The World Of ‘Avatar,’ Explained: Exploring The Flora and Fauna of Pandora

Regarding his sci-fi masterpiece “Avatar” (2009), James Cameron has stated time and again that the adventure novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard, along with every science fiction book he had read in his childhood, were the source of inspiration for making the movie. Needless to say, the otherworldly adventures of John Carter and the lost world wonders were instrumental when Cameron conceptualized the alien settings of the movie. “Avatar,” tells the story of human colonization of the alien moon, Pandora, in the distant future and how the protagonist fared after finding himself amidst the conflict between humans and the native aliens, the Na’vi. In order to engage the audience with the exotic beauty of the alien land and to provide an immersive experience, Cameron had spent significant imagination, time, and resources crafting a living, breathing environment complete with its flora, fauna, sapient beings, and their culture, etc. The director has used multiple real-world allusions to create the landscape of Pandora, which, coupled with photorealistic 3D imagery, has elevated the visual elements to perfection.


World Of Pandora

In the movie, Pandora is the habitable moon of planet Polyphemus of Alpha Centauri Star system. According to the official trivia book, the planet was discovered by humans around 2050–2077 AD, and upon learning that the planet had huge reserves of the natural superconductor unobtanium, humans started colonizing the moon. Pandora is comparatively a bit smaller than the Earth and has lower gravity, which affects its environment in a major way.

Megafauna And Na’vi

A significant portion of Pandora’s creature design was done by science fiction illustrator Wayne Douglas Barlowe and director James Cameron himself. Despite being inhospitable for humans due to the higher concentration of deadly gas, Pandora’s wildlife seems to have developed in a similar way to Earth’s, with linear evolution and animal species belonging to a similar time period, which indicates life on Pandora started at least a hundred million years ago, at the very least. The low gravity of the moon has contributed to the majority of land animals having six limbs and reaching larger sizes compared to their earth counterparts. The land-dwelling vertebrate megafauna of Pandora seems to have a combined sort of amphibian and mammalian genes, as they share features like furless, smooth skin, external respiratory organs separated from the digestive system, etc. A number of species in Pandora have two pairs of eyes, and the most common trait across the entire biosphere is the presence of tail-like organs consisting of open nerve synapses, which allows the Na’vi to create a neural bond with the creatures. Blue is the most common pigment pattern on most of the species, along with other bright pigment combinations, and the majority of the fauna is bioluminescent. The land-dwelling megafauna of Pandora can be separated into two categories of carnivores and herbivores (probably omnivores in the case of the Na’vi). Grazing creatures like Sturmbeest and Titanothere are similar to Earth’s counterpart of the rhinoceros and other large Perissodactyla, while Direhorse is a larger, stockier version of horses that the Na’vi use as a medium of transport. Smaller creatures like Stingbat (bat counterpart), Prolemuris (new world monkeys), and Fan Lizard reside in deep forests. Among carnivores, hyenas or wild dog-like scavengers are known as viper wolves, and Thanator is the large apex predator of the land. The animals seem to share a neural connection with the nature personification known as Eywa, too, as we see in the movie’s climax when Jake’s prayer to Eywa is answered in the form of hordes of wild animals joining in the assault against humans. One of the most significant avian creatures is the Ikran or mountain Banshee, which is extensively used by the Na’vi for traversing long distances and for patrolling. Ikran is the only animal that is said to bond with a person for a lifetime. Lastly, the prehistoric Avian Toruk is one of the most important creatures in the movie, as this dragon-like beast commands huge respect from the Na’vi. In history, there had been only five riders who successfully bonded with a Toruk and rode it. In order to win the Na’vi’s trust back, Jake created the Tsaheylu bond with the creature in order to tame it and inspire their entire populace.


The Na’vi of Pandore is highly intelligent, bipedal, sapient creatures who are presented as human counterparts. These 10-foot-tall, blue-skinned humanoids are hunter-gatherers who share a deep spiritual connection with nature. They have their own distinct culture and language. (Linguist Dr. Paul Frommer assisted the director in creating a complex language for the Na’vi.) They worship their prime goddess Eywa, who is considered to be the composite form of all life and consciousness in Pandora. Despite having an advanced civilization, rich history, culture, and social structure, they refuse to adopt newer forms of technology as they strive to maintain natural harmony and be content with the bare minimum required for survival. ‘Seeing’ the other is a philosophical concept the species has adopted, which can be interpreted as experiencing things with humility, without prejudice. Na’vi considers that persons are born twice, once when natural birth occurs and the next time when they are accepted as a part of their clan, which is to say when they find the designated role or purpose of life. 


Major portions of Pandora’s landscape are covered with lush greenery, much like Earth, which was done to retain a sense of familiarity with the viewers. Biologist Jodie Holt assisted James Cameron in designing the fauna of Pandora. Many real-life inspirations were utilized in the movie, especially the hanging Hallelujah Mountains of Pandora, which resemble China’s Huangshan Mountains. The magnetic field around natural superconductors like unobtanium causes the mountains to float. The giant 300 ft tall Hometree seems like a sprawling version of Redwood trees. However, the most important aspect of Pandora’s plant life is that they are known as “Zooplantae,” or plants with animal-like nervous systems. Like every megafauna, plants, too, have the neural connection link, and they are connected with the moon’s central neural hub, which natives consider as Goddess Eywa. In the movie, Grace speculated that the neural connection branches within different species of trees and creates a unified data-transferring system much like the internet. Two major trees—the Tree of Voices, or Utraya Mokri, and the Tree of Souls, or Vitraya Ramunong command a position of deep reverence from the Na’vi. The former establishes a connection with the ancestral memories of the Na’vi, and the second one, which is the most important sacred site to the Na’vi, is the most direct connection to Eywa. Most of the fauna of Pandora is bioluminescent.


Final Words

With the technological innovations James Cameron and his team pioneered, this vision of an enthralling, beautiful world was actualized on screen. However, we think that Cameron as an imaginative artist, achieved much more than Cameron, the perfectionist technician, and managed to put the audience in a stasis of wonder through hypnotizing aesthetics, a far cry from the lackluster reality they eventually get pulled towards.

See more: James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Is An Innovation Of Cinematic Visuals

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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