Sunday, January 17, 2016

Avalon


   I'd actually had this movie on my radar for a good long while. Avalon has been one I've been meaning to watch for ages, and I guess my new cyberpunk/sci-fi kick was all the push I needed to finally sit down and give it a look. I'd also been poking around on message boards, as I do, seeing what people thought of the movie. This is almost always simultaneously a good and bad idea, but the general consensus was that this was an underrated movie that people seemed to really like. On one hand I completely get it, but as impressive as Avalon is... there was something about it that was just off, for me at least. Not unlike the director's more famous work, Ghost in the Shell. Mamoru Oshii is clearly a man of artistic vision, but I'm not sure why he has a penchant for expressionless protagonists.

  Most of the people in Avalon are zombies. Not literally, but they might as well be. Zombies, or mannequins. Even our protagonist, the beautiful and skilled Ash, is blank and emotionless 90% of the time. This doesn't make for compelling viewing. The atmosphere and the technology of the movie propels it forward, as does the promise that something will happen. See, Avalon is a hi-tech and illegal virtual reality war simulation game that seems to be the only source of entertainment in this world. But, doesn't... entertainment, you know... entertain? Not here apparently. The game is a horrible escape in my opinion because it's every bit as drab and washed out as their real lives- just with lots of shooting and such.

  It also doesn't help that it's not all that exciting either, due in no small part to the ominous, downbeat, and orchestral soundtrack. Visually stunning action scenes come and go with the impact of a melancholy sonata. I'm not sure what vibe Oshii was trying to evoke, but if this was all by direct design... count me out. There was nothing engaging in the movie. It never hit a turning point where things got more interesting than they had been in the previous scene. The plot builds to some big secret at the end, and it was a let down for me. I wasn't impressed. Having said all that, I feel like I'm missing the point. Something about the movie probably escaped me. I liked a lot of the visuals, and despite the droll soundtrack, some the action scenes were fantastic.

  It's not an action movie though, not when the climax is intercut with absurdly long and distracting shots of a symphonic concert for no discernible reason, and there's a good two minute long sequence of Ash cooking.  Nothing but cooking. The movie has a slow pace as is, and I'm struggling to say it was worth it... but I guess it was. There was enough striking visuals, and solid acting that I can recommend it, but you'll be chasing a sense of closure and understanding that never comes. I think this movie just isn't my personal cup of tea. There was no palpable mystery, or conflict. In moments, in parts, sure- but the one continuous subplot didn't really lead to anything substantial.

  Avalon is an extremely meditative movie. One that functions on moods and visuals rather than story and characters. When it comes down to personal preference, I needed more story and character to enjoy this movie thoroughly. More things needed to happen. There simply wasn't enough in the movie for me. A slow deliberate pace is fine so long as the story is going somewhere, and I never got that impression from Avalon. It's about this game, and the people who play it... and that's it. There's no major revelation, just a backhanded twist at odds with the rest of the movie.  Ash isn't a compelling protagonist, and none of the other characters are either for that matter.

  I respect the ambition behind Avalon, and the skill it took to craft such a visually detailed and atmospheric movie. It's very stunning and stylish, and the special effects hold up surprisingly well. I was enamored with the look of the actress who played Ash, Malgorzata Foremniak. She was very beautiful, and she inhabited the movie very well. Despite her role not calling for lots of expressive moments or lots of dialog, she was engaging to watch and pulled off the action scenes with gusto. For her, and the stylish visuals alone I can recommend watching the movie. But, be prepared for a very slow and meditative movie. I knew this going in and I still found the movie dragging in some areas. I think Oshii had good concepts here but a hollow and lacklustre story.

  On a side note, the one thing I hated about the movie was the unrelenting yellow-brown hue. It was so distracting and visually uncomfortable that it hindered my immersion in the story. I'm all for manipulating the color palate of your movie to give it a very specific feel- but why you'd ever want your movie to feel like it was shot through a bucket of piss is beyond me. There is actually a point to it in the story of the movie itself, and it was neat, but not enough to justify it in my opinion. I was dying for more color, or even just less yellow- and I'm well aware that was probably the point, because of what the last act led to- but I wasn't thrilled with it. It made for unpleasant viewing.

  It says a lot though that despite all that I can still give this movie a full recommendation. I think there was enough interesting scenes and stunning cinematography that anyone can find at least something to like and/or appreciate about Avalon. It's different, off beat, and unique. I support movies like this even if the end result is something I'm not overly fond of. It's still something different, something created with a distinct artistic vision. I love that. I may not love Avalon, but I admire it, and someday I might even watch it again. I hope I'll find a new appreciation for it eventually because there was enough of it I liked that I wished I liked it even more.

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