Well, the biggest thing in movie theaters this weekend before Christmas is said to be �Avatar,� director James Cameron's 3D science fiction extravaganza. It's his first feature film since �Titanic� in 1997.

Our critic, Kenneth Turan, says �Avatar's� expensive computer effects were worth every penny.

KENNETH TURAN: You've never experienced anything like �Avatar,� and neither has anyone else. Its shock-and-awe tactics restore a sense of wonder to the movie-going experience that has been missing for far too long. The year is 2154, and planet Earth is in big trouble, big enough that people are going all the way to Pandora, six light-years away.

The Na'vi, the blue-skinned, 10-feet tall, computer-generated creatures who live there are not happy. Here's the head of human security giving the bad news.

(Soundbite of film, �Avatar�)

Mr. STEPHEN LANG (Actor): (As Colonel Miles Quaritch) You're not in Kansas anymore. Out there beyond that fence, every living thing that crawls, flies or squats in the mud wants to kill you and eat your eyes for jujubes.

TURAN: Listening to that speech is partially paralyzed combat veteran Jake Sully. He's on Pandora to be the human mind inside an avatar, a genetically engineered hybrid between humans and the Na'vi. But once hothead Jake crosses the security barrier and enters Pandora proper, he can't help but be wowed by the vividness of fantastical creatures like flying dragons, anvil-headed rhinos and so will you.

(Soundbite of film, �Avatar�)

TURAN: That creative intensity is so potent, we're barely troubled by the flat dialogue and characterization that put such a dent in �Titanic.� To see �Avatar� is to feel like you understand filmmaking in three dimensions for the first time. In Cameron's hands, 3D is not a forced gimmick, it's a way to create an alternate reality and insert us so seamlessly into it, we feel like we've actually been there.

�Avatar� may be the most expensive and accomplished Saturday matinee movie ever made. If spectacle and adventure are reasons you go to the movies, �Avatar� is something you won't want to miss.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and for the Los Angeles Times, and we have more movie reviews at our Web site

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