5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund
James Cameron's “Avatar” is an amazing experience, its miraculous, built-from-scratch imagery dancing and darting across the screen, which Cameron transforms into an immersive, otherwordly terrarium. Nearly 15 years in development, this $250 million sci-fi saga is unquestionably the most incredible visual achievement to hit theaters since Peter Jackson's “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” stretching the limits of make-believe and more than living up to a colossal amount of self-induced hype. I don't know if it represents the future of movies, but it certainly raises the bar.
The story takes place in the year 2154 on Pandora, a distant, Earth-sized moon born out of Cameron's boyish imagination. Inhabited by a race of blue-skinned, cat-like, 10-foot-tall natives called the Na'vi, Pandora is the ultimate conquest of the American military, who've traveled light years to harvest its rich supply of Unobtainium, a not-so-subtly named mineral of which Earth is in dire need in light of its very real energy crisis. Problem is, the biggest stash of the mineral lies beneath the Na'vi's home base, a tree the size of the Empire State Building that the environmentally-friendly locals have no intention of abandoning.