James Cameron’s Avatar is the event movie of the year if not the decade. It takes whatever technology began with Polar Express, refined with Golum in Lord of the Rings, and expanded to near perfection in Peter Jackson’s King Kong jungle sequences and takes it to a whole other level. If you don’t go to the movies much, this is the one to get off your couch and go see this holiday season – and you should see it in 3D – simply stunning! Regular movie goers have already seen it by the time this review posts, and are most likely contemplating seeing it again.

The world Cameron and his crew of over one thousand graphic designers/artists have created is a visually rich and constantly fascinating one. This world of Pandora is jaw dropping. Everywhere you look is something amazing – a constant feast for the eyes. Images beautiful and dreamlike that reference creatures Cameron found in the extreme deep, are brought to life with 3D that is never gimmicky or silly. This is that “wow” movie experience that comes once in a decade. Trying to explain it more as some movie mash-up (part 2001 A Space Odyssey part Lion King) will just diminish the experience.

This is not to say that Avatar is a movie without problems.There are many. I am not sure the story, were it a comic book or traditional 2D affair with clumsy special effects would generate any buzz. At times Avatar becomes a cliche chase-movie shoot-em-up. The dialogue and characterizations are mostly 1D, and the thinly veiled antiwar/ecopolitics/pantheism “message” is a subtle as Al Gore talking about a lockbox – and just as annoying. There are also numerous anachronisms, not unusual for a movie set in the future. It’s good the know the wheelchair will see no improvement in design anytime the future – nor will bullets, machine guns, and mechanical switches on military aircraft. Finally the movie just begs for a melody like as memorable as “My Heart Will Go On” to tie it all together.

These are minor quibbles with what will be remembered as a visual and technological masterpiece – a watershed movie in history. You may even find yourself, as I did, surprisingly emotionally moved at the end of the this 2 hour and 40 minute ride. Or, you will be like so many, just sawing “wow” over and over during and after the movie. Believe the hype, this is the movie to see.

It also a movie to see ONLY in a movie theater. This brings the magic back to movie going and requires all the technology a modern theater can offer. If you wait to see this on DVD, you will miss the whole point.

Many watershed films of the past don’t age so well, this may prove true for Avatar. This won’t be the best 3D virtual world movie ever. Costs will come down, and more movie makers will have a go at this type of thing. For them there will be a huge debt to Cameron, the  only person Hollywood would let run wild with the capital required to make Avatar. I cannot overstate the achievement of his vision.

While this may seem a perfect movie for kids, I would suggest some caution as some of the creatures are pretty intense and there is some slow slogging through plot toward the end of the second act which might make the kids restless.