I got my hands on this DVD after catching the first five minutes of the movie being projected on a warehouse wall with a backdrop of thumping industrial techno. The opening scenes were rather impressive - an illegal, potentially lethal video game in which people get online, strap on military hardware and set about killing each other. Although I'm not a fan of online gaming (I'm crap at first person shooters), I thought it looked and sounded like a cool premise. So I went home and found a copy.
The first five minutes, again, were fantastic. A moderately fast-paced battle scene with awesome tech and lots of things blowing up. Fun. But then 'reality' struck.
I've long been annoyed by the sort of pseudo-symbolism that Japanese movie makers seem to like drowning their creations in. Usually it's pretentious and annoying, but it does serve to cover up the incredibly shallow plots of most Japanese animes and movies. For instance, want to have giant robots that exist for no real reason fighting monsters that continuously show up for no real reason in a post-apocalyptic world that has no reason to exist? Add a faux-Biblical subtext and you have Evangelion (which I thought was otherwise very cool).
Avalon is different. Instead of taking a shallow, unworkable pretext and slaps in a half carried-through set of (cool and ominous sounding) mythical symbolisms from another culture to add some depth, Avalon takes a monumentally workable and interesting idea and adds a crappy mythological overtone to completely deprive the movie of depth.
So many things could have been covered - why the world was so miserable, why the game killed some people and under what conditions, how laws banning the game were supposedly enforced, how the clans interacted in the game, and even how the unbelievably cool idea of preserving Dungeons and Dragons style character classes in a modern warfare game would work. These are all completely ignored in favour 90-something minutes of sepia-toned still scenes emphasising how dreary the world and city is, and cryptic but ultimately pointless references to some aspects of Arthurian legend.
The protagonists are wooden, stereotypical and unlikeable. Character development is nil. The battle scenes are few and far between, and the first one is the only good one. For the most part, even the most powerful machines lack weight and aren't particularly threatening, and even if they were, it is hard to bring yourself to care about what happens to any of the characters anyway. To top it off, the soundtrack (or lack thereof) is minimalist to the point of non-existence.
The movie ends, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. That bad taste is the taste of having had an hour and a half of your life taken away from you by a horribly pretentious Japanese gentleman. My girlfriend was put to sleep by the slow pace and dreary setting of this movie, and even after I returned the DVD to the store the next day she didn't trust me to chose another movie for weeks.
Avalon is truly awful. While some people seem to like it for some sort of artistic value, I found it to be pretentious and ultimately devoid of value. It takes some great ideas and ignores them entirely. Any movie which wanted to subsequently explore those ideas which Avalon discarded would be decried as a rip off and probably sued. That's probably the worst thing about Avalon. Do not watch it.