Eight months before its scheduled release on 12.18.09, James Cameron‘s Avatar, a science-fiction thriller filmed with his own specially devised 3-D technology, “is stirring up a kind of anticipation that until now had been reserved for, say, the Rapture,” writes N.Y. Times reporter Michael Cieply in tomorrow’s edition.

But before we go any further, let’s cut to the chase with a few Avatar Wikipedia page quotes.

One, in Cameron’s original Avatar script treatment, “a man tries to make his way as a miner by combining with an alien during an interplanetary war in which aliens can make themselves manifest by possessing human bodies — avatars.” Or is it vice versa?

Two, when Avatar was titled “Project 880”, a casting call was put out in June 2006 with this plot description: “In the future, Jake, a paraplegic war veteran is brought to another planet, Pandora, which is inhabited by the Navi, a humanoid race with their own language and culture. Those from Earth find themselves at odds with each other and the local culture.”

Three, Cameron having described Avatar in December 2006 as “a futuristic tale set on a planet 200 years hence…an old-fashioned jungle adventure with an environmental conscience [that] aspires to a mythic level of storytelling.”

And four, a January 2007 press release having described the film as “an emotional journey of redemption and revolution…the story of a wounded ex-marine, thrust unwillingly into an effort to settle and exploit an exotic planet rich in biodiversity, who eventually crosses over to lead the indigenous race in a battle for survival.”

Ceiply speculates that Avatar might become a hit on the order of Cameron’s Titanic with $1.8 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Or it might just be a giant headache for 20th Century Fox, which is backing Avatar and will have to spend much of the year managing expectations for a film whose technological wizardry is presumed by more than a few to promise an experiential leap for audiences comparable to that of The Jazz Singer, the arrival of Technicolor or an Obama campaign rally.

“To date, neither a trailer nor even a still photo from the film, which tells the story of a disabled soldier who uses technology to inhabit an alien body on a distant planet, has been made public by Cameron or Fox.

“Only a few weeks ago, Joshua Quittner, a technology writer for Time magazine, fed the frenzy when he reported feeling a strange yearning to return to the movie’s mythical planet, Pandora, the morning after he was shown just 15 minutes of the film. Cameron, Quittner wrote, theorized that the movie’s 3-D action had set off actual ‘memory creation.’

“Questioned by telephone recently at his home in Mill Valley, Calif., Quittner said he was still reeling from the experience.

“‘It was like doing some kind of drug,” he said, describing a scene in which the movie’s hero, played by Sam Worthington, ran around ‘with this kind of hot alien chick,’ was attacked by jaguarlike creatures and was sprinkled with sprites that floated down, like snowflakes.

“‘You feel like the little feathery things are landing on your arm,’ said Quittner, who remained eager for another dose.”