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The most wonderful movie time of the year
Princesses, action-packed detective work and alien worlds dominate theaters this weekend
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Josh Brandsma buys a ticket for "Avatar" from Caroline Entrekin at the Hollywood Cinemas on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed

The holiday movie forecast gives moviegoers a chance to embark on worlds of blue aliens, singing chipmunks, a princess (and a frog) and maybe a wise-cracking detective or two.

At the Regal cinemas at the Mall of Georgia in Buford last Sunday, hundreds lined up to see "Avatar," "Titanic" director James Cameron's latest computer-generated feat.

Lavender Khan, 14, a student at Central Gwinnett High School, was one of the many who stood in line to see the film on Sunday.

Khan said she wanted to see the movie because "it's supposed to be ground-breaking CG (computer generation.)"

"The story line, from what I've seen on the commercials, the previews, it looks pretty cool," said Khan. "Everyone loves to see a good CG movie."

The movie, projected 150 years into the future, follows a wheelchair-bound Marine, Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, as he links his consciousness to that of an avatar that resembles the Na'vi, the blue-skinned natives of Pandora, and becomes immersed in their colorful world.

Angela Motamedi of Sugar Hill said she loved the movie for "the special effects, and it was just a good story."

"It was spiritual," she said. "It talked about the environment."

Charleston Steele, 26, visiting from Miami, said he wanted to see "Avatar" "to see how far the technological advances came."

"Avatar" took the No. 1 spot in the weekend's box office rankings, raking in $77.35 million over the weekend and bringing its total to $230 million worldwide.

And that's just the first Christmas present moviegoers delivered to production companies during the Christmas season, which is always a popular time to catch a new film.

Harry Medved, a spokesman for online ticket seller Fandango, said the Christmas season is "the second biggest time of the year for movies, for sure," and he said he thinks it's because watching a movie is a great escape.

Medved said "Avatar" offers the perfect escape because "people are looking to kind of go on a journey to another place far away from their hum-drum reality, and James Cameron delivers it."

"When you kind of arrive on Pandora, and watch it in 3-D especially, it really feels like you're kind of at the Great Barrier Reef,

in outer space or something," he said. "It's like the environment is so immersive, you really feel like you're there."

Many Academy Award contenders are released during the holidays, along with classic family-friendly fare.

Disney's "The Princess and the Frog," for example, is something lots of kids and adults said they are excited to see this Christmas.

Steele said he also saw "The Princess and the Frog," which he enjoyed for the movie's musical aspects.

"There's lots of singing and dancing," he said. "It was a very uplifting movie."

Motamedi's daughter Isabella, 11, said "The Princess and the Frog" topped the list of movies she wants to see "because it's just going to be a funny movie."

Medved said "Princess," next in line after "Avatar" for advance ticket sales on Fandango.com, is a great story for young girls.

"She's not a real princess, she's just a hardworking girl that dreams one day of opening her own restaurant, and she knows that hard work is the only way she's going to get it," Medved said.

"So it's a great message for young girls, but a lot of young boys won't see anything with ‘princess' in the title, so those young boys are going to see ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks' this week."

Medved said "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" will be a hit because "you've got the nostalgia factor for the parents who grew up on the Chipmunks."

"I have a 10-year-old nephew who cannot wait to see this film, and one of the things he keeps telling me, the reason why he is excited about "The Squeakquel," is he thinks the whole concept of the female chipmunks, the Chipettes, is hysterical," he said.

The Holly Theatre in Dahlonega will show "The Princess and the Frog" this weekend, a first for the theater, which usually closes its doors during the holidays.

Sanaa Merani, the box office manager at the Holly, said the theater decided to open up this weekend because of a good Thanksgiving turnout for "Where the Wild Things Are."

The Holly, which always shows family friendly films with no more than a PG-13 rating, will also show "The Blind Side" on New Year's weekend.

"We have a lot of people asking about that weekend because I guess a lot of families like to go out and watch movies over the break," said Merani.

Ranked fourth in advance ticket sales on Fandango.com is "Sherlock Holmes" starring Robert Downey, Jr.

"Guy Ritchie, the director of the film, injects some really fresh enthusiasm into the musty old property. It's not your granddaddy's Sherlock Holmes," Medved said.

"It's Sherlock Holmes meets the Flight Club," he added. "It's a much younger cast than you would have had in the old days. You would have had these kind of older leading men who probably wouldn't be so good at martial arts."

The film is popular, Medved speculated, because it offers that escape from reality.

"I think one of the reasons why people are excited about Sherlock Holmes is that, once again, it's a far away world, long ago, and you really feel like you're taking a trip," he said. "And I think that's one of the themes of all of the holiday movies - is that these are all trips to far away worlds."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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