the Navi’s diety, gave her a sign that he was special in some way. Jake begins to spend time with the clan and learns their ways as he realizes that the humans on Pandora have intentions of killing the Omatikya if they don't move their clan. Jake ultimately fulfills the prophecy that Ewya knew he would carry out to help save the Navi from the human settlements.

Avatar uses many different STEM and SEL aspects. This movie is set in 2154 when the planet has been consumed by warfare and pollution. At this point in time, humans have successfully invented cryosleep and a spacecraft advanced enough to hold dozens of humans in cryocapsules. On the human settlements on Pandora, they have labs filled with technologies used to study the planet’s animals and plant life. They also have a military base that is filled with missile launchers, human-controlled robots, huge helicopters and jets, and more. But the biggest is the human’s ability to put their own consciousness into the bodies of hybrid Avatars and return to their state of mind once their Avatar body sleeps. It is hard to pinpoint how accurate the STEM aspects of this movie are since it is set in the future, but we definitely can understand the ideas that the movie promotes. Since the earth is dying the need to find new planets to inhabit. Right now, our earth is being destroyed by humanity and sooner or later our planet will either be destroyed by pollution and global warming or it will overpopulate.

The movie incorporates SEL when talking about the Na'vi clan and the connection they have between themselves and Eywa, their deity who lives in everything on the planet. Eywa, also known as the great mother, connects life and death by preserving the lives of those who have died in the souls' tree. The soul’s tree is the Otatikya’s most sacred land that allows them to connect to their ancestors and those we have passed. The Navi’s connection to Eywa leads them to fight to the death if necessary to defend the tree. Another SEL aspect was Jake’s redemption. He was a disabled war vet who lost his ability to walk so being able to become an Avatar gave him life again. His life’s mission of defending the U.S. in the Marines ended, but he opened a new door to defending Pandora and all its inhabitants.

In Avatar, ex-marine Jack Sully’s twin brother is a scientist. A scientist who explores, questions, and experiments with things in daily life. Friend of Jack, Dr. Grace Augistine is a working xenobotanist. A xenobotanist is a person who studies foreign ecosystems. Doctor Grace is important in order for the humans to understand the ecosystem on Pandora. To enter Pandora, you would have to have many years of experience in the culture of the place, the language, and their way of life. This pushed jobs like historians, who study the past of a place. For example, the historians in Avatar would study Pandora so they can understand the culture of the place. Knowing the past of a place can help people understand and fit in with others when entering foreign places or in this case, Pandora. This can bring a new perspective if we ever get to the point where humanity can settle on an already inhabited planet. Humans shouldn’t steal the land of the aliens but instead coexist which is what the humans in Avatar were not willing to do. When approaching this challenge we can look back at movies like this which can teach us that the Navi fight to defend their planet the way we defend our countries during warfare.

Overall, this movie is a 10+ show for the language children will be hearing. While there are no gory senses in Avatar, there are very intense senses that can be too stressful for younger audiences to handle. There are many jump scares, battles, major explosions, fires, and near-death experiences. Including actual death where corpses are shown. We'd recommend this movie to anyone interested in SEL or STEM. It has been awarded for best visuals, costumes, and cinematography, and after watching the movie you'll certainly see why. The cinematography images of Pandora can be shown as a lush paradise. The characters were created by a great team of animators who used real-life actors to get the natural movements of each character.

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