‘Avatar’ director James Cameron backs a space venture to expand Earth’s resources

Posted by · 9:44 pm · April 20th, 2012

James Cameron is not a man who believes in boundaries. He”s been pushing the edges of technology as well as his own creative limits (and those of his crew) for years. He recently returned from a journey to the Mariana Trench (a 7-mile-deep canyon and the ocean’s deepest known point). He was in fact the first person in history to make it a solo trip.

Equally impressive is the fact that he helped to design the vessel that made the heretofore impossible journey.

I happen to love Cameron. For me, he is the best possible version of bonkers and gives “no limits” a very good name. Many of us spend our lives imagining the extraordinary. Cameron spends his in relentless pursuit of it. Amidst his other achievements, he is, of course, responsible for the top grossing film of all time: “Avatar.”

“Avatar” advanced the use of both 3D and performance capture technology. The film legitimately altered the way the industry thinks about and conducts its business. Among other things, respected auteur Martin Scorsese was inspired to delve into the world of 3D with last year”s Academy Award-nominated “Hugo” (which for some, at least partially, legitimized the medium), as did filmmakers as varied as Steven Spielberg, Wim Wenders and Francis Ford Coppola.

As in all things, however, there have been some short cut attempts to piggyback on the success of the film, including a lot of less-than-stellar 3D conversions and crass uses of the technology, of which Cameron has been quite publicly dismissive.

In addition to the spectacular technological display that it represents,”Avatar” served as a warning of the dangers that overpopulation and an unsustainable strain on the Earth”s natural resources present. It also functioned as an allegorical chastisement for the practice of colonizing and razing the native materials of an indigenous populace.

It is somewhat ironic, given the film”s larger themes, that The Guardian reports that Cameron is now one of the lead backers for a private company that describe itself as a “commercial space pioneer” whose intent is to extract materials of non-Earth resources. Planetary Resources (the company in question) named Cameron and several other prominent entrepreneurs as members of its “investor and adviser group” in a recent press release. Cameron seems like a prime candidate to be a part of this venture, we imagine at least partially in the hopes of being a part of one of the first commercial trips into space.

It is no surprise that a man as interested in exploration, engineering and technology as Cameron would financially support this project. And though privatized space exploration makes a good deal of sense (given NASA”s seemingly stalled advance), there are several elements of this announcement that give me pause.

First, the irrational part of my brain feels like this is somewhat tempting fate. Did “Avatar” not warn us against plundering other planets for what we do not have ourselves? This is to say nothing of what “Aliens” presents of privatized space travel. I would no more like to see Cameron aid the corporatization of space than I would enjoy watching him contribute to the construction of artificial life. My response to the latter would in all likelihood be: “STOP BUILDING SKYNET.” That said, the more logical part of my brain also sees a few potential pitfalls in the endeavor.

I fear that, given even the potential of an escape into other worlds, we will fail to truly address the issues we face in terms of sustainability. We already do so little in that regard. Now, in all likelihood there will be no indigenous life on the “Goldilocks” planets this mission will seek. But “Avatar” presents a vision of a world as a complex organism in its own right, one with agency and a right to thrive. So are we to be nothing more than parasites, traveling from host to host until we drain the one we occupy of its vitality and then move onto the next?

Is that a hyperbolic response? Absolutely. As an avid science fiction watcher I may have some level of innate trigger paranoia around particular advances. On a more fundamental level, however, I just cannot help but believe that we have far too dangerous a gap between our ethical advancement and that of our technology. And there is a large part of me that feels we need to focus on the former and slow the latter if we are to truly thrive as a species long term.

Having said that, I would not say no to a trip into outer space.

For year-round entertainment news and commentary follow @JRothC on Twitter.

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