Director James Cameron's "Avatar" is absolutely stunning - so visually grand that there's no way to fully appreciate the artistry.
Cameron's concern for detail in creating the alien world of Pandora includes even the tiniest of details, such as the insects that flit through its dazzling jungles of flora. This splendor is magnified by a 3D effect that's so lifelike, you can almost feel the breath of the massive beasts roaming the lush landscape.
This is the backdrop for Jake (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic war veteran recruited for a special avatar program on Pandora where humans can be mentally linked to Na'vi, the planet's inhabitants, who have been grown in a laboratory. It's like the ultimate computer role-playing game.
But this is no game. It's these avatars' job to find a way to move the Na'vi from their sacred ground so humans can mine a valuable mineral. It starts with negotiations and ends with conflict.
Jake is invited to learn the Na'vi way by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the warrior daughter of the head of the tribe. She initially finds her duties disgusting, but she slowly forms a bond with Jake. That's when Jake finally sees the imperialistic plans of the mining corporation.
Cameron's script doesn't show the same concern for detail that he put into the visuals. The plot is trite. We've already seen the invasion of greedy humans this year in "Battle for Terra."
But complaining about this film's pedestrian plot is like getting upset over a fine meal being served on a paper plate: The delivery system doesn't take away from the delicacy. When you think about it, Cameron's box office mega hit "Titanic" was nothing more than a standard boy-meets-girl plot.
And the weak script does get charged up by some interesting performances, especially Sigourney Weaver as the scientist whose passion for the planet puts her at odds with the heartless corporation. She, like Worthington and Saldana, are not held back by spending the majority of their time acting through their avatars.
Stephen Lang's portrayal of the heartless leader of the military operation is less interesting because it's the stereotype of gung-ho military leaders from countless films.
It's not the plot or acting that make "Avatar" such a treat - it's the craftsmanship of bringing this world to life.
You won't believe your eyes.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com