Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

Giant robot knife fight

In Movies on December 31, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Humanity is not the most efficient or dangerous fighting machine in the world.  While the move from all fours to a more bipedal stance allows for specialized tool use and the like, it makes them pretty slow, pretty off balance, and easy to take down.  That’s why people had to develop weapons.  Because they were way below average in terms in strength, speed, or dexterity.  Humanity evolved from a four-legged animal and has made the best with an imperfect original blueprint.

Why do I bring this up?  Well, in Avatar, James Cameron has continued the pretty silly idea of basing future technology on human-based design.  This comes in the form of some giant robot vehicles that the human soldiers drive.  Take a look.

How many accidental deaths come from people getting stepped on by giant robots? I bet it's the biggest killer in the army.

Okay, here’s the the thing.  These giant robots might seem pretty cool, no doubt.  I’m not doubting that my inner 7-year-old that thinks giant mech suits are cool as fuck.  Look how popular Transformers are and that idea, which I adore by the way, is rock stupid.  And that’s what I’m getting at.  Giant robots are cool but really ineffective in combat and that is why they are ridiculous for any army-type to employ in a combat situation.

What do I mean?  People are pretty top-heavy with a high center of gravity.  When you can create any kind of killing machine in the world, why make one look kind of like one of the least effective-killing machines, aka people.  So, people machines are just bad design.  But, whatever, there are plenty of examples of giant robots in the world of sci-fi.  It’s dumb but to be expected.  Fine.

But here is where Avatar gets reeaallly dumb.  The mechs have fully articulated hands that are controlled by VR-style gloves worn by the mech drivers.  So, if you built a giant piano or a giant guitar, these fuckers could make a giant robot band.  Yeah, that’s a good use of military technology.  So, what is the use of giant robot hands?  To shoot giant robot guns, of course.  Instead of having built in weapons, the giant robots carry fully separate giant robot assault rifles.  So what does this mean in terms in combat?  It means if you are involved in a firefight, the mech pilot fires his gun by pretending to hold a gun in the cockpit.  It looks like Journey playing invisible instruments like in the “Separate Ways” video.  Yes, that stupid.  The fact that these soldiers don’t accidentally break the guns that their mechs are holding is a miracle.

But even this isn’t the stupidest thing.  Well, when the mech in Avatar gets inevitably disarmed, it is forced to get into the obligatory hand-to-hand fight with the protagonist.  So, this is when the giant robot draws a giant robot knife.  Not a built-in blade, but an an actual giant survival knife drawn from a giant robot sheath from a giant robot belt.  It proceeds to get in a giant robot knife fight with the protagonist.  Why, oh why, would a giant robot need a giant robot serrated giant survival knife?  Maybe it has a giant robot compass in the pommel?  Maybe it might need to whittle a giant survival spear out of a giant robot piece of wood so it can catch giant robot fish in the giant robot stream?  It is so asinine I don’t know how to keep writing about it.  It has exhausted my brain to even ponder it.

  1. I agree with the giant robot humanoid is not the ideal battle machine but I think that the idea of the VR glove /motion capture robot control thing is actually really neat fictional technology, making the control of things really intuitive. It might be neat to see a similar control system used for like….flying machines or tanks. I do think it’s an indicator of other shit we might be seeing soon.Nintendo Wii technology is going to be all up in sci fi from now on, methinks…

  2. I agree with jim- the VR glove makes sense. if we can do that with the NATAL then i dont see why it cant be done with giant robots. Regarding the giant knife- that could of been easily avoided by just making the fist switch to a blade of some sort. hell, batman does it all the time, why not a futuristic robot. But i bet you that was cameron all the way..

    • Yeah, the VR gloves are possible and actually a very good idea; just not for a robot firing a gun. Like, what’s easier to do? Play the guitar by feel or play the guitar by holding by putting your finger where they should be and playing the air. The feel of any tool, be it a wrench, an instrument, or a weapon is necessary for its proper use. Would you want to draw by holding your fingers exactly like you were holding a pencil, then hoping your fingers don’t accidentally move and either drop or crush your pencil? That’s what the robots in Avatar do with their guns.

  3. i was just thinking that having separate giant knives and giant robot guns allowed for the 12 foot tall blue elves to use future weapons that were to scale with them….in which case the poor design was just an excuse to give the “savage injuns” white boy rifles.

  4. True, though i have to admit nothing says pain like having an arrow the thickness of a flag pole go into your chest 3 times.

  5. OOh my sides. Oh man that post made me laugh. Though I haven’t yet seen the movie, I have to agree that this design is (in the style of Balki Bartokomous) ridiculous.

    Giant robot gun, giant robot knife… ha!

  6. Yeah, that baffled me… like the handlebars on the Terminator Motorcycles… what are they used for? What other planets has Humanity fought on where the Robot had to knife fight? Why aren’t the weapons attached? Hasn’t Cameron ever seen War Machine?

    But if I start questioning that, then I start to wonder about other things like… If the Hallelujah Mountains fucked up their gauges, how come they were able to maintain the link with their Avatars? Or… How come humans only seemed concerned with the poisonous atmosphere for dramatic effect?

  7. I agree with you Kett that this would be kind of intuitive, but the loss of tactility makes it pretty worthless. Imagine trying to do anything without being able to feel texture or pressure. Even walking would be a feat, certainly not something you could just strap in and take off. you’d have to spend a lot of time practicing to be able to do anything. Like drawing with your eyes closed I’d imagine.

    That said, the idea of a giant robot pilot training facility with hundreds of toddler level coordianted robots falling all over themselves and splintering giant wooden replica rifles cracks me up. That should be in the bonus material.

  8. You say humanity is a bad design. Give me some reasons why!
    Obviously your no biologist since you get evolution the wrong way: Weapons like bow and knives are not the result of the inferior human design – humans were only able to build weapons like that because they were a physically superior design. Walking on 2 feet gives you 2 free hands to do anything else. Having your head high above ground gives you overview. The survival of the fittest theory by darvin is the reason why we exist in the first place. Augmentation of thinking capacity is a direct result of the early evolutionary changes in the human body. so far so gooo.

    Now why no built in weapons: as you can see in the movies, these robots are not only used to fight as you know it from mech-games, they are also used as workers: To arm machines, shove stuff etc. now if you have a lot of weapons attached this gives you more weight and you loose working capacity.

    • Okay, you have some excellent points. Let me do the best I can to defend myself.

      I agree that humanity’s success comes due to some excellent, advantageous evolution. The ability to use our hands coupled with brain development is the reason humanity has thrived, without a doubt. But, I think you would agree that human beings would be at a disadvantage to most other forms of life with comparable body mass. While we can use our hands, we lack significant claws or fangs (built-in weapons) and natural ground speed. If you can build a robot in any shape, why not integrate more naturally advantageous features to match up with humanity’s natural advantages. I’m just saying, when the design is limited only by the creator’s imagination, why would you settle for a human-shaped machine. Machine design is not bound by the limitations of evolution, so why not open it up a little bit.

      And you’re also right about the robots being multi-tasked to do a lot around the mining base besides fighting. I still think it makes more sense to create a modular but attached weapon system instead of assault rifles and combat knives. I guess we can agree to disagree. Also, you know what works well for carrying cargo around or doing construction work? Trucks, cranes, and bulldozers. I guarantee you can more efficiently move mass using those types of technologies than giant mecha.

      Thanks for the comment. It has given me something to consider and I appreciate well-reasoned arguments.

  9. The suits were built with the Nav’i in mind. Also, did you see the size of the animals on Pandora? The “rhinos” still ran over the mecha. Unarmored humans wouldn’t have a chance. As far as not having fixed mount points, it’s all about flexibility and mobility. A hand can carry a drill, a saw, a knife, a flamethrower, a machine gun. Run out of ammo, weapon jammed, or destroyed? Drop your rifle and pick up a tree or another rifle on the ground. The only special item you have to make is the hand. As far as crushing whatever the hand’s holding, considering that they now make prosthetics that can pick up an egg without crushing it, the technology’s already there. Really, if you were able to carry that kind of armor and weaponry with that kind of flexibility and agility–you’d be dumb NOT to do it. The simplest answer though would be to have a tank/weapons platform that could hover over the ground–because ground tanks wouldn’t be able to get around the terrain presented in the movie.

    • You make some good points. The flexibility of a hand versus built in weapons is a decent explanation, though I still think trade-off of flexibility versus durability (an articulated hand has lots complex, little moving parts and joints) is a poor choice.

      The terrain argument is also a strong one. The energy to keep something hovering is probably a lot more inefficient than a pair of legs. Wheels and treads would indeed have a hard time on Pandora.

      Still not buying the holding invisible guns in the cockpit user interface. I’m not saying prosthetic technology isn’t there. I’m just saying that having one-to-one movement technology is not a good idea. When you hold something, like a rifle, in your hands, you have the mass of the item to hold your hands in place. If I said to you, “pretend you’re holding a gun” and you tried, do you think your hands would be perfectly lined up? They might be close, but even being off by an inch would mean a dropped or crushed gun. Now how about I make you hold your hands like that while in a walking vehicle go over rough terrain. Try holding your hands perfectly still or parallel on a rollercoaster. I think it falls apart.

      Thank you for a reasonable and non-hostile response. You have given me something to think about.

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