More than a decade in the making, James Cameron's 3-D fantasy about a colony of human astronauts hoping to plunder an alien rainforest represents a quantum leap in movie magic; watching it, I began to understand how people in 1933 must have felt when they saw King Kong. Motion-capture animation, which transposes actors’ physical movements and facial expressions to digital characters onscreen, has never been executed with such accuracy and delicacy, and the planet's strange, colorful landscape is so minutely realized, with such careful study of botany and biology, that the movie's standard eco-parable feels effortlessly sincere. None of this would matter, though, if not for Cameron's perfectly arcing story line, in which a paraplegic military man (Sam Worthington) gets a chance to inhabit an ambulatory alien body and ultimately must choose between his own people and the tribal community they're about to attack. With Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Giovanni Ribisi. PG-13, 162 min.
Avatar showtimes: Tuesday, December 22
Official Site: www.avatarmovie.com
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Producer: James Cameron and Jon Landau
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Joel Moore, Laz Alonso and Wes Studi