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Original Title:

Japan 2001

Sci-Fi, Drama

Mamoru Oshii

Malgorzata Foremniak
Dariusz Biskupski
Bartlomiej Swiderski
Jerzy Gudejko
Wladyslaw Kowalski
Katarzyna Bargielowska
Alicja Sapryk
Michal Breitenwald
Zuzanna Kasz

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Story: In a not so distant future, the world has become a dreary place. The only ray of hope is a virtual reality online game called "Avalon". Unfortunately, the game involves certain dangers. As it happens that players, dying in the game, become an empty shell in real life, the government classified "Avalon" as illegal. But that bars few from escaping the dull daily routine, by means of this game. In addition, the really good players can actually make their living out of it.
One of the professional players is Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak). She is a loner and doesn't play in the so-called "parties", groups in which you normally play. She has almost achieved everything that is possible in the game, so the more astonished she is to hear about a secret level, in which you can collect even more experience-points. As she badly wants to get in the "Special A Class", she follows the only clue she has. A player called Bishop (Dariusz Biskupski), told her about a little girl in the game, also known as "Ghost", who could open the door to the secret level. But it was in this very same level that Ash's former friend Murphy (Jerzy Gudejko) disappeared and therefore became an empty shell in the real world. Being addicted to the game, Ash sets out to look for "Ghost" and disclose the last secret of "Avalon"...

Review: A Japanese movie, cast with polish actors, which deals with virtual reality. It is actually as strange and as brilliant as it sounds. Director Mamoru Oshii, who should be very well known for "Ghost in the Shell", manages a movie adaptation of something that could have worked as an anime as well. By means of brilliant images, he creates a visually impressive and unique handiwork. His pictures will stay in everyone's mind. Unfortunately, despite all its genius, the movie has its downsides - quite a lot of those actually...

But firstly some more about the movie's breathtaking look. The film, on which "Avalon" was shot, was treated in a special way to give the end product its typical gold-brown shade. It makes the world of "Avalon" look very dreary, dark and post-apocalyptic. Apart from only one level in the VR-Game, the entire movie is in this style. Sadly, there wasn't made a difference between the look of the real world, or the game. But maybe it was designed to blur the line between reality and game.
In addition to this gold-brown colouring, which makes bright surfaces, faces, lights, etc., shine really luridly, there are some very good special effects, as well. Characters that die, brake into pieces, and also the scenes in which the environment builds up graphically, are pretty nice. There are some quite good animated vehicles and weapons, as well, and especially the boss-enemy at the end, is superbly designed.

The story itself, has actually nothing new about it. The basic idea is not bad, but not very innovative, either; because story-wise, there is not happening very much. I won't refer to movies like "Matrix", simply because it actually did take a lot of ideas from "Ghost in the Shell", but I will refer to the cyberpunk-genre where the issue has been looked at, a dozen times, from whichever point of view. That's why the story seems a bit stale. The VR-Game aspect, however, is very interesting. If you have ever played MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), you will feel quite comfortable in the movie. There is a lot of "up-levelling", "parties" are formed and further terminology gets used. But despite all the effort, the subject stays only touched on, and as a viewer, we feel sort of left alone. In the Anime-Series ".hack/Sign" the topic is elaborated pretty good, but still not good enough, even though, the series shamelessly took a lot of ideas from "Avalon", even the mysterious girl/"Ghost" appears.

As already mentioned, in terms of story, "Avalon" has not much to offer , as most things are left in the dark. It starts with the real world, which we know actually nothing about, and ends with the character, of which we don't know very much, either. Nevertheless, the movie is full of metaphors and other symbols, which want to be deciphered. But for this, you have all time in the world, since that's where the movie's weakness lays, its speed. As we know, Oshii prefers to lie emphasize on the atmosphere and mood, he wants to portray in his movies. The result is, that unimportant incidents are described in full length, whether it is cooking, or daily train journeys. The latter may emphasize the monotony, which dominates everyone's daily life, especially if you see that day-by-day, the very same persons are sitting/standing almost motionlessly on the very same place; but it does get boring at some point. Nevertheless, it could also lead to the question, whether bad computer A.I. didn't only generate those persons and the real world wasn't in fact just a game. You shouldn't expect answers. Oshii just sets the viewer thinking, and poses some very interesting questions, with which you are left alone.

Especially the VR-world offered a lot of opportunities for some action-scenes, but this potential wasn't used. Except for some innocent gunfights, there is no real action. Too bad, because the rest of the movie drags on, due to the already mentioned repetitive character. For some the movie will trespass the boredom-threshold... Acting-wise, there's nothing extraordinary to mention but also nothing to criticize. As the characters are all very reserved, there are no emotional outbursts to be portrayed. The main-actress, though, cuts a fine figure as the cool heroine.
But the soundtrack by Kenji Kawai deserves a special commendation. Having a reputation for his brilliant and very well balanced soundtracks, he tops himself with his contribution for "Avalon". Very melodic and classic music with frequent choir usage, which gives an appropriate background to peaceful moments and improves them enormously.

Because of its slow pace and its few dialogues, "Avalon" is not everyone's movie. However, the story, and particularly the many hints and symbols, make the movie special. Even if it doesn't use all its potential, the movie stands above most other sci-fi movies. Despite all its weakness, the artistic and demanding images, make the movie almost a must-see.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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