More than any other filmmaker, director/writer James Cameron (TITANIC) has utilized technological advances to further expand the possibilities within his chosen medium. Blending motion-capture with virtual reality, Cameron literally creates a new world where mountains hang in the sky above tribes of resourceful, blue-skinned people (Think really tall Smurfs) with access to an energy source that territorial earthlings want to get their mitts on. Technically and visually, the movie is a marvel of striking clarity, depth and detail that’s well worth the extra money to see in 3-D. The special effects are well-done and seldom overwhelm the film even though I couldn’t help wondering why costume designers Mayes C. Rubeo and Deborah Lynn Scott chose to give the azure-hued Na’vi and their genetically engineered title characters tails. The screenplay is an allegorical space western that parallels the conquest of native Americans by white settlers yet it avoids most of the heavy-handed approaches that movies with an underlying cause are weighed down by. Most of the characters, human or blue, are fairly stock, including the Marine (Sam Worthington) won over to the other side, his blood and guts counterpart (Stephen Lang) bent on villainous conquest and the sarcastic scientist (Sigourney Weaver) who thinks all military people are “dolts.” Even though the story isn’t terribly involving and could have used some of Cameron’s services as a co-editor to trim some of the excess from its two and three-quarter hours length, AVATAR is a state of the art film that draws you in with the kind of visual imagery that keeps one’s eyes on the screen. Cameron might spend a king’s ransom to make one of his movies but at least you can see from the finished product where it went and that it was well spent.

CRITIC’S NOTE: Don’t believe anything you read or hear about Sunday night’s Golden Globe Awards being an early barometer of who’ll triumph at Oscar time. Globe nominees and winners are selected by approximately 100 writers from Hollywood’s foreign press unlike the several thousand Academy Award pollsters who are from all fields of the movie industry. The Globes also have separate categories for movie comedies/musicals and dramas unlike the Oscars, which make no distinction. Like the local CineSol Film Festival and the Heisman Trophy, the Golden Globes are rather irrelevant.