Various Movies  

This page has my comments and special work related to various movies.

Laputa (Castle in the Sky) (1986, Ghibli)
Radio Days (1987, Orion Pictures)
Good Will Hunting (1997, Miramax)
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999, 20th Centory Fox)
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
The Matrix (1999, Warner Brothers)
Howl's Moving Castle (2004, Ghibli)
Avatar (2009, 20th Centory Fox)




Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986, Ghibli) and Encounter at Farpoint

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a Japanese animated film from 1986. The story centers on a mysterious, legendary floating island and some humans who want to reach it and utilize it for selfish reasons (either by harnessing its power or by taking its treasure). The name Laputa is from a similar floating island in Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, a fact that is mentioned in the Japanese-language version of the screenplay.

Encounter at Farpoint is the pilot episode of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation; it first aired in 1987. The story centers on a mysterious ground-based "space station" and some people (human-like aliens) who have been utilizing its power for selfish reasons.

In both stories, the large mysterious object is or was inhabited by people, but turns out to be a non-human living creature, which is "freed" as part of the climax and resolution of the story. Both are about the same size and shape as Jonathan Swift's floating island Laputa.

Other similarities between the two stories:

footnotes

1 : Although prominent mountain peaks on the horizon make it appear the viewer and Laputa are at most a mile or two up in the air, the distinct curvature of the horizon indicates they are far higher.




Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace (20th Century Fox, 1999)

(written in late 1999)

Trivia concerning the movie "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (Which, by the way, is in the top 20 on my chart ranked by all-time attendance)

Other things I noticed while watching Episode I

- the number of (living) good Jedi warriors equals the number of "evil" warriors (two of each). In episode I there seem to be far greater number of good warriors.

- Luke + Leia = male & female, perhaps the good side of the Force needs a female warrior to have balance.

Things I noticed on the soundtrack album:

track 8, 1:36 (about 6 seconds) Luke's theme

track 11, 2:30 (about 20 seconds) Luke's theme from episode IV

track 14, 3:45 (for about 20 seconds) vocal theme heard in episode

VI during the scenes showing the confrontation between Luke, the Emperor and Vader.

track 16, 1:17 Imperial theme from episode V


My Star Wars Predictions

These are my predictions for Star Wars Episodes II and III. Most are pretty obvious. I haven't tried to get the order right because it doesn't matter:

Palpatine uses his control of the Senate and the Trade Federation to expand his influence throughout the galaxy. He beseiges and takes control of many planets, but is often hindered or thwarted by the Jedi.

Anakin Skywalker is a powerful Jedi Apprentice and returns to Tatooine as Palpatine tries to take over that planet. Amidala, having been so greatly helped by Anakin 10 years earlier, now comes to help free his planet. Tatooine achieves a mixed victory, deposing the Hutts (and as a result freeing the slaves), but being forced to submit to control by Palpatine/Trade Federation in their place. In the process they fall in love.

Having had little success with droids, Palpatine decides to turn to human soldiers, since their minds are more easily controlled. Clones are even more easily controlled since their minds are alike — control one and you control them all (this also turns out to give the Jedi an advantage in defeating the clones). Palpatine employs the clones to control and conquer systems.

Palpatine is annoyed by the Jedi and continues trying to wipe them out, using a new Sith apprentice or perhaps several apprentices one after another.

Palpatine intercepts the young Jedi-in-training Anakin Skywalker and tricks him into thinking his cause is good. Anakin is torn between what Palpatine wants him to do and what the other Jedi want him to do.

Palpatine, having acquired control over a sufficient fraction of the galaxy, declares himself Emperor. The new Empire will be more powerful and all-inclusive than the Republic could be (including outlying systems such as Tatooine).

In a climactic scene, Obi-Wan and Anakin are fighting Sidious and a Sith apprentice. Sidious tells Anakin to slay the apprentice in anger (which will bring Anakin to the dark side). Anakin slays the Sith apprentice but simultaneously falls into the lava and is nearly killed, losing almost all of his body in the process. Obi-Wan somehow gets knocked out (perhaps he falls somewhere) so he cannot intervene. Sidious snatches up Anakin, now scarred for life, and whisks him away.

The Jedi discover that Amidala is pregnant and arrange for her hiding on Alderran.

The Emperor provides the scarred Anakin with a bionic body and makes him his new apprentice, Darth Vader. The Jedi soon realize that this used to be Anakin Skywalker. Vader gets many (including a few Jedi) to serve the dark side. Many Jedi confront Vader and his minions and are killed. Most of them were deceived, led into traps, or otherwise at an unfair or dishonorable disadvantage when fighting Vader.

Obi-Wan and Yoda find themselves among the last of the Jedi and decide to cease their activity with the Force and go into hiding. Obi-Wan gets Amidala's son (leaving the daughter) and takes him to Tatooine.

The Emperor has been unsuccessful with the clones and must abandon them, and turns to ordinary human conscripts to use as soldiers.

The Sith warriors run out of good guys to kill. Being evil, they compete with one another for the spot at the Emperor's side. Vader kills off the last of them. With two evil and two good (in hiding), the Force is at a balance.

It is also revealed that the ultimate (forseen) "balance" in the Force is actually the balance that will be brought about by Anakin's offspring, who (by being of opposite sex) will bring an important gender-balance to the good side of the Force. If Lucas went ahead with the third trilogy he would use this idea as Leia develops her abilities and becomes as important an influence as Luke.


From the above and the existing movies we get this concise Summary of the 6 episodes:

Episode I: The Phantom Menace. 8-year-old Anakin is discovered by Qui-Don. Anakin meets Queen Amidala. Palpatine manipulates the Senate and the Queen to be elected as the Senate's leader. Darth Maul is defeated by Obi Wan and Qui-Don, who dies. Anakin becomes Obi Wan's apprentice.

Episode II: (title TBA). 10 years later. A tone similar to episode V. Romance and marriage of Anakin and Amidala; the Clone Wars take place; Anakin and Amidala fight the Siths; Senator Palpatine manipulates his way closer to complete control of the crumbling old Republic.

Episode III: (title TBA). 2-3 years later. Emperor Palpatine and his new order rise to dominance. Anakin falls to the dark side. Obi-Wan and Yoda struggle to hide Amidala and her unborn children from the ruthless Palpatine. Darth Vader and his minions hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights.

Episode IV: A New Hope. 17 years later. Amidala's children find each other with the help of Obi-Wan and two droids. Leia's home planet Alderaan is destroyed. Obi-Wan dies, then helps Luke help the rebellion in a temporary defeat of the Empire.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. 3 years later. Luke begins his Jedi training under Yoda, while Leia and the Rebellion are continually on the run. Darth Vader seeks out Luke, who leaves Yoda before his training is complete to challenge Vader. Vader tells Luke he is his father.

Episode VI: The Return Of the Jedi. 1 year later. Luke uses Jedi powers to rescue Han Solo, then returns to Yoda and learns of his family history. Yoda dies. Luke, Leia and Han lead the Rebellion in defeating the Empire again. Luke confronts Vader and the Emperor; just before the Emperor kills Luke, Vader turns back to good and destroys the Emperor.




South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Division into a 5-act play:

Act starts ends with
I 0:00:20 "Mountain Town" TV news satellite interview
II 0:14:50 Rehabilitation class "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch"
III 0:32:44 V-chip presentation "La Resistance" medley
IV 0:51:24 Sadaam and Satan in bed The Mole dies
V 1:05:20 The execution Finale

See also the List of South Park episodes.




The Matrix movie (1999, Warner Brothers)

My rating: 8 out of 10

I admire this movie for introducing millions to an idea that I have explored extensively for over 20 years: That everyone's mind might be hooked up to some type of virtual reality system and therefore, maybe, nothing is "real". Since I was so familiar with this premise, nothing that happened in the movie took me by surprise and I found myself wishing its many essential plot devices were consistently plausible.

For the sake of entertainment and a dramatic, unpredictable storyline, the Wachowskis decided to give the bad guys a consistent physical manifestation, limited to defeating good guys only by chasing them down and shooting or fighting them. Similarly, while our heroes can enter the Matrix anywhere they want on a whim, leaving is excessively elaborate. And despite the fact that they can hack the Matrix to manifest a physical presence, they apparently can't hack anything else like magic spells or superhuman powers.

This is all set up to create an instability and balance of power that allows for plenty of suspense, drama and what my friends call "excessive gratuitous violence" in the lengthy combat scenes that showcase the film's groundbreaking (for 1999) special effects.

So, if you're seriously interested in the premise of the movie (and we all should be, as it probably plays a very real and central role in Humanity's future) and the lessons it has to teach, just remember that "The Matrix" is first and foremost designed as entertainment. Its lessons consist of a few basic ideas which you will need to explore on your own elsewhere.

Why, after all this, do I still rate it 8/10? Because The Matrix is d*n good entertainment, for anyone who enjoys gratuitous violence and dark science fiction, and it has gotten an important message out to many people.

If you liked the ideas presented in The Matrix you should probably see the earlier films from which the ideas seem to have been copied: Dark City, eXistenZ, Total Recall, The Terminator, Johnny Mnemonic, Blade Runner and Neuromancer.

Its many inconsistencies




The Music in the Movie Radio Days (1987, Orion Pictures)

The 1987 Woody Allen movie Radio Days features over 40 popular radio songs from the 1930's and 1940's — far too many to put on the soundtrack album. After I got the album I was a little disappointed at the songs that weren't included, and I decided to identify all the songs in the movie.

Fortunately, the songs are listed in the credits. However, they are not quite listed in the order that they appear in the movie, and there are some omissions. This list sorts it out, fills in the missing pieces and gives visual cues to help you identify the particular song you're interested in. This should save you from having to go through the whole movie with a list and a CD player, like I did!

Time1 Song Title2 Composer or Performer3 Scene4
0:00:00 Flight of the Bumblebee Harry James opening credits (I have the VHS videotape version, and I reset the counter to 0 just as the words "a Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production" appear)
0:01:55 Dancing In the Dark Arthur Schwartz & Howard Dietz burglers answer phone call from radio show
0:02:39 Chinatown, My Chinatown William Jerome & Jenn Schwartz burglers on radio show (continued)
0:03:07 The Sailor's Hornpipe not given burglers on radio show (continued)
0:03:53 Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing Robert Huntington, Stanley J. Damerel
(Unconfirmed: Danielle Ferland as child radio star)
girl in radio studio; VO "I know a million of 'em"
0:04:24 September Song Kurt Weill & Maxwell Anderson Wind and rain on a street in Rockaway Beach (in Queens, NY); mother doing dishes; Irene and Roger in penthouse apartment
0:06:12 Body and Soul Benny Goodman Trio Introducing the family members
0:07:51 In The Mood Glenn Miller & his Orchestra Aunt Bee dancing and asking advice. "Our lives are ruined already"
0:13:00 Body and Soul (first few bars) Benny Goodman Trio "I never did get the Masked Avenger ring"
0:13:30 I Double Dare You Larry Clinton & his Orchestra Aunt Bee has a date.
0:15:30 You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me Harry Warren & Al Dubin roller skating
0:16:58 La Cumparasita stuck out on Breezy Point; interrupted by news of "martian invasion" 5
0:18:11 Carmina Roger and Irene in ballroom; Roger seducing Sally the cigarette girl
0:19:38 Tico Tico band, singer, conductor holding a chihuahua; Roger and Sally continued
0:21:08 Begin the Beguine Cole Porter Roger and Sally on roof
0:23:53 Opus No. 1 Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra on High Holidays, Communist neighbor is playing the radio and not fasting! 6
0:25:26 Frenesi Tommy Dorsey Neighbor Mrs. Silverman died when she saw an interracial kiss
0:30:16 All Or Nothing At All Jack Lawrence & Arthur Ahlman girls swooning in diner
0:32:02 Body and Soul Benny Goodman Trio meeting the 14-year-old "Whiz Kid" at the zoo
0:33:25 The Donkey Serenade Allan Jones Aunt Bee sitting on steps; bunch of kids run in house to get a snack
0:34:02 You and I Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra VO "Evelyn Gariwitz, who I had a crush on"
0:34:40 Paper Doll The Mills Brothers VO "My parent's anniversary — the only time I ever saw them kiss"
0:35:21 Pistol Packin' Mama Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters VO "My friend Andrew and I built a snowman in front of the school"
0:35:54 South American Way Carmen Miranda Cousin Ruthie dancing, men join in at end
0:37:08 Mairzy Doats (Mares Eat Oats) neighbor running through streets in his underwear brandishing a cleaver
0:37:44 If You Are But a Dream Frank Sinatra walking into Radio City Music Hall
0:40:08 If I Didn't Care The Ink Spots Sally working in nightclub after hours; owner gets "bumped off"
0:43:58 Schloff mein Kind Sally has a part in a radio drama; Pearl Harbor news breaks 7
0:44:57 I Don't Want to Walk Without You (Not confirmed: Mia Farrow (as Sally)) Sally singing on a USO stage
0:46:34 Remember Pearl Harbor Swing & Sway with Sammy Kaye everyone doing their part for the war effort
0:47:53 Bahalu boys on roof "look in that window!" "let ME see!"
0:48:55 September Song Kurt Well & Maxwell Anderson boys walking on beach; Joe spots a Nazi U-boat
0:50:24 They're Either Too Young or Too Old radio studio with neon Maxwell House sign; Aunt Bee talks with Mom about men
0:51:17 That Old Feeling Guy Lombardo & his Royal Canadians Aunt Bee talking with mom about men (continued)
0:53:51 (There'll Be Blue Birds Over) the White Cliffs of Dover Glenn Miller & his Orchestra Dad wants to get rich engraving
0:54:57 Goodbye Benny Goodman & his Orchestra air raid blackout
0:56:16 I'm Gettin' Sentimental Over You Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra Fred tells Aunt Bee his fiancee's name was "Leonard"
0:59:20 Bahalu the substitute teacher walks in "we're all going straight to hell"
1:00:12 Re-Lax Jingle Dick Hyman (Not confirmed: Mia Farrow (as Sally)) Sally recording a commercial
1:03:18 Lullaby of Broadway Richard Himber & his Ritz-Carlton Orchestra Sally has her own radio show
1:04:34 American Patrol Glenn Miller & his Orchestra taking the radio home by taxicab
1:06:32 Take the 'A' Train Duke Ellington & his Famous Orchestra Mom delivers a baby
1:07:54 Take the 'A' Train Duke Ellington & his Famous Orchestra a day in the city with Aunt Bee; she wins $50 on a radio show
1:10:12 You'll Never Know Harry Wyman & Mark Gordon Aunt Bee dancing with Sy
1:11:58 One, Two, Three, Kick Xavier Cugat & his Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra Joe getting spanked; interrupted by live news report about girl who fell down a well 8 10
1:16:14 Just One of Those Things Cole Porter Sally at New Years' Eve party; family at home
1:17:57 You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To Cole Porter (Not confirmed: Diane Keaton (as the singer)) New Years' Eve party and family at home 9
1:20:26 Night and Day Cole Porter party guests go up on roof
1:22:22 Auld Lang Syne traditional New years' eve party; "what is he doing up?"
1:24:24 September Song Kurt Well & Maxwell Anderson11 rooftop; end credits begin
1:25:53 South American Way Carmen Miranda end credits continue
? Radio Show Themes Dick Hyman I could not find anything in the movie corresponding to this credit

Notes:

1. The "movie time" given for each song tells when in the movie you start to hear each song. This is measured from when the words "A Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production" first appear on screen. The first song actually starts a little earlier during the Orion Pictures logo. I chose not to use that as the starting point for my stopwatch because studios often change the visual presentation of their logos, and I needed a clear visual cue to set the time.

2. Song titles in italics indicate a song that is being heard a second or third time. In the case of September Song, the repetitions are actually different performances.

3. Performer's name is given whenever possible, otherwise composer's name. The Sailor's Hornpipe, Auld Lang Syne and the alternate versions of September Song are not listed in the credits.

4. A brief description of something that happens on screen while the song is heard. "VO" means "voice-over" and refers to Woody Allen's narration. In a few cases a clear reference to a real-life event can be identified. The real-life events are spread out over more than 10 years and happened in a different order than they are presented in the movie. This is of course just part of the overall style of the movie, which is a romanticized retelling of the experience of living in that time. Without the real-life event references, the story would easily cover the last 4-5 months of any year in the early 1940's.

5. Invasion by martians: A clear reference to the Mercury Theatre presentation of Orson Welles' dramatization of "The War of the Worlds" on October 30, 1938. This show did in fact cause mass hysteria, particularly in the New York and New Jersey area.

6. High Holidays: The best fit to the rest of the movie's plot would set this scene on a Rosh Hashanah (Tishray 1-2) before Pearl Harbor. Likely dates include September 14-16, 1939 and October 3-5, 1940.

7. Bombing of Pearl Harbor: Japan pulled the United States into a direct involvement in the war with their surprise attack on December 7, 1941.

8. Girl who fell down a well: Kathy Fiscus (age 3), southern California, April 8, 1949. Millions listened on their radios (there were as yet only a few hundred TV sets in the entire Los Angeles area) to the 24-hour live broadcast and its tragic resolution.

9. New Year's Eve: The narrator says the new year is 1944, so the date is December 31, 1943.

10. Personal trivia: The only scene in any movie featuring a person I know is the shot in Radio Days in which the camera follows an extra carrying a ThermosTM of coffee; the extra is a friend from my college fraternity.

11. September Song is from the musical "Knickerbocker Holiday", and popular versions were recorded by Roger Williams and by Bing Crosby. Most people associate the song with actor Walter Huston.




Good Will Hunting (1997, Miramax)

This movie stands out for many reasons, such as accuracy of details (locations, the math problems, etc.) and the tight agreement and little compromise between the writing and acting. But what interests me most is the marvelous and elaborate way in which the main character Will's sexual orientation is left ambiguous. You probably think I'm crazy; all my gay friends missed it too. Every point is adequately explained by either the "straight" or "hidden" interpretation. I'll just list the relevant points and let you decide for yourself:

Element Direct Interpretation Alternate
Will makes direct and/or crude statements implying that the sobesednyk is gay, intended to evoke a defensive reaction. He's a tough kid from a tough neighborhood. Most gay men are familiar with this behavior because it is exibited by gays who are in the closet and develop overt homophobic behavior as a defense. More recently, it has become politically correct to exhibit tolerance ("It doesn't bother me that you're gay") and the closeted-defensive types have adopted that behavior too.
Will talks about chasing women and getting laid. Will is actually interested in chasing women and getting laid. No direct evidence of getting laid (just heresay) but that point is covered below. Closeted-defnesive gay men also exhibit this behavior as a cover-up.
Will leaves Skylar sitting alone in the bar for 45 minutes He's lost in his world, his friends, or whatever. He's really not interested.
Will says "5 minutes / I was going to come over to you at 12:15" to Skylar Wants to make sure she knows he is interested. Wants to make sure she (and more importantly, his friends) think he was interested.
Will gets Skylar's number, and shows off about it... A good healthy hetersexual male ego. Have to make sure everyone knows he's getting a girl's number. No-one would think he's gay.
... but then doesn't call Skylar for over a week. Well, of course he's pretty busy getting arrested and all. He's really not interested.
Will's line to Sean (Robin Williams) "Maybe you married the wrong woman" Will is trying to find a way to piss off Sean. Will has chosen to piss off Sean in a different way from how he pissed off the other shrinks — rather than challening Sean's sexuality directly, he chooses this subtle (but unmistakable) reference to the familiar "All you need to do is find the right woman". Will's choice of a less threatening and less direct method indicates that Will is giving Sean a better chance at learning the truth than he gave the other shrinks.
Sean's choice of Michelangelo as the only specific person he mentions in making his point about knowledge versus experience. He chose it by chance, or because he (Sean) has in fact been to the Sistine Chapel. A safe, nonthreatening way to use the words "sexual orientation", thereby making sure Will won't miss the meaning of the "truly happy" line that follows.
Sean's line to Will "... you've probably been laid a few times. But you don't know how it feels to wake up next to a woman and be truly happy." Sean is telling Will he's just a kid, and (among other things) hasn't found a soulmate yet. Sean is telling Will that he (Sean) thinks Will cannot be truly happy being next to a woman in bed.
Just after making the "truly happy" statement, Sean gets up and walks away. As he said, Will has to make the next move, by starting to tell Sean about his life. Sean needs to give Will "space" to avoid being too threatening after making this obvious statement questioning Will's sexuality.
Will tells Skylar "I don't love you" He's not letting her "in"; he never lets anyone in. Perhaps also, he decided to drop her because she's not staying in Boston, or maybe he always drops women this way. He was only interested in intellectual companionship, and perhaps a curious interest in the physical aspect of the relationship, but he'll never fall in love with a woman and he decides to be honest about it.
Will's final statement to Sean: "I have to go check up on a woman" "I have to go tell her I was mixed up about not wanting to stay with her, and now I'm ready to be with her" "I have to go tell her I was mixed up about wanting to date her, and the breakup wasn't her fault because I'm gay. Then I'll go get a job in San Francisco."


sobesednyk: (from Russian) the person with whom whom one is speaking (literally, "co-conversationalist")




Howl's Moving Castle (2004, Ghibli)

The Hearth Room

Most of the castle interior scenes are in the main room where Calcifer lives, which I am calling the "hearth room". We see it go through four different appearances:

[21:45] Original castle, "filthy" condition (as Sophie enters for the first time)

[34:00] Original castle, bright and clean (after Sophie has cleaned it out, while Howl is out fighting in the war)

[1:07:00] Original room, partly ruined after airplane crash (at 1:11:15 we also see that the back side of the room appears from outside to be about halfway up, inside the "mouth" of the castle)

[1:14:00] New castle, after Howl and Calcifer transform it to accommodate the growing "family"

[1:27:00] New hearth room after air raid bombs

[1:32:30] Inside ruins of the collapsed castle after Sophie takes matters into her own hands

[1:35:00] Inside new smaller castle (only lasts a minute)

[1:43:40] Only half of the floor left, with two legs (where the plot is resolved)

[1:48:25] Rear porch and yard of new flying castle

The Front Door

Through most of the movie the castle's front door acts as a sort of teleportation device. In addition to the physical outside of the moving castle (seen out the bathroom window and off the balcony), the door also permits access to two abandoned residences in the kingdom that have been enchanted to appear as if occupied by his aliases Jenkins and Pendragon.

Green: The Wastes (wilderness) wherever the castle happens to be at present
Blue: Porthaven (The Great Wizard Jenkins)
Red: Kingsbury, the royal city (Pendragon)
Black: Howl's magic portal to wherever he wants to go

At [1:04:55] we see that the Blue and Red links have been broken for entry from the outside.

At [1:14:00] Howl and Calcifer transform the castle and the front door links to two new places:

Yellow: Courtyard behind hat shop in Sophie's hometown
Red: Howl's childhood meadow hideaway
Green: The Wastes (seen at [1:29:15] just before Sophie decides to dismantle the castle)
Black: Howl's magic portal (assumed)

At [1:38:15] we see the front door is still intact in the second pile of Castle rubble, and Sophie uses it to visit Howl in his childhood.

Other Ideas

Howl can fly because of his link to Calcifer. After the curse linking Calcifer and Howl is broken, Calcifer can make the castle fly. It is unclear from the movie whether Howl can still fly.




Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Two Annoyances

I'm not sure whether I fall into the "obsessive Ster Trek fan" category here, or perhaps just the "sane scientist", but I found two things annoying about Avatar:

Two Problems, Same Solution

I saw the following, asked of Jon Landau by Entertainment Weekly, and the answer was clear. See if you can guess:

Do the Na'vi need Unobtanium? Or is it just a rock to them?
"It's a rock to them," explains Jon Landau. "But it's also sort of what enables the floating mountains. They don't know that though [...]"

Floating unobtanium makes the answer pretty obvious. Think of the palm-sized lump of Unobtainium held by Selfridge (played by Giovanni Ribisi). After holding it up to make a point he puts it back in its normal spot, which is levitating above a sort of bowl-shaped metal base — a sort of executive desk paperweight or stress-reduction toy.

The palm-sized lump of Unobtainium is floating because it is a high-temperature or "room-temperature" superconductor. The base either also contains superconducting material, or an appropriate configuration of fixed magnets.

You may wish to check the superconductivity article on Wikipedia. You'll find that fixed magnets can float above a bowl-shaped superconducting base due to the Meissner effect. The floating object has to be a magnet, and the bowl-shaped base has to be superconducting — but otherwise, the setup is similar to Selfridge's paperweight.

Assuming poetic license or willful suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer, I imagine that on Avatar, Unobtanium is superconductive, and the planet's surface either exhibits bowl-shaped irregularities the local magnetic field, or a layer of superconductive material (perhaps the mantle) which has bowl-shaped irregularities.

The formation of the floating mountains s then easily to visualize: They began as normal mountains, formed through plate uplift in the normal way. Then erosion wore away at the lower parts of the mountain more quickly (for any of the common geologic reasons) leaving just the upper parts of the mountains. The mountains stay floating because they contain enough superconducting material to be able to form a strong enough magnetic field to float. Most would form in regions where the supporting (planetary) magnetic field does not have a locally bowl-like shape, and those would simply drift in some direction or another until they hit ground again. But in rare cases, a local irregularity in the planetary magnetic field would allow floating mountains to remain in place for long periods of time.

Yep

After writing this I went on the Internet to see if anyone else had written similar things and indeed, it's exactly how Unobtanium is explained (here and here for example).

Also of Note

Avatar has presented a new challenge to my chart of movies ranked by all-time attendance. In the United States, exhibitors (theatres) report box office receipts but not the number of tickets sold. For most movies, it is easy to guess the average ticket price, based on an estimate of how many children and senior citizens (who routinely get discounts) will want to see the film. But for Avatar, there is a new variable related to 3-D exhibition. A large, but poorly-documented fraction of Avatar audiences are paying a significant (and almost as poorly-documented) premium to see the film in 3-D. Not knowing the ratio of 2-D to 3-D viewers has made it a bit difficult to place Avatar accurately on my chart. This issue is likely to be more common in the future, as other major films use the 3-D technology that has been around for over 50 years but has been brought thoroughly into the mainstream only this past year.


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