In the last shot of Avatar, someone's closed eyes snap open. That's the climax and the message of 's first fiction feature since 1997s Titanic: Look around! Embrace the movie - surely the most vivid and persuasive creation of a fantasy world ever seen in the history of moving pictures - as a total sensory, sensuous, sensual experience. The planet Pandora that Cameron and his army of artist-technicians have created - at a budget believed to be in excess of $300 million - is a wonder world of flora and fauna: a rainforest (where it never rains) of gigantic trees and phosphorescent plants, of six-legged flying horses, panther dogs and hammerhead dinosaurs. Living among these creatures is Pandora's humanish tribe, the Na'vi: a lean, 10-ft.-tall, blue-striped people with green eyes, or what mankind might have been if it had evolved in harmony with, not opposition to, the edenic environment that gave rise to its birth.
It's the year 2154, and Pandora, a moon of the Alpha Centauri star, is the reluctant host to an expedition of Americans seeking to mine an incredibly valuable rock called unobtainium - a joke term, coined in the 1950s referring to any kind of material that's unavailable or impractical to use, that Cameron employs to locate his movie among science-fiction adventures of the period. The expedition, headed by sleazy entrepreneur Parker Selfridge ( ), contains scientists, working for Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), and a Blackwater-type security force led by the malevolently macho Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). The scientists have hatched "avatars," which look like Na'vi but blend their DNA with that of humans, who will steer them by remote control; "dreamwalkers," they're known as. Grace is entranced by the Na'vi's aristocratic gentility, but to Selfridge and Quaritch they are "blue monkeys", "savages," "an aboriginal horde." Or for want of a better word: Disposable. (See the top 10 movies of 2009.)