With "Avatar," director James Cameron set a new standard for sci-fi, mixing live action with computer-generated special effects. CG actors do their thing in virtual 3-D worlds whose vibrant settings nearly jump out from the screen. The alternative reality that results is like nothing ever before seen on film. Among the innovations created for this film were motion-capture CG that could record an actor's facial expressions and a camera that would allow the director to see in real time how the CG characters (based on real actors) interacted with the virtual worlds [sources: Hiscock, Masand].
Sure, the story -- evolving around a futuristic U.S. military mission to the planet Pandora -- might not be gripping drama among the likes of "Citizen Kane," but it's a worthy vehicle for stunning visual effects. And it took 3-D to a whole new level. It's too early to measure the film's long-term impact on the sci-fi genre and future of summer blockbusters. It's safe to say, however, that neither will ever be the same.