Legendary director James Cameron’s “Avatar” has raised the bar when it comes to movies.

Legendary director James Cameron’s “Avatar” has raised the bar when it comes to movies.

His latest effort introduced a new world in the same way previous great movie series like "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the Rings" have.

Set in the year 2154, humans venture into a lush jungle world, called Pandora. There they encounter 10-foot-tall, blue-skinned natives through hybrids known as avatars.

One thing is for sure, “Avatar” is as visually stunning as any movie ever made, and seeing it in 3-D really made the theater experience feel like transporting to another world.

“Avatar” works as a truly great science fiction film because it bends reality without completely breaking it. All of the creatures that inhabit Pandora could have realistically lived on Earth at some point in time, as most of them seem to be distantly related to real animals.

Even the blue-skinned Na’vi seem basically human – only with a few quirks. Despite their slightly skewed features, they are inherently emotional beings.

The movie seems to have an underlying message, not lost on critics, which implies an anti-war, pro-environment agenda.

Cameron hasn’t been shy about those messages. In an interview, he admitted that he made obvious references in the movie to Iraq, Vietnam and the American colonial period.

Sure, the movie includes talk of terrorism and “shock and awe,” but it’s hardly a major theme throughout. Instead, the movie draws its interest more in its humanity, despite that it comes from the nonhumans.

It would be easy to get caught up in the metaphors embedded in the plot line, but it's not the bread and butter of this movie. The special effects truly steal the show, not the writing. Typical of big blockbusters produced for the masses, the dialogue is often simple and predictable.

The plot line is no surprise, either. And, at times, the story seems to drag along. Once it becomes evident that a big Hollywood showdown looms, everything in between feels moot.

“Avatar” may have its share of messages, but it's not a message movie. Its strength is in its visuals and groundbreaking innovations. The stock liberal lectures do nothing to advance the film.

Still, “Avatar” deserves a place in history for its movie-making advances. It’s the kind of film that draws people to the theater because they can’t quite get the same experience in their living room. It’s the same reason why people gladly paid full price to watch the original "Star Wars" trilogy when it was in theaters again a few years ago.

There is talk of an “Avatar” sequel, and possible a series. Though the bar has been raised, the series realistically can go anywhere with its futuristic landscapes.

Michael Tortorich writes for the Weekly Citizen in Gonzales, La.