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Avalon (2001)

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-Malgorzata Foremniak
-Dariusz Biskupski
-Jerzy Gudejko


In a dark future, there is an illegal virtual war game that many people take part in. Ash (Foremniak) is one of the best players in the game and had previously been part of a legendary clan called "Wizard". When she hears about a secret level, she wants to go after it, although no one has ever made it and all have become brain-dead in the process.


Avalon reminds me in many ways of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Not because the movies are similar, but because both pushed the envelope, but both suffered major problems in other areas. It is unfortunate, because both these movies do have groundbreaking aspects, but because the final products turned out so disappointing, those aspects are lost, unfarily reflecting on such groundbreaking aspects (in Square's case, they completely gave up the movie business, losing us much hope for another shot at using their expertise in the medium to push the envelope).

Avalon's biggest groundbreaking aspect is its surreal live-action look. Live-action has always had its limitations when filmmakers wanted to go beyond realistic experiences. Technology is constantly improving to help this (see The Matrix), but very few films have managed to create a truly surreal virtual reality. Animation, particularly Japanese anime, has often been the medium of choice to portray such ambitions. With Avalon, famed anime director Mamoru Oshii blurs the line and creates a truly surreal universe with live-action blended with CGI, and adjusting the colors in the entire thing to create a "look" that makes Avalon unique. In such, the film is hugely successful and should be viewed at least once by everyone to see where films can truly go.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn't fare so well. Mamoru Oshii revisits the recently common theme of reality vs. virtual reality. As Ash proceeds further into her quest for Avalon, we'll see reality called into question more and more. Unfortunately, the film seems to plod along in doing so and as such, never pushes the viewer to embrace this struggle. The characters were also fairly one-dimensional, which makes them much harder to appreciate and associate with. Considering that the characters and their inner struggles were so good in other Oshii films, such as Ghost in the Shell and Jin-Roh, it is really disappiointing for them to be so one-dimensional here.

I also honestly got the feeling at times that this film's story could have been told in half the time, as there were a number of scenes that seemed needlessly dragged out or unecessary in the first place. Finally, the end finishes on kind of an "Oh..." note, leaving a feeling of wanting. Mamoru Oshii has stated that he wanted to do something different than just go back to the real world and be done with it, but even without doing so - I felt that this question of reality could have been pulled together far better than it was.

This is a film I really wanted to love, but it just feels hollow. First impressions should be amazing, thanks to the amazing scenery in the film, accentuated by an awesome opening battle scene. Unfortunately, this only sets a high bar which the rest of the film never lives up to as its slowly plods along. The questions of reality are interesting, but other movies that have approached it have done a much better job of keeping viewers interested. I appreciate Oshii wanting to do a different take on this question, which is why I feel more disappointed that this was so empty. Watch this once, no matter what, for the imagery and to appreciate a new take on the question of reality. But, don't expect to have any desire to sit through it again.


-Mamoru Oshii


-Original Polish language.