Avalon by Japanese filmmaker Mamoru Oshii


 

This was the official website of Avalon, a Japanese-Polish science fiction film by Japanese filmmaker Mamoru Oshii, Released in 2001, the name of the film originates from the island Avalon in the legend of King Arthur.
Content is from the site's archived pages as well as from other outside sources.

 



Avalon | 'Distractions' (HD) - A Mamoru Oshii Film | 2001
The Game Master advises Ash to focus on playing the game; there are bigger forces than she understands at work.
In this scene: Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak), Game Master (Wladyslaw Kowalski)

About Avalon: In the not-so-distant future, desperate young people risk everything to play "Avalon", an illegal and potentially lethal virtual war game where addicted combatants earn points and wealth. For one of the game’s greatest warriors, the "noble soldier" Ash, the search for Avalon’s legendary game stage Class Real will either lead to an entirely higher level of existence, or be a journey from which she will never return.

 

 

Synopsis:

In an imaginary central European city, the highly addictive computer game Avalon offers lavish financial rewards as well as a dangerous and seductive escape from the bleak realities of everyday life. Ash is a professional, a highly skilled player moving back and forth between actual and virtual realities with ease. A loner, estranged from her fellow man, Ash is close only to her beloved pet dog. Ghost is an Avalon character, a target who appears as a young girl. Qn-screen contact with Ghost has left previous players -including Ash's former lover Murphy - terminally damaged. Devoid of all consciousness and condemned to waste away in a sanatorium, they are known as The Lost. Ash swears to pursue the elusive, deadly Ghost. Only by confronting her spectral enemy will she discover the true meaning of life and death.

 



 

REVIEWS

 

Avalon (12a)
Dir. Mamoru Oshii
Reviewed by Matt Adcock / darkmatt.blogspot.com

I am a player, a warrior... I fight in the future (which is all a bit Polish but looks absolutely amazing thanks to some way cool tint effects) in an illegal virtual reality war game called Avalon. I'm not alone although I don't belong to a party of adventures at present, my experience levels are growing and my skills are impressive... My name is Ash and I am a 'Class A', but I yearn for more.

Avalon is a gorgeously beautiful film, stunning photography from the creator of Ghost in the Shell 1&2 blessed with an intriguing story infused with a high level of intelligence... It is unique although you can see many influences at work and it has in turn obviously influenced many others - The Matrix trilogy, eXistenZ, Harsh Realm etc etc Oshii has made the most convincing 'live action' manga yet... I loved it!



"for tha lasst tieme... I''m nott death"

If you are an anime fan, if you like sci-fi, if you appreciate 'real women' in the heroic role (and underware at times), if you want to be inspired, intrigued, swept away to a mythical computer generated wonderland... choose Avalon... you won't regret it!!



"bring in the army hardware... and FIGHT"

 

Avalon

September 13, 2017 / indiescifi451.com

Director: Mamoru Oshii. Starring:  Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko. Japan, Poland, 2001. Budget: $9 mln. IMDb: 6.5. My rating: 1.5/4. Boring to death cyberpunk with occasionally interesting visuals.

As someone who is a gamer, a computer and sci-fi enthusiast, I found this to be a pretentious long winded bore.
Puddncakes T

The makers should be sued for comparing this piece-of-crap with a cult-movie like The Matrix.
mrspock79

Oshii uses the camera like an artist uses his/her brush and canvas: this movie is a painting.
dingo865

“Avalon”, a Japanese-Polish co-production, may not be the most renowned sci-fi movie, but its director, Mamoru Oshii, must be well known to anyone even remotely interested in cyberpunk and virtual reality, as he originated “Ghost in the Shell” (1995), considered to be one of the cult fundamental pillars of the genre.

Let me be honest – I didn’t like the film. It suffers from the same problems as the recent “Ghost in the Shell” (2017) film adaptation, “heavy on style, but lacking in thought and intelligence”. But at lest ”GitS” has fast-paced action and big budget that helped to masquerade it’s emptiness. ”Avalon” doesn’t have it. Basically, it’s all about a videogame cyberpunk mode on and nothing else, and I can’t say I was very impressed by the style. Let me save your time…

 

…these are some of the most impressive scenes of the film. There a couple of others, but that’s it. The rest is much duller and looks like a bad melodrama. There’s little action and lots of awfully written dialogues. Yes, almost the whole movie is shot in a yellow sepia tone.  The visuals strongly remind of the videogames of early 2000-s. Decide by yourself whether it’s a compliment…

AvalonUnfortunately – and I say it with sincere bitterness because it sounded promising – “Avalon” did not live up to my expectations. It has 3 major problems. All of them are really just the basics of a decent filmmaking:

a) it is secondary to so many other films, stories and that could even pass if it wasn’t such a…
b) …melodramatic congestion of characters with stony faces doing…
c) …stuff that you just don’t care about.

Here’s Ash, the main character of the movie, played by Malgorzata Foremniak. She has one face expression for any kind of emotion. Just like Vladimir Putin.

Now, it’s a whole bunch of problems here, isn’t it? And what or who can save all this? Well, there’s one guy called Mr. Style.

…because what Mamoru Oshii was trying to create here is style. And style is like the wind breeze, often you cannot describe it, taste it, see it, yet you can’t stop feeling it. There are some die-hard cyberpunk fans that claim that “Avalon” is another Oshii’s masterpiece. Don’t believe them. It’s not a totally flawed movie… but it’s just boring.

And it looks horribly dated. “Alien”, shot in 1979, does not look dated. “Terminator 2” (1991) does not look dated. “Avalon” does, and I am sure it looked dated just few years after the release.

I have no idea who could be an audience of this film. The gamers didn’t like it – there are literally dozens of games out even in 2001 that were smarter, cooler and exciting. Japanese didn’t like it – the movie was a huge fail in Japan, it seems that they are not really into the classic atmosphere of a “moribund socialism” of Eastern Europe. Only die-hard cyberpunk fans may find something here or somebody who has never seen a VR movie. For everyone else the movie offers little, except for occasionally interesting visuals.

The production. “Avalon” was a weird co-production between Poland and Japan. All the cast, setting, dialogues and decorations were purely Polish and you can feel it straight from the first frames. I have no idea why Poland was chosen – probably because it was cheap (only $9 mln) to shoot there and the army even allowed to use their tanks and equipment for the filming.

The plot. The youth of the future is becoming increasingly addicted to an illegal and lethal virtual reality game “Avalon”. Ash, one of the best players, hears of rumors that a more advanced level of the game exists… Even if she discovers the next level, will she ever be able to come back to real life?

Worth watching? If you are not a die-hard cyberpunk and virtual ritual reality fan… then no. Not really. As for the visuals – maybe in 2001 it looked original and fresh, but I would rather replay ”Deus Ex” one more time. The original 2000 game. Which I have replayed at least 10 times already.

Watch instead… just to be honest about the technology advancement, here’s a selection of films released before “Avalon” – “The Matrix“, “Ghost in the Shell” (for anime lovers), “eXistenz“, “Dark City“, “Truman Show“, “Johny Mnemonic” – all these were much better movies about virtual realities (or just fake realities). Heck, even “13th Floor” was better. Far from being perfect ”Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”, the first big computer-animated feature film and a huge box office bomb with $137 mln budget was a better movie!

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raistlin0903 September 13, 2017 said:

Well, there is always a first time for things I guess lol. I usually agree with your reviews, but this is actually the first time that I have a different opinion. I really enjoyed this very unusual movie. I certainly agree that it’s not an easy movie, and at times is pretty slow. But the unique visual style abd the beautiful music for me made it a very enjoyable watch. That’s the beauty of films: everyone experiences it differently. Still enjoyed reading your post though

 

Avalon Updated

Posted on 13 January, 2009
Originally published 26 August 2008; Updated 13 January 2009

“Oshii Mamoru’s Avalon is one of the most sophisticated and visually achieved movies ever made about intersecting levels of reality.”
Tony Rayns

 

[Plot synopsis: Ash is one of the greatest players of the game Avalon, a virtual battle simulation that has attracted many devotees and addicts all trying to reach its highest levels. Ash works solo, with memories of the days when she was part of a team whose leader was lost in the game. Hearing rumours that there is a more advanced level of the game that can be attained with potentially deadly consequences, Ash decides to become part of a new team.]

I dithered for some time over whether or not to use Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon on a film studies course, on a week devoted to cyberculture and virtual embodiment. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Is it a beautiful, enigmatic and elusive masterpiece that I just didn’t connect with, or is it a stodgy, pretentious mess with little substantive to say about the way we interact with virtual spaces and lives. If you don’t recognise the name of its director, Mamoru Oshii, you’ve probably heard of the anime classics he lists on his c.v., most notably Ghost in the Shell (1995) and its extraordinary sequel, Innocence (2004), which must surely rank as one of the most sublimely beautiful bits of animation ever crafted: take any frame, blow it up and frame it. It looks perfect throughout. Animation encourages that kind of carefully composed precision in its imagery – if you have time and tools to make something look exactly how you want it, why not take control of every element and make sure it is composed exactly how you want it? Paint over it if it goes wrong. Avalon is Oshii’s fourth live-action feature, but the first to get any kind of international recognition or release. Shot in Poland with an all-Polish cast (Oshii likes Polish cinema, apparently, but seems to have modelled his environments on a gloomy, post-war Eastern European template gleaned from movies rather than any kind of futuristic Warsaw), it contains many elements that are far from “live”. Soaking almost everything (food seems to come out quite colourful) in sepia tones adds to the vintage look (though it could also be that the US DVD has altered the colour of the film) and shows Oshii exerting an animator’s control over his images. CGI is used quite sparingly, and is closely integrated with the themes of the film. If the tendency with digital effects is towards excess, to show off with grand scale what can be done with a few pixels and mouse clicks, Avalon seems to go in the opposite direction. Its every move is economical. Rather than creating a virtual world that is radically different from the filmic real world, Oshii makes them visually similar. In the virtual world of the game, characters who are killed disintegrate into a shattered two-dimensional oblivion like stained-glass pictures, and in several shots (see below) Oshii fractures the illusion of the simulation by inserting these succinct perspectival tricks into the 3D world to immediately mark it out for what it is – a Plato’s cave of flat data experienced as actual space.

In an interview with Tony Rayns in Sight and Sound, Oshii stated:

I wanted to create characters in the same way that I do in animation. I did a lot of digital work on Ash’s face during the post-production, which went on longer than the actual shoot. I felt free to alter expressions to give me exactly what I wanted to see on screen.

This is all very well, but it does give the film a certain coldness, probably not in the service of its themes of alienation and emotional disconnect (although it certainly contributes to that), but in order to get everything neatly composed. Whatever, the tidy compositions of nearly every shot, and the aesthetic similarity between Avalon and the external world of its gamers cumulatively facilitate the interpretation, which is there if you want it, that none of this is real, that everything we see is just layer after layer of fabrication with no externally real reference points. Oshii himself is vague on the subject, so make of it what you will – what is probably most important is that you cannot know for certain what is real, imagined or simulated when you watch this film. While The Matrix trilogy gives you a pretty strong sense of the divide between the solid and simulacrous environments in which each scene takes place, Avalon makes that division increasingly fuzzy and suspect. This is mostly because no sequences are privileged with cinematic techniques that might traditionally be associated with filmic realism – in that sense, I suppose, we’re back to an animation-style aesthetic again.

So, let’s assume that you’re familiar with ideas of virtual reality, and that old science fiction chestnut that said virtual reality turns out to be more seductive, sensual and downright exciting than the glum, organic place where your skin and bones are situated. Avalon retraces these generic tropes, but it doesn’t seem like an insider’s view of the addictive rush of playing at being a superhero in an alternative reality: I feel as certain that Oshii is not a gamer as I am that Woody Allen doesn’t know any East End crooks. I never got a sense of why these characters were so obsessed with a game that offers actual deathly danger as opposed to the fantasy of danger, which is surely the point of video games: we play them to avoid the incursions of unpleasant realities into our lives, not because we want to risk our necks every minute of our spare time. And, of course, with her lithe physique and classy mid-1960s Anna Karina style, Ash just doesn’t look like someone who spends most of her time jacked into a games console. This piqued my suspicion that Oshii doesn’t care about the actual impact of technology in society. He hasn’t researched patterns of behaviour amongst people who spend a lot of time on the internet, and he hasn’t extrapolated his future world from the current state of things simulacrous. He treats the concept of virtual reality as a philosophical metaphor, a means to question our own solipsistic interactions with the world around us.

I should add that I watched this on a Region 1 DVD, brought to me by the good people at Miramax. Now, it’s OK that they’ve produced their own English language version. It’s not even a problem that they’ve added a Blade Runner style voice-over to some of the quiet scenes to make it a bit easier to follow what’s going on. It’s not a problem, because I’ll be switching over to the original Polish language track and turning on the English subtitles. Thanks for including both versions, Miramax, but would it have been too much trouble to offer English subtitles that don’t include the voice-over narration sequences?! That way, I won’t have to have inaninities like “Is this what they call reality?” popping up on my screen every time there’s a gap in the dialogue. It may not be entirely Miramax’s fault also (but let’s blame them anyway) that despite being made almost three years earlier, it didn’t get a release until 2002, meaning that it seemed to trail like an imitative latecomer behind The Matrix, Dark City, Existensz in a chain of popular movies about manufactured realities usurping, er… real ones. This is unfortunate, because it’s certainly an interesting film that haunts you in a way that films you can’t quite figure out often do. It’s a goal-orientated quest narrative in which a tightly-clad heroine seeks to reach a plateau of gaming achievement through skilful, choreographed violence, and in that sense it is quite conventional. It lingers in the mind because of the unnerving doubt that that goal might just be a fleeting, futile or vapourous one: you’re never sure what is at stake, what can be won, and any victory could be an empty one. This is the masterstroke of the movie, because it calls into question the value of the virtual reality that it might otherwise privilege, but at the same time it undercuts (deliberately) the potential for thrilling spectacle that its generic identity may have promised. For that reason, and because films which leave us uncertain are the ones we need to discuss, Avalon deserves its place on the syllabus.

Update: 13 January 2009
I was going to just incorporate these updated comments into the main body of the text, but I didn’t want to gloss over my initial responses. What follows are a few additional thoughts from a second viewing of the film. I may repeat or expand upon what I wrote above, but I want these revisions to demonstrate how repeat viewings can assist in the comprehension of complex or obtuse film texts.
Broadly speaking, a second viewing of Avalon irons out some of my earlier objections. Freed from the weight of expectation and bad marketing, which had originally set me up for a live-action anime or an arthouse Matrix, I could keep track of the patterns and plotting much more easily. I wasn’t quite as enfuriated by the Miramax subtitles this time, though even I could tell that the English subs were not always accurate translations of the Polish dialogue: they are transcriptions of the English dub track, which has obviously been restructured to match words to lip movements. But the subtitles for the absent voice-over die out after the first few scenes have set the groundwork of the plot.
I’m no closer to a definitive explanation of what it’s all about, except to say with certainty that uncertainty is what it’s all about. The game-world of Avalon has replaced real-world experience with a quest for experience points, though there is no explanation of who controls the game, and why they want people to keep playing without actually winning. Avalon, like the Matrix, is a system that relies on stability and continuity: transgression and weakness are punished, but excessive power (represented by rising too high on the game’s levels) is threatening to the system, and will be snuffed out or snuffed out – or it will lead to corruption of the player and subsumption into the system. we watch players taking their game very seriously, but there’s no guarantee that it is leading anywhere. It gives the illusion of progress, but by the end we might suspect that the game exists only to select those who can be made to perform missions in the service of keeping the system secure and unchallenged. Avalon is also segregated from what viewers would see as historical chronology; this is achieved not through an anfamiliar futurity, but by the depiction of environments peppered with mementos of the real world (trams, food, pets, cigarettes, clothes) that seem out of step with a futuristic vision. It evokes neither the future nor the past, but a collapsed historical circuit with no receding past and no clear sense of future goals. This semi-real place, seemingly in thrall to an indistinct system of power and control, which players only think they have volunteered for, is a broad allegorical space that permits viewers to insert any countercultural or anti-authoritarian reading they might choose.
I was again struck by the significance of food. Since the film is mostly a hyper-controlled, sepia world of pristine images, and thus rather distancing, the treatment of food as the last remaining point of sensuous contact with real-world experience leaps off the screen. The only scene where Ash really cracks some smiles or works up an enthusiastic sweat is when she prepares dinner for her dog. The camera throws us a series of extreme close-ups of delicious food. The rice sticks to her fingers, the meat glows red. It’s the closest we get to any eroticism in this non-contact world of virtual interaction. But when Ash watches Stunner eat, her disgust at the sight of someone else’s sensuality is conveyed in gross, lip-smacking detail. Yuck. There may be nothing more to this than a memorial to touch and sensation, but the apples may be a subtle link to the apples that supposedly grew on the Isle of Avalon in Arthurian legend (the name itself may come from the Celtic word for apple): Bishop points out when he enters Ash’s apartment that she is one of the few who can afford the luxuries of “real” food. Is that higher plane of reality, the access to food and haptic indulgence really what she wants to achieve by rising through the game to “Class Real”?Other questions go unanswered:

  • If players of Avalon get paid for their achievements in the game, who is paying them, and how have they benefitted from people playing?
  • If the game is illegal, who is policing it? We never see anyone punished for playing.
  • Is Class Real what we, the viewers, experience as our real world?
  • Is the whole thing Ash’s hallucination, induced by an earlier trauma?
  • Most importantly, where did the dog go?

After a second viewing, I’m converted. This is a beautiful, haunting film, not just because of any stubborn refusal to play at obviousness, but because of the way it infuses virtual reality with a sense of numbing aimlessness once it loses sight of the vivid reference points of reality for its users to come home to, and once they have none of the joy that comes from the disparities between a simulation and the sensual, enfleshed real that makes it legible as a spectacular fabrication.

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Bob Rehak on 27 August, 2008 at 3:22 am said:

Dan: I share your ambivalence toward Avalon. I too found it a mix of the inspired and the trite, equal parts impressive and exasperating. Maybe it’s snide of me, but I chalked the film’s failure up to yet another case of “visually magnificent but dramatically impaired” — like The Matrix sequels, a string of wonderful FX glued together by pretentious, obvious dialogue/plotting and boxed-in performances. A projection of my own spectatorial shortcomings, reading across the various cultural divides? Or the fault of a director whose ideas sing in the medium of anime but wither in the harsh sunlight of live action?

Like you, too, I thought about using Avalon to teach a unit on media convergence. I’ve opted for Paprika instead, a film which, ironically, stays truer to the concept and affect of reality/simulation implosion by refusing to present an “outside” to the nonindexical.

 

 

Avalon

By Derek Elle / May 25, 2001 / variety.com

A futuristic, live-action sci-fier centered on virtual-reality warriors, "Avalon" falls uncomfortably between two stools. Neither an out-and-out actioner nor a fully realized study of the psychology of games-playing, pic is still reasonably diverting. The movie was shot in Poland (and Polish) and looks to have a long lifespan among video buffs.

Set in a junk-dystopian “near future,” when bored youth in an unnamed Central Euro country entertain themselves with illegal virtual-reality war games, pic kicks off with an entertaining enough tank battle. Subsequently, in the streets of a city, super-warrior Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak) is introduced, a fearless “Class A” fighter who’s clocked up almost enough credits to move to the next level of playing.

Beyond her VR sessions, Ash lives alone, her only interest preparing gourmet meals for her dog. Her Games Master (Wladyslaw Kowalski) suggests she form a team, but Ash decides to fight on solo.

Ash learns from a former team player, Stunner (Bartek Swiderski), that their onetime leader, Murphy (Jerzy Gudejko), is an invalid after trying to break into the ultimate gaming field, “Special A.” The field is accessible only in a rare set of circumstances and, once in, a warrior can only exit the game by winning. Ash can’t resist the challenge.

Shot in a fairly high-contrast monochrome with an overall ochrish tint, pic has a very Central Euro feel which is a refreshing change from the usual Japanimation sci-fiers . Plotting and compositions, however, recall run-of-the-mill cartoons, with gaps in the narrative that are more acceptable in a magazine than with real actors and settings. Action sequences are only OK by the standards of the genre, though digital f/x are good.

Compared with Oshii’s classic “Ghost in the Shell,” the movie is signally short on heart-turning leaps of imagination and the kind of quasi-religious philosophy that elevates the best of Japanese anime. And though there’s a genuine surprise at the start of the third act which moves the goal posts on the whole movie, the script never plumbs the depths of why players become obsessed with VR games and what “real life” truly is.

Foremniak makes a passable heroine in her goggles and combat duds, and handles her artillery with ease. The men are all standard macho grunts.

Best contribution on the tech side is Kenji Kawai’s barnstorming orchestral-choral score, in Carl Orff mode, which deserves a separate release on its own. Pic’s title refers to the name of the game, supposedly a “legendary island where the souls of departed warriors come to rest.”

 

TomatoMeter Critics 80% / Audience 73%

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Reviews

 

**** ½ Joseph S
June 8, 2016
very cool movie. first time i watched it i hadn't seen ghost in the shell, but now i'm watching it again, i can see the similarities.

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****Joe M
August 20, 2015
Slow paced and not a very clear plot line yet for some reason this movie just sticks in my head. The mood and the build up to the somewhat anticlimactic ending just really worked for me.

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*****Mohammad H
April 21, 2015
A more cerebral version of The Matrix. Mamoru Oshii's Avalon is not a film for every one. Its very slow paced, filled to the brim with the discussions about the nature of reality and did I mentioned, slow paced? However, for fans of more thought provoking SciFi will enjoy this film. Personally, I think that it is Mamoru Oshii's own reaction to The Matrix, which itself was inspired by his masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell.
Cbportrait

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*½  Chris B
March 9, 2015
Avalon, as directed by Mamoru Oshii, was a live action spiritual successor to Ghost in the Shell, but it just didn't connect the same way. Whereas Ghost in the Shell asked big questions about humanity, the soul and technology, this film failed to grab my interest in any way. The visuals are purposely filled with a monochromatic bloom effect, but they just end up looking muddled and distracting. There is absolutely no emotion in the film, which turns out to be a fatal flaw seeing as the lead character is looking for the meaning in her life. This is neither an action film, nor a drama, it falls somewhere in the middle, leaving it stranded between interests. Instead of combing the genres, it rejected them. The acting was terrible, the little music that was in the film was unmemorable and the effects were laughable. Surprisingly, the direction was one of the weakest aspects of the film, something that may have something to do with the director only having worked on animated films to that point. Either way, this one is not recommended to anyone, unless out of morbid curiosity. 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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**** ½ John W
October 16, 2014
The end is dominated by the music, which is powerful.

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*****Elliot G
June 18, 2007
Brilliant movie that was the father of the matrix and fortunatly much better.
Private U
June 18, 2007
The escapist tendencies of the human race laid bare.

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**** ½ Brett M
June 17, 2007
A brilliantly shot and digitally modified movie! the color scheme and usage of glowing lights and darks- its all astounding!! the final scenes with the ghost and choir are a truly excellent ending for the film. A great piece in all respects

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** Bear B
June 16, 2007
For the year it was made, it was probably well recieved. I like the concept about so into the game the game world is desired more than the real world, says something.

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***** Maya H
June 15, 2007
I loved how this movie made me forget it was in black and white. The textures were so fascinating that I really forgot it wasn't in colour. Hooray for cyberpunk!
Strangerstolemybrain

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*** Martin D
June 13, 2007
A very clever idea, but kinda dull and lacking in humanity.
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**** ½ Private U
June 13, 2007
Very interesting slow paced sci-fi movie, that will have you thinking when it's over.

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*** ½ Mariano C
June 13, 2007
trippy. I agree with someone elses review about it being a grown up .hack which is totally awesome. there was a lot of time in there where she was just walking around and the cinematographer just got some good shots in, but the story was cool, crazy ending.

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**** Private U
June 12, 2007
visually interesting to say the least, but could be improved. overall very interesting movie

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**** Luis S
June 9, 2007
Just a bit of trivia. The guy who wrote the movie is the same guy who designed the .hack games and books. Think of Avalon as a grown up version of the dot hack series.

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June 9, 2007
**** Private U
Visually stunning. Convoluted.
½ June 8, 2007
Mamoru Oshii reminds us why he's king of cyberpunk. Japanese Director, Polish acting, amazing visuals. Anyone who has played an MMO can relate heavily to this film.


Avalon-Movie.com