James Cameron (True Lies, Aliens, Terminator 1 and 2, The Abyss ) hasn’t made a fiction film since 1997’s Titanic. And, although it remains the most successful movie of all time, I despised its emotional manipulation and trite love story. I remember leaving the cinema teary-eyed yet also feeling almost emotionally raped by the Hollywood trickery on screen.

I predict that Cameron’s new film Avatar – reportedly the most expensive ever made – will also be a very significant box-office hit. It takes cinematic spectacle to new heights with an epic trans-galactic tale set in 2154, but thankfully doesn’t beat its audience into submission with cheap and nasty manipulation.

Avatar is one of the most anticipated films of the year; in part thanks to the excitement of Cameron finally returning to the big screen, but also because of the hype surrounding it. We’ve been promised a unique and wholly original film that redefines the cinema experience. It’s a hell of a lot to live up to.

In the first few minutes we meet Jake Sully (Sam Worthington); a paraplegic marine who’s been tasked with replacing his dead twin brother on a mission to the planet Pandora. He’s placed within a research team headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) ostensibly as additional security, but really to spy on the scientists’ work. It seem that the “primitive” locals are not too keen on the strip-mining of their territory and the military needs as much information as it can to forcibly move the native Na’vi tribes from the most profitable sites.

What allows the scientists to interact with the giant, blue-skinned locals are laboratory grown alien bodies into which the humans can insert their minds for short periods of time. In this way they try their best to understand this foreign culture and avert a catastrophic war between the Na’vi and the corporation hell-bent on making profit at any cost. Invariably, our hero begins to sympathise with the tribal people and even develops feelings for one of the females.

There’s nothing very original in the plot. We have another greedy corporation, sadistic military types, pure nature-loving peoples, a burgeoning love-story-against-all-odds and a hero out to prove himself. It’s a hodgepodge of a million science fictions tale and movies we’ve seen before and it’s the film’s biggest weakness. It’s also where Avatar fails to deliver on the promise of originality.

At the same time, Cameron is a sufficiently intelligent and talented filmmaker to weave these predictable strands in such a way that the story remains an enjoyable and fulfilling one that references contemporary life: from our brutal wars in the Middle East over oil resources to our disconnection from nature. Thanks to his skill we care about the fate of these people. Most impressively we care very deeply about blue, odd-looking characters (“Smurfs on steroids,” some have quipped) that exist only in the hard drive of a computer.

In fact, the most moving and convincing performance in the film is by Zoe Saldana as the alien Neytiri. Despite being “covered” by a virtual computer generated mask, Saldana’s eyes gleam when she smiles and you believe every expression and nuance of her artificial visage. Neytiri seems to have more life than the “real” performance by Sam Worthington. That’s not to say Worthington is not up to the job. His quiet and internalised Jake Sully is very effective. It’s also extremely enjoyable to see Sigourney Weaver working with Cameron again. They proved a dynamite combination in Aliens and the spark is still there.

Avatar represents a groundbreaking leap in filmmaking in its integration of real actors and computer generated worlds and characters. Cameron has said that he waited ten years for the technology to be become available for him to make this. And you will believe him. For once an absurdly high mega-budget is completely up there on the screen for you to gawk at.

You have never seen anything like it. It is the most realised fantasy world ever put on film. It is lovingly rendered in minute detail and expansive jaw-dropping spectacle that will induce awe and wonder. Avatar is one of those very rare movies that will very likely inspire a new generation of dreamers.

After close to three hours I did not want the film to end. And, despite its length, the final act still felt rushed. Like the Lord of The Rings trilogy, this fictional world has so much to offer that it would have worked best in two or three chapters. It’s not often that a film demands a sequel (rather than studio executives demanding one), but Avatar truly does. I want to return to Pandora, and according to reports, so does Cameron.

The film is being screened at conventional cinemas as well as at 3D theatres but I would strongly urge you to see this in 3D. It is the first film that uses the medium in a sophisticated yet still eye-popping fashion. After seeing Avatar in three dimensions, you will have no doubt that all films will be made like this in the future. It signifies the death knell of 2D cinema.

Avatar is spectacular entertainment. Thanks to Cameron’s immense talent we have finally been treated to a unique jaw-dropping experience with real heart. Those behind the soulless Transformer movies and the emotionally empty destruction of 2012 have much to learn from this master.

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