REVIEW SUMMARY: Avalon is another movie that questions where the line is between reality and virtuality.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ash is a champion player of the Counter-Strike like game, Avalon. Rumors persist that some people, who fail to logout of the game (called unreturned), have actually found the ‘gate’ to a secret level, and are now stuck in Avalon. Ash decides to find out the truth for herself.
PROS: Well done cinematography, well acted, thought provoking, no mind-numbing, straight-answer avoiding Oracle.
CONS: A bit slow at times, ambiguous ending.
BOTTOM LINE: Avalon is a worthy addition to the Matrixish movie genre. In some respects, it’s better. Well worth a look from any SF movie fan.
Avalon is a life action movie from director Mamoru Oshii, best known for his anime classic, Ghost in the Shell. Like GitS, Avalon deals with the themes of what is reality, how can we perceive it, and what is our place in it? Also like GitS, it has a rather ambiguous ending. However, the similarities end there.
Avalon takes place an unspecified time in the future, whether its a future Earth or not is not made clear. What is clear is that the current state of society is poor. Things are run down, people must scrounge to eat, and life is bleak. In this world, the game Avalon brings some enjoyment to those who play, and also some danger. Avalon is also illegal. Why is never made clear. Perhaps its because its a way for those who play to earn a living outside of the system. Perhaps because some who enter never leave. We don’t know, and its illegality never plays any significant role in the story. Avalon itself is a Counter-Strike like game, where teams or individuals via against each other to earn XP, loot, real-world money and prestige. However, there is a rumored secret level that only the best players can find. Those who have entered the world and not returned are presumed to have found this level and have not wanted to leave. For various reasons, Ash herself decides to test the truth of these rumors and succeeds in finding the gateway to the secret level.
From a story point of view, Avalon can be seen as a minimalist approach to the reality vs. virtuality theme. The dialog is minimal. In fact, the opening 20 minutes has almost no dialog at all. The rest of the time, while conversations do happen, they are usually short with much hinted at though not necessarily explained. There is also very little action in this movie. What action there is happens inside the game itself. Outside, Oshii uses some interesting techniques to show us how life in this world is and to get us to question what exactly is going on.
Stylistically, Avalon is shot, for the most part, using sepia-tones and a palate of browns, grays, blacks and whites. This imparts a very somber feel to the movie. Also helping is the fact that Avalon is a Polish film and was filmed there. The buildings all have that Soviet-era architectural look which makes things seem very oppressive. Also, all the weaponry used in Avalon looks to be of Soviet manufacture. Especially the helicopters which look like MI-24 Hind helicopters. Very cool. One interesting thing I did notice was with the English dub/sub. I watched Avalon using the English subs and I noticed that, during the beginning, the sub-titles would be explaining things about the game of Avalon, but the main character wasn’t talking. The English dub had a main character voice over corresponding to the sub-titles. After some investigation, I found out that the American publisher pulled a Blade Runner and had voice-overs added to ‘help’ explain what was going on. Interesting. I also can’t speak on the acting since I don’t speak Polish, but the actors seemed to be at least competent.
The only real negatives are the fact that the movie moves slowly, the game of Avalon itself isn’t really explored (just who/what is the gamemaster anyway?) and the ending is deliberately vague. I can live with vague, but in this case, it left me more confused than anything else. It was a ‘WTF was that?’ moment. You’ll have to invest some thought into deciding for yourself what happened. A passing knowledge of the mystical island of Avalon really is, think Arthurian legends, helps and provides a line of thought as to what the ending means. All in all, I would recommend this to any SF fan, especially those who like thoughtful movies.