In a review only slightly less enthusiastic than two 100s Avatar has already racked up, Variety pledges allegiance to Pandora:
The King of the World sets his sights on creating another world entirely in “Avatar,” and it’s very much a place worth visiting. The most expensive and technically ambitious film ever made, James Cameron’s long-gestating epic pitting Earthly despoilers against a forest-dwelling alien race delivers unique spectacle, breathtaking sights, narrative excitement and an overarching anti-imperialist, back-to-nature theme that will play very well around the world, and yet is rather ironic coming from such a technology-driven picture. Twelve years after “Titanic,” which still stands as the all-time B.O. champ, Cameron delivers again with a film of universal appeal that just about everyone who ever goes to the movies will need to see.
Cameron reportedly wrote the story, if not the full script, for “Avatar” at least 15 years ago but decided he had to wait until visual effects capabilities advanced sufficiently to credibly render his imagined world and its inhabitants. On this fundamental level, the picture is a triumph; it’s all of a piece, in no way looking like a vague mish-mash of live-action, CGI backdrops, animation, performance capture and post-production effects. On top of that, the 3D is agreeably unemphatic, drawing the viewer into the action without calling attention to itself. The third dimension functions as an enhancement, not a raison d’etre, so the film will look perfectly fine without it…
On an experiential level, however, “Avatar” is all-enveloping and transporting, with Cameron & Co.’s years of R&D paying off with a film that, as his work has done before, raises the technical bar and throws down a challenge for the many other filmmakers toiling in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. The lead team from Weta in New Zealand as well as the numerous other visual-effects and animation firms involved have done marvelous and exacting work, a compliment that extends to every other craft and technical contribution on view.
Though McCarthy has some quibbles with the script, it’s clear he’s having much more fun getting off on describing, “the glowing, luminous nature of some of the plant life and floating seeds that waft through the environment’s atmosphere, while the grander landscapes offer staggering vistas of places that are perhaps most reminiscent of South America, just as the Na’vi most strongly call to mind the natives of the Americas in their customs and tribal manners.” Geek out on your bad self, Mr. McCarthy, dude.