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10 Things I Learned About the Future From ‘Avatar’

We’ll use paper money, Sigourney Weaver will still smoke, Australians will still have accents …

VERY MINOR SPOILERS

1. Even in the Future, It's All About Paper Money
Despite all the hi-tech gizmos on display, from the cryosleep pods and exo-skeletal warrior suits to the amazing Avatar-transplant technology, mankind still hasn’t evolved past folding paper money. Jake Sully’s brother — who has an enormous amount of R&D dollars invested in his PhD-achieving ass — dies because he’s robbed for the cash in his wallet. So it’s the decision to not move to an all-electronic funds transfer system by 2154 — hardly credible – that really determines Pandora’s fate.

2. With All that Technology, You'll Still Need a Wheelchair
Sully is paralyzed from the waist down after a war wound, and thus he gets around in an old-fashioned wheelchair. It’s pretty crummy, really, that science has developed to the point where human consciousness can be transplanted into a genetically engineered 9-foot-tall Na’vi but a spinal column can’t be given an overhaul while-U-wait. Sully explains it costs too much for the lowly likes of himself. Well, that sure sucks, but surely they could come up with a nifty set of mechanical legs for him, given the gnarly exo-suits on display everywhere you look.

3. Cigarettes Will Survive
Earth is now devoid of greenery but tobacco farming apparently still survives — as evidenced by Sigourney Weaver’s Grace Augustine lighting up every chance she gets. Even weirder is that, despite there being hundreds of highly stressed macho warriors stuck on Pandora for six years at a time, she seems to be the only smoker left. Where does she get them? And why does the industry serve one customer?

4. Pandora’s Mining Economy Might Not Stack Up
Doing nasty things the Na’vi to get precious Unobtainium is morally reprehensible, but it also might not really make the best business sense. We’re told the stuff (whose name is to sci-fi what the MacGuffin is to mystery thrillers) goes for — hold on to your piggy banks! — $20M a kilogram. Sounds impressive — until you factor in 145 years of inflation. Right now, platinum goes for about $46,000 a kilo. At 3 percent annual inflation for the next century and a half that becomes $3.5M. But given the state we’re told Earth is in, a 3 percent inflation rate seems pretty optimistic. At 4 percent, you’re looking at $13.5M. If it hits 5 percent then the going rate for platinum would reach $54M per kg. Now factor in the insane cost of traveling to a distant planet, waging a war and transporting Unobtainium back to Earth. Just saying the Corporation might be better off, y’know, growing weed.

5. Aussie-American Accents Are the Way of the 22nd Century
Good call, James Cameron, by letting Sam Worthington keep the Australian twang to his American accent. The actor’s voice maintains a pleasant consistency that wasn’t found in "Terminator Salvation" and recalls the tones of Mel Gibson. Maybe Cameron went a wee bit too far in that direction, though, in the "Braveheart" scene.

6. Marine Cliches Survive, Too!
“Get some!” cries one Marine. Meanwhile, virtually everything that villainous Colonel Miles Quaritch says, from “Pandora will s— you out with zero warning” to “Nothing’s over while I’m breathing," sounds, well, like it’s taken from a 2009 action movie that’s nodding back to the genre’s 1980s heyday, which its creator helped establish. As a point of reference, here are a few military words and phrases popular in the mid-19th century. “Graveled” — to be perplexed; “The pinch of the game” — the defining moment; “Tight scratch” — a difficult fight. I’m saying the tough guys of Avatar might do terse-talk we don’t quite understand. “Grub the Navs, chippers, I be blerkin the pnau-flerks out of ‘em!”

7. Hair’s The New USB
And you thought braided ponytails were only for acid casualties, time-warp-stuck yuppies and drummers in reggae bands? Think again, kiddo. In the future, whenever you want to upload or download a few files — or sync with a flying dragon, or the planet in general — you’ll reach for your hairbraid’s fibre-optic thingies. Hair stylists will price their weave work by the Tera-byte and connection speed.

8. If You Live In Nigeria or Venezuela: Move
Sorry, Nigerians and Venezualans, but according to Cameron, you will some time soonish be receiving a visit from the U.S. Marine Corps and its hi-tech arsenal — all because you live on top of something precious and have therefore become an enemy of the country-company. Hmm … Nigeria … Venezuela … what could it be, y’ail?

9. Aliens Will Be Slow Learners and a Little Fickle
The Na’vi have plenty of spiritual connections to Pandora, live in sweet symbiosis with the animals and plants, and are all-round athletic warriors. But they aren’t the brightest chameleons in the terrarium, as evidenced by their initial bow-and-arrow response to super-dooper hover-gunships. No offence, blue guys, but you’ve had -– oh –- decades to learn that firing your pointy sticks doesn’t work at that range. Thankfully, they can depend on the clans — even if they never mention them in passing. Which makes me think our forest-dwelling heroes may be fair-weather Na'vi.

10. Future Verse, Same as the First
I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to say it. "Avatar" is visually revolutionary, a technological step forward into the filmmaking future. But it’s also a liberal space-set cowboys & Indians story that echoes most obviously 1991’s "Dances With Wolves: and before that Jimmy Stewart’s 1950 western "Broken Arrow" and John Wayne’s 1953 3D effort "Hondo."Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Maybe it’s Cameron’s sly point: while the Na’vi learn slow, humans never learn.