I love to enter worlds unknown. Last week, I went to see James Cameron’s movie, Avatar. This movie is a feast for the eyes. This week, I indulged in the first season of the HBO series, Rome. This drama is a feast for the mind.
I got to thinking that what made both of these experience pleasurable is that the settings are both unfamiliar but yet they adhere to our essential understanding of both human nature and how we perceive our environment. Said more simply, there is a quintessential truth to these artificial worlds.
One of the things I appreciated about the forest and animals portrayed in Avatar included how their exterior features consisted of real world elements. Of course, there are no blue people on earth and it’s hard to imagine a planet where this creature could exist, but having a degree in the biological sciences, there were fundamental concepts adhered to in this movie. For instance, I loved that the “horses” in this movie had stripes on their legs. This feature is seen in the Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), a mammal found in the Ituri rainforest in Africa. In addition, the striping on both the Avatar’s skin as well as on some of the animals makes biological sense given that light filtering through the dense canopy would mimic this pattern and help to camouflage animals with this trait. I could actually picture natural selection at work. These minor details created a world that made it easy for me to “suspend my disbelief.”
The magic world-building of Rome, on the other hand, engages in bringing a foreign world of ancient time. While the setting and costumes are a visual delight, this mastery of the art of world-building in this show is accomplished more through dialogue and custom. I love the pagan rituals, the superstitions, and the political intrigue. I love that the characters are based on real historical figures. I love that the authentic phrasing that is used. I believe that I have been transported in time. I believe I have entered their world.