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Review – Avalon

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.

About JP Frantz (2323 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

6 Comments on Review – Avalon

  1. I watched this last night, and agree with JP’s 4-star rating. I’m docking it a star just because I didn’t understand the dog!

    The look of the film was fabulous. As JP mentioned it’s very noir. Even the Avalon game world is dark and monochromatic. That and the costuming really added texture to the movie that added to my enjoyment of it.

    One thing I noticed was that even though the film was shot by a Japanese crew in Poland, much of the text on items in the film were in English (books, signs, etc.) so you’d think the movie was made for American audiences. But if so, then why not have the actors speaking in English?

    I don’t know for sure if the ending was all that ambiguous (except for the dog). I’d like to bounce my theories off JP, now that we’ve both seen it.

    Oh, and the music was brilliant!

  2. I have just watched this for the second time and i do find the ending leaving you for thought. I dont no what the dog was for? Why was it her pet and on all the posters? why did she have to return a unretuner? was that the last level? Hmm well what seemed to be the real world cant be. It was too lifeless

    Well if anyone wants to explain there views on it, let me knwow

  3. Hey, i’ve seen the movie in france a couple of years ago, i’ve watched it many times since then. To me it’s one of the most brillant movies of all time, one that doesn’t think the audience stupid and doesn’t explain everything twice in bold letters for you. it’s really twisted. I tried to compare it to ExistenZ and others like matrix etc, this one is unique. I really think i got to the end of the meaning of all the dog scene and the class real etc, but it took me many viewings , many nights on the net, and a great deal of drugs lol.

    It hints somewhere in the movie that the 9 sisters have created a Special level on a different kind of server, alot more powerfull to process all the new special data ( hint when Ash sees that the connection point to the game of one of the nine sisters is different from the rest of the regular connections).Now if you look at the end scenes you’ll see that the tanks have dissapeared, no more wars, no more deaths. Yet she has appeared in it and has a gun, so she must kill someone, that’s her mission if she wants to complete class real BUT that’s not her only mission, she can’t kill ANY one who isn’t a player “unreturned”, So if you think about it, she’s not really playing the same game anymore… maybe the nine sisters need a hero to clean up this “level” wich could just be a place where the electronic personnality or “soul” of players have been trapped and cannot get out. It would seem logical after her ex teammate lets himself get killed. I know he just made up a speach about how this was the real world, but if he did think that he would’ve shot ash with a loaded gun. Dissillusion …The awkward “gateway” (little girl), could have been a creation of the program to let someone particularly gifted to go and free it’s virtual space of “ghosts” of unreturned players.

    alot of people might disagree , and that’s normal, this film is so deep that each has it’s own personnal meaning to it i guess.

    sincerly, Siluvatar.

  4. magikplp // May 14, 2006 at 11:39 pm //


    I appreciate your “perspective” of the film. Please remember that view is ONLY CINGULAR and it is only speculation of the truth.

    Your whole idea of how the ending was meant to play out was stupid. I’m being honest and I am not Bullsh***g you.

    IF Murphy wanted to get out, he would have shot himself. So your theory is out.

    I on the otherhand is not going to try to ask what happened. I just need clarification on the ending.

    No one makes a movie and really has no ending…otherwise that is the worse piece of s**t movie ever.

    So email me if you have a worthwhile explanation.


  5. Siluvatar // July 27, 2006 at 12:39 pm //

    Well I don’t really think everyone can shoot himself in the head, especialy if you don’t know if what you’re experiencing it true or not.Your problem is that you’re seeing this as a spectator, whereas you were meant to “identify yourself” with the caracters. I guess you missed the whole point of what I wrote. How could Murphy be “sure” that he was unreturned, or is he? the only way you can know that is by Ash’s point of you. but of course Murphy should have known that in the previous scenes we saw him in a hospital room duhh!!!… or should he since he’s NOT A SPECTATOR watching the movie… -_- …

    Anyway I see how you’re really Pissed about not understanding. And if you can’t explaine it, then maybe you should either stay polite about other posts or offer another explaination don’t you think? It’s too easy to just fuss and be condescendant when you’re the one who wants an answer.

    “quote” I on the otherhand is not going to try to ask what happened. I just need clarification on the ending. “end-quote”

    Well you ‘is’ not asking but still want to know… ok… I told you my point of view, I don’t ask you to agree with it, but I didn’t ask you to judge my point of view though.

    _As for:

    “quote” No one makes a movie and really has no ending…otherwise that is the worse piece of s**t movie ever. “end-quote”

    I’m guessing the director knew what he was writting and did in fact write an ending since he made the movie; and I doubt he’s a total idiot too, just look at his previous animation movies, ghost in the shell etc. It all revolves around the same theme. And Talk about the dog, he’s in ALL OF HIS MOVIES!!! the dog has no “special” meaning…

    But if you really think this movie has no ending and the director is an idiot, then maybe you should try to consider that you just don’t understand it. Or are you the type of guy who thinks the whole world is dumb and you IS the only one who gets it… most of the time…

  6. This movie is reasonably simple if you really watch it. The character that she joins up with, the high level bishop, one notices how he “access from somewhere outside of the normal centers” They don’t know where he accesses the game. He also says “if you complete this mission, you can join us” This tells me that the bishop is in the REAL world, and that the ENTIRE game and future world is all a virtual reality, much like the matrix. Only those who finish avalon, and the last level (Real Class) get to come out of the game and enter the real world.

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