The ‘ARs’ in the Avatar Sequel Were Surprisingly Well Thought-Out

by Tommy Grant

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During a recent re-watch of Avatar: The Way of Water (the sequel to the original 2009 film), I noticed again that one of the main characters refers to their rifles as “ARs.” Given that the first film is set around 150 years in the future and four light-years from Earth, that seemed suspect. After all, the guns of 1873 (150 years the other direction) were quite different that those used by our military today. The U.S. Army had just adopted the Colt Single Action Army and the Springfield 1873 “Trapdoor” rifle.

So, I thought, wouldn’t the rifles used in the 2150s be just as different? After all, the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise (set about the same time as Avatar) features “phase pistols” that fire particle beams much like the phasers in other Star Trek series. Why wouldn’t they be using ray guns by 2153-2168?

Trying to figure out why they chose to keep a rifle similar to what we have now in the 21st century took me down quite a rabbit hole, and at the bottom I actually gained a lot of respect for the film’s production designers.

The easy way to do almost any gun job in Hollywood would be to just make something gun-looking that goes bang. Few viewers are nerdy enough to notice, let alone wonder about the guns used in a sci-fi film, so it wouldn’t have really hurt the film much to skip over the details.

On the contrary, though, Avatar’s producers actually put some work into making a fairly complete and well thought-out design that resembles current trends in military rifles. The movie gun is even chambered in a real-world caliber that makes sense in context.

From watching the film it’s pretty obvious that it’s based on a short-stroke gas piston setup. At one point (19:20 into the film), we even see it in a partially taken-down state where we can see that it’s similar to the upcoming XM7 rifle (SIG MCX-SPEAR), which in turn follows the same basic design as the AR-18 that was made famous in The Troubles.

That makes a lot of sense because the military world is starting to move away from buffer tubes, direct impingement, and other elements of the AR-15 design, so it seems logical that the trend to continue.

It’s also neat to see that Jake Sully replaces his stock with a Na’vi-inspired wood stock, giving it a different feel than the bad guys’ stock rifles.

But, we also have to keep in mind that the Na’vi (and the human hybrid versions that are either remotely controlled “avatars” or “recoms” that have human memories implanted) are a lot bigger than humans. So, any rifle designed for a giant’s hands and body is going to have to be pretty big. Because the blue aliens are so big and strong, and the animals on the moon are huge, they’re going to want a much bigger caliber than anything humans use.

Once again, the film’s designers could have just let people assume that it uses big bullets without having any kind of a backstory…but they didn’t. It’s not mentioned directly in the film, but information from behind the scenes has trickled out onto the internet, and they picked a real-world caliber for the Recom/Skel M69-AR rifle: the .50 SPOTTER or .50 BAT round.

Originally designed to fire tracers in support of the M40 106mm recoilless rifle, its ballistics were matched to that of the anti-tank gun. When fired from a spotting rifle mounted on the side or top of the main gun, it could let people firing it know whether they got it right before firing a louder and more expensive 106mm round (which would definitely invite return fire).

In the original Avatar film, Avatars used .50-caliber machine guns modified so they could hold them, but seemed to face many of the same challenges human soldiers faced with high-recoil battle rifles (controllability). So, the shorter and weaker .50 BAT is basically the equivalent idea of an assault rifle, but for giant blue aliens with big hands.

A human would really struggle firing a Remington M8C with a stock, but a big alien handles it like an AR-15 or AKM.

Again, they didn’t have to do all this, but instead they went deep and designed a realistic weapon for a very unrealistic situation. (It’s also great that it seems to piss off so many movie media types.) If more Hollywood films did that instead of just saying, “It’s a ray gun. We can make up the rules as we go along,” films would be a lot more accurate and consistent.

 

 

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