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I first saw "Avalon" on DVD a couple of years ago and found it to be
entertaining if not spectacular. However, this week i saw it again and
this time it made a decidedly greater impact.
The main plot ingredient in Avalon is not one that the frequent movie-goer will be a stranger to. There have been so many "is this game or reality"-films made the last few years that most of us have probably seen at least a few. Of course the giant in the genre is "The Matrix" although comparing Avalon to The Matrix is not really viable.
First of all Avalon is not mainly an action-film, it is rather a film about reality (and our perception of reality) with some action-scenes blended in. The scenes taking place within the virtual reality world are colorless and alien, the ordinary world bleak. What many viewers will undoubtedly find strange is the fact that this is a Japanese film made in Poland with Polish actors speaking Polish. I had no problem with this since Polish and Japanese are equally alien languages to me.
Technically Avalon is well made. The effects are surprisingly good and convey the right "video game" feel. The acting is (as usual) hard to judge when done in a language i can not understand but as far as i can judge it was done very well. The polish cast seem to be well chosen.
I found Avalon to be thought-provoking, interesting and well-made. However i will not elaborate on the plot or the developments since this is a movie that deserves to be watched with an open mind. There is always the risk of saying too much, which could ruin the experience. I rate Avalon 7/10 and recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A typical Mamoru Oshii style film. Slow, heavy handed but often
effective use of lens filters, dreary soundtrack, poor Foley work,
cinema noir poses and some art-house meanderings. The story is so so,
reasonably similar themes can be seen in a lot of work coming out of
japan these days. Virtual reality or online identity cross merging with
the real world. It is very anime in parts but I am not sure anime works
for live action. In anime you can forgive some of the stiffness or the
poor Foley but in live action it makes it feel a bit dead. A problem I
have with all Oshii's film.
The main actress is good. She does hold the film together. Not much is asked from her in terms of character development or script but she gives more than is on the written on the page and imbues the film with a feeling of lose, fading away, remorseful acceptance.
I liked the film. I enjoy the theme. I thought the CGI was done well and there were some nice shots. The metaphors are a bit much but that is to be expected with Oshii. Boo to me but I wish he'd make GITS 3.
SPOILER (NOT REALLY)
I very much did not like the last scene. The is a scene where an orchestra perform the theme of the film Avalon with cuts going between a conversation outside and the orchestra inside. This for me was the worst scene. The filming of the orchestra was very standard TV style with no use of creative lighting to reflect the colour of the music, no close-ups of any of the instruments, no style at all just bad TV. Then it was clumsily cut with the conversation outside which were meant to reflect the lyrics of the opera. I thought it was very poor. And I thought the dog in the car was just stupid.
"Avalon" follows in the tradition of movies based on a fictional video
game (named Avalon in this case). These tend to work better than films
based on real life video games. "Tron" and "eXistenZ" are two popular
movies to do the same tactic. But Oshii's "Avalon" deserves to be
The story follows a heroine, Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak), her gamer name, as she plays a virtual reality game for money in the near future. She plugs into the game by sitting in a dentist-like chair and pulling on a metal helmet (with wires dangling everywhere). The game rooms are in a decaying, back alley building because Avalon is officially illegal. She looks lifeless as she sits in the chair and seems exhausted when she awakes from playing.
Much of Mamoru Oshii's past work as a director was on mature anime films ("Ghost in the Shell" & "Ghost in the Shell 2 - Innocence"). "Avalon" breaks with his tradition and uses human actors, real tanks, and real city locations filmed on location in Poland. Some scenes and special effects are computer generated. But like "The Matrix", most of the movie takes place in a virtual game.
The game rules come to us in small bits of information. Here are some of the basics. At first, it looks like a war game in which she walks around shooting tanks, helicopters, and other players. But then we learn you can form teams with other players and fight missions to collect points. Game players have different classes: warrior (like Ash), thief, mage, and bishop. They get paid depending on how well they play. They also have to pay-to-play, and this restricts them in certain ways: we hear that Ash cannot switch to bishop class without playing so much she would run out of money.
Ash plays alone, for the most part, and she seems to make good money playing the game. She's one of the top players and makes enough to do it full time. Some characters she meets in the game are other players, and some are purely digital programs. Actually, the recent film, "Inception", has similar rules for dream worlds since you only have a chance of dying in a dream if you get lost in lower levels of them. You also don't die when you die in the game (in Avalon, too, that is), you just wake up. But you run the risk of becoming brain dead if you delve into the game too deeply. Sometimes players never awake and become vegetables. Ash is not afraid of the risk, however; she's cocky and courageous (or addicted).
Do previous game players who choose to stay there (and let their bodies go brain dead back on earth) die when they get killed in the game? Their body is unplugged and over at a hospital, but the projection of them still exists in the game. Some of them seem to think a game existence is important enough to choose to stay in the game forever. But what if Ash kills a previous player in one of her game missions? The choice of whether it's ethical to kill a previous player is quite complicated and depends on your definition of a person. Do game projections qualify when they float around in the game? Do they actually "die" if Ash shoots them? The plot moves along a bit faster when Ash hears about a secret level, and the ethical questions come to greater conflict. Usually the game is never-ending during typical play, but rumors spread that she might be able to beat the game or, at least, get a heck of a lot of experience points in a secret level. To get to the level, she has to find a ghost and shoot it, so she teams up with Bishop to get help.
Oshii first shot the film in full color, but then he digitized and edited it into mostly black and white. Some color remains, mixed in here and there by choice (the computer text is orange, a hologram is rainbow colored, and the end of the film is in full color).
It takes great care to get the director's vision on screen. But the long pauses for effect (as in "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Solaris"), may annoy impatient viewers. For example, we hear a classical opera piece twice, almost all the way through both times. The first time the piece has subtitles and we get a montage about the city and game environment. The second time the song plays during the climax of Ash's secret level mission, perhaps the most exciting part of the movie. It slows down the movie at just the moment we want more information about the deeper levels of the game. It could give us a better look around, but it chooses artistic silence instead (which is commendable).
Where "The Matrix" ends the movie with bullets and martial arts, "Avalon" ends with dramatic music and meditative imagery. "Avalon" never went long without giving important information. But you might discount the information if you don't love intricate video games. Visually it's still well worth watching if you are in this situation. My only major complaint seems minor: Bartlomiej Swiderski (as Stunner) needs to learn some table manners since he eats like a dog! "Avalon" deserves more attention for its ideas. Like in "The Matrix" and "Inception", it asks whether virtual reality is better or worse than reality. Ash discovers blurry lines between game and reality (her dog goes missing and shows up in the game, for example). More properly, the film argues that reality is constructed by her individual perspective and possibly by her choices (she sees the same statue once with its head and once headless).
This slow burning film takes us on a journey into the realm of virtual reality game play. The cleverness in this movie is the way it portrays reality as dull and murky where a pet dog is the only exciting and uplifting thing in ones life. In contrast - the large syndicate multi player world of gaming is depicted as being a far more interesting and exciting world, so much so that we as the viewer are hooked on the virtual world story more than the real world. The movie is a visual feast of contrasts, its deliberately slow, has some very cool VR action scenes and you will be rewarded in the final third act when you realise why the movie has you invested in the virtual storyline as it truly plays with your mind.
In summary: a woman in a cyberpunk future plays an illegal - and
potentially deadly - MMORPG to get cash in real life. She's lost a
partner already - you die in the game, your brain crashes. Since she's
so good at it, she finds out there's a level beyond the hardest, and
must chase another man into it at the moderators' request.
It's an Oshii film, so you know there's the obligatory basset hound in it. I think the sepia monochrome of "reality prime" was inspired by the black and white outside of the zone in Tarkovsky's STALKER. The game itself will satisfy gamers more than Cronenberg's take on it from a few years back - this looks and feels like an actual hybrid between first person shooter war games and role playing games that exist. Helicopters, soldiers, and what looks like an HK from TERMINATOR against thieves, bishops, and what have you.
*minor spoiler* You know it's not often that mise en abyme works in a film; I think it works here better than it does in EXISTENZ. *end minor spoiler* I found it satisfying; it has a slow build that creates mood, atmosphere, and a sense of space to it. If the MATRIX kind of dissolved into a comic book by the end of itself, you could say this takes itself a bit seriously, but not to too great a fault.
When is an Asian film not an Asian film? When I finished watching
Mamoru Oshii's ("Ghost In The Shell", "Patlabor 2", etc) movie,
"Avalon", I was surprised to find it filmed in Poland with a Polish
cast. Not only that, but the English writer Neil Gaiman wrote part of
the screenplay. "Avalon" certainly has a mixed pedigree but is
certainly one of the best films I've seen in recent years.
Imagine "The Matrix" and "eXistenZ" mixed with a good measure of Japanese and European film styles and you have the feast that is "Avalon". The opening sequence to this movie is simply jaw dropping...this movie uses CGI in a way that is both original and highly effective. I am still gobsmacked by the action on the screen...simply brilliant.
The plot revolves around virtual reality gamers in a distant and very grey future where success in computer battles leads to financial rewards and a hope of some creature comforts. Gaming is not without risks - many players suffer brain death by becoming trapped in the imaginative worlds created for their pleasure. The main character, Ash, is a beautiful woman who has become an extremely successful player and who now wants to access a higher level than the other competitors. This level is almost mythical amongst gamers and many fear to attempt entry as the stakes are high....
I won't say anymore about the storyline as this film should be discovered and I don't want to spoil any surprises. What the film offers is visuals that are amazing...I've criticised the use of CGI before but the effects in "Avalon" are, in my humble opinion, far more successful than those in "Attack of the Clones" and other Hollywood fodder.
The film also has the most incredible soundtrack...I can't recommend it enough. Beautiful.
If you like your science fiction dark and gritty, this may be the movie for you.
9/10 on the DVD Connoisseur Score-O-Meter....
I had seen Avalon before I found out that the director also directed
Ghost in the Shell. It certainly was a big departure from anime, but
still holding a distinct Japanese style. Oshii, the director is also a
huge Polish cinema fan, so it must have been a dream come true to film
This film certainly comes across, in a respectful and accurate way about, Poland and also boasting some top notch Polish acting. It reminded me somewhat of Dark City in places, the dark shades and 1940 style architecture, a film noir style live action film, if you like. I found the plot intriguing and while I'm not much into shoot em ups, I felt that this film was finished with so much style, characterization and mood that it is impossible not to like.
I was mighty excited to discover that AVALON was directed by the guy
responsible for GHOST IN THE SHELL, which is my most-want-to-see movie
due to its spiritual soundtrack and Matrix-inspiring concept. It has
been said that one should first check out GHOST before AVALON to taste
the style of the filmmaker. Well, I dived right into AVALON as my first
encounter with Mamoru Oshii. The result is a visually appealing albeit
mighty ambiguous treat.
AVALON is ambiguous even by Japanese standards, but that's what makes it interesting. The theme is reality vs illusion, and also technology's impact on reality. In the future, reality becomes more boring and isolated, and individuals turn to an advanced virtual reality video game called Avalon that is capable of providing an exciting world. The video game is designed to consume the players' lives. More dangerously, the game can directly alter the player's reality. For example, if a player gets lost in the game, he becomes brain dead in real life (this is explained in the prologue text). To make the film stand out visually, a special film stock was used, and the effect is unmistakable from the first minute. Now, Unlike The Matrix for example, here we are not sure which world is real or not. One straightforward theory is that the players exist in reality and the game is virtual; however, it is possible that the players exist inside another virtual reality game; or better yet, it's even possible that the players are illusion, but the game they play leads them to reality! One of the film's lines summarizes the struggle for truth: "Why does it matter? You have no way of confirming anyway." Indeed, even in real life one can argue there is no way to be sure if we exist in reality or not.
There is a sharp contrast between the characters' futuristic real world and our current world. Our world is still full of human interactions and a sense of community, while their world is hopeless isolation that depends on technology for survival.
More about the film: The music is absolutely fantastic. The cast is mostly Polish. And the lighting is probably the most impressive I have EVER seen.
I thought of CASSHERN while seeing this one, so I put in that movie for a brief comparison. I must say that I enjoy CASSHERN's futuristic visuals a heck lot more, while AVALON's ambiguity makes it more memorable.
In conclusion, I back the recommendation of one reviewer: stay, if you are looking for an experience; go, if you are looking for a story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
good flic. i do have to agree, however, that the pace for this film is
a little too slow. this seems to be a trademark of mamiro oshii:
intense actions sequences broken up by interludinous periods of
reflection, usually regarding the immediately preceeding evens and
dialogue. this is evidenced in the 2 ghost in the shell movies.
however, the criticall difference between avalon and the GITS movies is
that in the GITS films, the balancce was much better.
avalon didn't have the amount of action required to have it interspersed by so many of these "interludes". particularly at the end, we saws way too much of the opera. the point that the final level was more real and beautiful than the "real world" was made clearly the second that Ash stepped into it. while it did help build suspense for the last scene, it was more frustrating than anything else, particularly regarding the remarkably anti-climactic ending.
Much of this film is shot in odd sepia- or bronze tone, through long
corridors, empty offices, barren wastes, and shadows are long and pronounced
in Expressionist style, causing a clash between 1920's German sensitivity
and present-day Desert Storm modernism. Other settings are art-nouveau
rich, old world, like Kafka's Prague, complete with street cars. Inanimate
objects may come to life while animate ones disappear. Characters resemble
mannequins or animated puppets, and dream world and reality
This is a cinematic gem somewhat like Street of Crocodiles - or (on the stage) Von Hofmannthal's "der Turm" - a surreal expressionist experience. Music, dramatic flows, moods - a very right-side-of-the brain experience in which plot and story-line details are of subsidiary importance. Again and again I wanted to stop and back up the DVD to examine a character or a scene in closer detail. As a result, I'd probably seen most the film three times before I actually arrived at the end, and then replayed it, too. I wish, in fact, the film were longer.
On the other hand, as a literary work, the script is minimalist, with few "action" scenes, few dangerous encounters, no "bad guys" seeking political overthrow or millions - it's instead peopled with gamers, each more or less freaked-out or quirky than the others. In fact, rather than die, gamers can simply call for a "reset" and escape the game. I do not enjoy violence in films - but those who hope for Bruce Willis/Schwarzenegger/etc. banalities are bound for disappointment. There isn't even any "sex" in it - though the lead character is superbly aesthetic, as though a bronze statue one moment, or a porcelain mask the next. I loved playing the PC game, "Alice" - for much the same qualities: the atmosphere, the absorbing, eerie, degenerate world it drew me in to. And I enjoy puzzles; this film, too, presents us with video-game style conundrums.
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