It’s not often that a Hollywood blockbuster comes along with the full force of the hype machine behind it and doesn’t end up disappointing, but this is not one of those times. Avatar comes saddled with a budget big enough to bankrupt a small country and stories about how technology had to be invented just to make it possible, not to mention that it’s the poster child for this 3D film gimmick that’s apparently the next big thing. Oh, and the small matter of it being James Cameron’s first film in over a decade, following up his last modest success.

One compliment that I can pay it is to say that it didn’t even feel close to its 162-minute running time, and in these days of increasingly lengthy blockbusters that overstay their welcome – in Transformers 2’s case, by around an hour and a half – that’s rare. But if that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise… well, here goes…

Technically it’s an absolute masterpiece. The 3D, which is a movement that I’ve been fairly sceptical about, never felt obtrusive, and it added incredible depth to the forest scenes. Little things like floating ashes or insects that give a wonderful ambience, right down to extremely subtle touches like how someone in the foreground might actually be in front of the subtitles of the character who’s speaking. It’s not perfect, and I’m curious to see how it differs in 2D, but on this showing it’s something that I’ll be more amenable to the next time a major release gets a 3D version.

And in these days of post-Bourne quick-cutting action music videos movies and soulless CGI battles, this is an old master showing the kids how it’s done. That’s not to say it’s in any way old-fashioned because it feels entirely modern, but this is the man who made Aliens, essentially freed from budget constraints and given the technology to put his vision up there. If only this came out before the Star Wars prequels, because there’s a lot that George Lucas could have learnt from this.

But above all, it’s just a beautiful, beautiful film, both in terms of its visuals and its story. I’m a huge Cameron fanboy, the first two hours of Titanic aside, and I have no hesitation in putting it up there with Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2 – my god, the man’s a genius – and Piranha II: The Spawning. I can’t wait to see it again.

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