James Cameron‘s Avatar “is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in years,” says New Yorker critic David Denby in the 1.4.10 issue. “Amid the hoopla over the new power of 3-D as a narrative form, and the excitement about the complicated mix of digital animation and live action that made the movie possible, no one should ignore how lovely Avatar looks, how luscious yet freewheeling, bounteous yet strange.

“As Cameron surges through the picture plane, brushing past tree branches, coursing alongside foaming-mouthed creatures, we may be overcome by an uncanny sense of emerging, becoming, transcending — a sustained mood of elation produced by vaulting into space. Working with a crew of thousands, Cameron has reimagined nature: the movie is set on Pandora, a distant moon with thick forests, alpine chasms, and such fantastic oddities as wooded mountains hanging in the sky. The geographical center of the movie is a giant willow tree where a tribal clan, the Na’vi, worships the connections among all living things — a dubious-sounding mystical concept that the movie manages to make exciting.

“In Titanic, Cameron turned people blue as they died in icy waters, but this time blue is the color of vibrant health: the Na’vi are a translucent pale blue, with powerful, long-waisted bodies, flat noses, and wide-set eyes. In their easy command of nature, they are meant to evoke aboriginal people everywhere. They have spiritual powers and, despite their elementary weapons — bows and arrows — real powers, too.

“From each one’s head emerges a long braid ending in tendrils that are alive with nerves. When the Na’vi plug their braids into similar neural cords that hang from the heads of crested, horselike animals and giant birds, they achieve zahelu, which is not, apparently, as pleasurable as sex, but somewhat more useful — the Na’vi’s thoughts govern the animals’ behavior.

“Cameron believes in hooking up: this world is as much a vertical experience as a horizontal one, and the many parts of it cohere and flow together. The movie is a blissful fantasy of a completely organic life.”