Canadian James Cameron gave up engineering in Ontario to drive a truck in L.A. so he could have a chance to flog his scripts and become a screen writer. That must have been a huge gamble. But nothing compared to the professional and financial risk he took by putting all of his eggs in a basket called Avatar and launching it into the ether.

Already the most successful movie maker in history – his previous blockbuster Titanic earned him $115 million – he staked it all and a whole lot more on Avatar, which cost $300 million to make. In the process he invented the cameras that allowed him to shoot in 2D and 3D simultaneously, technology that he is now in a position to lease out to others.

But Avatar is not all about technology. Like any good artisan, Cameron’s control over the process is so thorough that he doesn’t have to dwell on it or impress you with it. Throughout the entire film there was really only one object that was thrown “at” the audience (a gas canister). The rest of the 3D stuff is so organic and natural you almost don’t know that it is there. Cameron says of his own work, “My approach to 3-D is in a way quite conservative. We’re making a two-and-a-half-hour-plus film and I don’t want to assault the eye every five seconds. I want it to be comfortable. I want you to forget after a few minutes that you are really watching 3-D and just have it operate at a subliminal, subconscious level. That’s the key to great 3-D and it makes the audience feel like real participants in what’s going on.”

What is going on is hugely enjoyable. Cameron has a beautiful imagination, and he allows it free reign in this entrancing movie. I don’t think I have so willingly and wholeheartedly entered into a fantasy world since Dorothy landed in Oz, which incidentally is Cameron’s favourite movie. Yes, Avatar is derivative in that it relies on so much of what has gone before; we have seen the monster-men machines in Matrix and the mythological beasts in Narnia. But Cameron has taken all of these elements and woven them seamlessly into his vision of an alien world. You cannot escape the impression that with this film movie-making is evolving to a new level. This will be undoubtedly be the benchmark for all future blockbusters. Mr. Cameron, you are no longer in Kansas, or even Kapuskasing anymore!

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