Avalon (2001) Movie Review

Pointless. That’s how I feel after finally finishing a First Person Shooter (FPS) game. It doesn’t matter if the FPS was a good game, a bad game, or if it was too hard, too easy, or somewhere in-between. At the end, when the credits roll, and I shut down the game, I feel as if I’ve achieved nothing and have learned nothing. In a word: pointless.

The plot: Avalon is the name of a virtual reality game that, in the near future, provides the only escape for a large number of people to ignore the “real world.” The real world is drab, colorless, and besides the fact that nothing interesting ever happens, it is a dead world in most respects. It’s not a happy place, and the people have all resigned to this fact. Avalon provides a release from reality, but unfortunately the game is addictive, and people have been known to get lost within it.

Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak) is one of the game’s best players. While her real life is solitary and unfulfilling, Ash is a fearless and invincible warrior within the computer construct of Avalon, which is a virtual reality version of a FPS game. One day, Ash encounters Bishop, another player, who offers her a chance to enter a new level called “Special Class A” where an old friend of Ash, Murphy, had disappeared into, never to be seen again. Ash is intent on entering the locked level, but how?

Avalon is admittedly a very surreal experience. The real world is lensed in pale, drab colors where white objects such as faces or posters or lights glow unnaturally. The game world of Avalon is similarly drab and drenched in brown filters, so there’s never any real separation between the “real world” and the “game world.” As written and filmed, the real world is shown as lifeless, and the people who exists within it are cardboard cutouts that rarely moves, never speaks, and are shells of human beings. Only the Avalon gamers move freely in the real world, because they have the Avalon game to fall back on, and are not entirely “defeated” just yet.

Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of things to dislike about Avalon. For instance, we never know why the world is like this, we’re just suppose to accept it and move on. Okay, I can do that. But why are players in Avalon being paid cash money for playing a game that they have to pay to play in the first place? And if the game is illegal, and the authorities (whoever they are) are determined to shut it down, why are the game hubs that the players use to connect into the game out in the open for all to see?

There are other questions that are never answered, and unfortunately, I kept thinking about them as the movie progressed. Mind you, this isn’t because of any anal-retentive quality on my part, but simply because the movie moves so slowly that I have all this free time to consider all of the movie’s faults. There is only movement or action when the movie shifts to the Avalon game world, but the shift is few and brief, and for most of the film’s running time, we’re in the lifeless “real” world.

Which brings me to the Japanese propensity for unnaturally long lulls of silence. I’m not sure if this is a Japanese thing, but I’ve noticed similar filmmaking scenes in other Japanese movies. Takeshi Kitano uses it frequently in his movies, as do other Japanese directors. I call them Shoe Leather scenes. In simple terms, a Shoe Leather scene shows a character walking here, there, everywhere — all taking a long time and padding out the movie’s running length. TV shows do it to pad out their episode length. People engaged in Shoe Leather scenes in movies will usually walk very slowly, sit very quietly, or just stare off at something for long periods of time with nothing happening. The Japanese horror movie Ring 2 made great use of this method.

I do give the filmmakers credit for crafting very artistic scenery. The unnamed city which the movie takes place is rendered like a painting instead of an actual city. Unfortunately, Oshii falls so in love with this sense of doom and gloom that there are countless views of the city. Many of the scenes are repeated, or old scenes are shown from different angles. Of course, all of these silent views of the city gives us, the viewer, a conveyed sense of stillness, of lifelessness, but let’s be real, you don’t have to keep showing it over and over. Even the dumbest moviegoer will get the movie’s many symbolisms after they’ve been bashed over the head with them over and over and over…

Avalon, like its unnamed city, is lifeless. It doesn’t move, barely breathes, and if you were half-asleep before the movie began, you’ll be asleep halfway through. Even the action scenes within the Avalon game world are boring and simplistic. Giant machines pop up and get blown up. Helicopter gunships appear, fire off thousands of rounds, and gets blown up. Tanks rumble by, gets blown up. The only thing worth mentioning about the Avalon game world is the incredible effects used to represent players being “killed off.” Once shot and their character “killed,” players literally crumble into digital bits, like thin, fragile shard of glass coming undone.

Watch Avalon if you’re bored. Personally, I’d rather play Half-Life over again. It’ll be just as pointless as watching Avalon, but at least I’ll have fun during it.

Mamoru Oshii (director) / Neil Gaiman (English screenplay), Kazunori Ito (screenplay)
CAST: Malgorzata Foremniak …. Ash
Wladyslaw Kowalski …. Game Master
Jerzy Gudejko …. Murphy
Dariusz Biskupski …. Bishop

Buy Avalon on DVD