REVIEW: DVD Release: Avalon

Film: Avalon
Date Of Release: 18th October 2004
Certificate: 12
Running time: 107 mins
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Starring: Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Dariusz Biskupski, Bartlomiej Swiderski
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Studio: Bluelight
Country: Japan/Poland

Filmed by the renowned Japanese director, famed for the creation of the Ghost In The Shell franchise, Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon is a science fiction film for the internet generation.

Set in a bleak dystopian future, the majority of the population of Poland are hooked to an immense, illegal and highly addictive virtual reality machine known as “Avalon”.

The protagonist is a woman by the name of Ash who, as seen in the opening sequence, is an expert in the online theatre of war.

Having achieved nearly the maximum status possible within Avalon, Ash is informed of the existence of a “hidden stage”, a realm for the elite warriors. In a subsequent quest, which borrows heavily in both themes and terminology from the Arthurian Legend, she must venture deeper into the dangers the game has to offer, in search of Morgan Le Fay and the “Nine Sisters”…

The notion of an entire generation of young individuals being hooked to what is in essence an online ‘shoot ‘em up’ is not particularly farfetched, as thousands upon thousands of children and adults alike log on each day to play games such as Halo or Call Of Duty. Mamoru Oshii expands upon this every day theme, presenting contemplative and underlining philosophical themes, as not only has the online warfare been made illegal by the state, but over usage can cause mental degradation and eventually wipe the minds of the most ardent addicts, leaving them catatonic.

Despite the reality-blurring nature of the film, the two inhabitable worlds created by Oshii could not be more contrasting. Shot in rich sepia tones, the perilous online environment is rich in its uses of greens, running parallel to our real world games such as Halo, yet echoing the use of colours that were found in The Matrix, where green is symbolic of the realm of the mind. In stark contradiction, the ‘reality’ in which the gamers are forced to exist evokes memories of an occupied Poland during the Second World War. The colour fades from the camera as we are left with a dour black-and-white environment where the everyday citizen wears rags and survives off scraps of food in a desolate landscape patrolled by interfering police officers that are all too reminiscent of the Stasi. These bleak moments, where Ash and her cohorts come across looking like refugees or prisoners of war, only heighten the impact that the intrigue, action and mystery the online game has to offer, and only make us want to delve deeper with Ash and find out the secrets of the “hidden level”.

James Cameron cites Oshii’s work as being “the most beautiful…most artistically realised and the most elegant science fiction film,” and as a cerebral and visual feast, he is not wrong. Avalon is a typical Oshii film, and could quite easily have been created as an anime. It is a languid, character driven film that relies heavily on posing questions to the viewer, asking them to commit as much mentally into the process as those they are following on screen. Oshii confuses the viewer with his hypothetical philosophy: What is the nature of existence? What defines a reality? Unfortunately, the questioning does tend to leave certain aspects of the plot a touch too one-dimensional. Not enough of the subsidiary characters are sufficiently fleshed out to resonate or prove to be anything more than plot devices, while both the competing realms aren’t explored enough as to why they are as they are and what has forced people into choosing one over the other.

Avalon is a hallucinatory experience full of narcotic imagery that is a visual triumph and provides enough substance to at least prove to be intellectually engaging, if not riveting. BL

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