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It isn't totally accurate to say that you've never before seen a movie like "Avatar." After all, a 5-year-old's drawing of stick figures shaking hands is kind of like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, right?

A rock or mineral substance which I think the characters were calling "unobtainium" has been discovered on the planet Pandora, a beautiful gift box of a world which contains terrible dangers if misused. Scientists, led by Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, "Baby Mama"), are living on Pandora and trying to learn the ways of its aboriginal people, the Na'vi. As the story progresses, any similarity between the Na'vi and American Indians is purely intentional.

Science's interest is benign, but not so that of a mining corporation intent on raping the planet for its mineral wealth through the use of a paramilitary organization, the Blackwater of the future. The mining interests are supported by Parker (Giovanni Ribisi, "Public Enemies"), the same kind of slimeball who used to build railroads by riding roughshod over the Indians in old Westerns. He is abetted on the military side by Col.

Quatrich (Stephen Lang, "The Men Who Stare At Goats"), a former Marine who's so tough he makes R. Lee Ermey look like Jon Cryer.

The goals of science and commerce meet in Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, "Terminator Salvation"), a former Marine who has lost the use of his legs. His mind/personality/spirit will be temporarily transferred into a made-in-the-lab body that looks like one of the 8-foot-tall Na'vi. The body is a blend of human and alien DNA. His mission for science is to get to know the native people and have them learn to trust him so he can in turn teach their ways to humans. But Quatrich secretly recruits Jake to tell him everything he's need to know in order to destroy The People militarily.

Jake is being instructed in Na'vi ways by the daughter of the local clan, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, "Star Trek"). He, in his Na'vi body "" his avatar "" falls in love with her, and she with him. The village sits on top of a huge deposit of the valuable mineral and Jake hopes for a diplomatic solution to the difficulty, but Quatrich is the carpenter to whom every problem is a nail.

One of the Most Amazing Movies Ever

The screenplay, written by director James Cameron ("Titanic"), is a blend of familiar tropes from popular films and genres "" Westerns, jungle adventures and space opera, with a rousing finale reminiscent of a muscular "Return of the Jedi." As a sci-fi adventure, it's adequate, but hardly more than that. Seeing in 2-D would still be colorful, but not worth 162 minutes of your time.

As an event seen in IMAX 3-D, however, "Avatar" is one of the most amazing movies ever. The images are sharp and clean, and the action is pulse-pounding. Technically, this is the best 3-D I've ever seen, and Cameron knows how to use it to greatest effect. He certainly gives audiences their fill of the kind of thing we've come to expect from 3-D, when objects come toward us, but I was more impressed when objects or characters fell away from us while another object remained right in front of our eyes. The simulated depth was remarkable.

"Avatar" is the yardstick by which all special-effects movies will be measured "" if not forever, then surely until Cameron creates a new one. -Doug Bentin


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