Reviewer's Rating 4 out of 5  
Avalon (2002)

Japanese director Mamoru Oshii is best known in this country for his animated Manga adventure "Ghost in the Shell" - the film that inspired both "The Matrix" and "eXistenZ".

For the last ten years, though, he's been trying to get a very different movie made - a low-budget science fiction story using live actors that's set in a future world where illegal Virtual Reality war games are the most popular (and most dangerous) form of entertainment.

Filmed in the rundown, cobbled streets of Warsaw (with Polish actors speaking in their native language), this Asian/East European production may not have the big budget special effects of "The Matrix".

It still manages to create a haunting virtual world that's more mystical than anything the Wachowski brothers have offered us, blending the real and the imagined into a portentous cyberpunk fable.

Ash (Foremniak) is one of the best players of Avalon, a war game in which gamers can play separately or as part of a team, fighting their way through each level in search of experience points and wealth.

Hidden somewhere within Avalon's sprawling structure is Special A, a subsection of the game in which Virtual Reality becomes more "real" than the world outside.

If you die in Special A you're left brain-dead, but if you survive, you unlock the mysterious Class Real.

Mixing old myths (Avalon was the resting place of King Arthur) with new technology while confusing the line between the real and the virtual, Oshii creates a tantalizingly beautiful world.

With its monochrome photography (shot in a jaundiced yellow hue), weighty operatic soundtrack, and tireless battle sequences, "Avalon" hovers somewhere between the exciting and the tedious - without ever deciding which way it's going to fall.

Is it cyberart or cyberpunk? Your guess is as good as ours, but it's definitely worth investigating.

In Polish with English subtitles.

"Avalon" opens in UK cinemas on Friday 8th November 2002.

End Credits

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Writer: Neil Gaiman, Kazunori Itô

Stars: Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Dariusz Biskupski, Bartek Swiderski, Katarzyna Bargielowska, Alicja Sapryk

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction

Length: 106 minutes

Cinema: 08 November 2002

Country: Japan

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