I know this will sound like exaggeration, but this is simply the most stunning movie made since Thomas Edison invented the flickers. Previously, only two movies have really expanded my horizons, shown me something I had envisioned in my head, but never seen: 2001, and the first Star Wars. This one tops them both. I’m speaking of the visual aspects, of course, but there’s a bonus. It is real, actual SF, and the story is not dumb. Simple and basic, sure, but not dumb. A lot of critics have rather condescendingly compared it to Dances With Wolves—white man joins the Indians and fights with them to save their land and culture from the Seventh Cavalry—and it’s true. But if this was meant to be a put-down, it didn’t work with me. I liked Dances With Wolves. I loved this movie. Lee loved it. Yes, the ending is a bit weak, you knew from the first ten minutes that our hero would be fighting one-on-one with the mean Marine in the final scenes, but other than that, it all works. I have never seen a film so real. These aliens live. Ironically, the female romantic lead, Zoe Saldana, doesn’t appear in the film! Ever! She worked entirely in a motion-capture suit, like all the aliens except for the avatars, and appears only as a 10-foot blue alien woman. I had to Google her to see what she really looks like. There is a little facial resemblance, but basically she vanishes into the superb CGI as thoroughly as Andy Serkin vanished into Gollum. It is all incredibly beautiful. An astonishing amount of thought went into the design of the ecology. Every frame is so realistic it’s as if they simply took their cameras to Pandora and started shooting. This movie sets a new standard, and proves it is now possible to shoot any SF novel ever written, and make it seem real. Of course, they’ll fuck most of them up, but there are bound to be a few that work. I can hardly wait.
P.S. You must see the 3D version. I have been dubious in the past, but I’m a convert—at least for a movie like this one, that doesn’t shove something in your face every thirty seconds, that uses 3D as a way of enhancing the story rather than just showing off. It is true that you lose a little bit of the color—after all, you are wearing sunglasses in a dark room—but Cameron has compensated by bringing the light and color up enough to make it not a problem. This enchanted world deserves to be seen in 3D. I don’t know about IMAX, that might be a little too much … but I’ve been wrong before. If you do see it in IMAX 3D, I’d like to hear from you.