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THE MISTS OF AVALON
Movie: 3.0; Disc: 3.5 [Warner Home Video]

The Arthurian Legend has been the subject of literature and movies for a long time, and the TNT television mini-series, The Mists of Avalon, is now available on DVD. While the DirecTV satellite broadcast was crystal clear, it cannot compare to the sharp clarity of the DVD release which makes the veteran Vilmos Zsigmond's photography all the more dazzling. Based upon the Marion Zimmer Bradley novel, interestingly enough, we have the macho King Arthur legend told from a woman's point of view, making Morgaine (Julianna Margulies), the villainess of the Authur legend, the narrator and heroine, basing this more romantic interpretation of the legend around her. At the heart of the story we have the symbiotic relationship between the old religion, the Goddess and Avalon, and the new religion, Christianity. In reality the religion of Avalon is Paganism and its worship of gods of nature and of fate, with ruling authority going to the figure of mother Earth, a woman.

In the Arthurian legend the worship of the old ways is heavily related to magic and mysticism while Christianity becomes the religion of logic. In The Mists of Avalon, maintaining an equal balance between the religion of the old and the new symbolizes peace and harmony in the individual characters and in England as a whole. By film's end, when Camelot lies wasted, depraved and in ruins, and when the Saxons overrun the land, the Goddess is forsasken and Christianity rules, women becoming secondardy to men.

The story is put into motion by High Priestess Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, the witchy woman (played by Angelica Houston) who tries to maintain the power and passion of Avalon among a new political hierarchy, picking young Morgaine to be her successor, by taking her away from her parents at a young age to begin her training. Morgaine's younger brother, Arthur, is also taken away at the same time by Merlin at an even younger age to begin his training, destined to become a pivotal king of England, one who will keep alive the spirit of Avalon. In this kinky universe of balance and symmetry we have Viviane manipulating the adolescent Morgaine and Arthur into unwittingly partaking in a fertility rite of passage, having sex with one another, of course nether being aware of the other's identity (both wear disguising masks during the ritual). And, per Viviane's and Merlin's plan, Morgaine becomes inpregnanted with Arthur's child, producing a bastard heir to the throne, but a child who comes under Morgause's (Joan Allen), aunt of Arthur and Morgaine, evil domination, ultimately this child bringing ruin to both Camelot and Avalon.

Also, because of a spell concocted by Morgause the newly crowned King Arthur is unable to bear children with his bride, so another sexually-charged sequence occurs when Arthur invites Lancelot to join him in bed with the Queen (of course Lancelot secretly loves her anyway) in hopes of conceiving a future heir for England.

The involved plot, merging romance, deception and intricate character interactions, also features stark battle sequences and physical tests of courage. Since the movie was not made for the big screen, the epic scope and adventure aspects of plot are downplayed by stressing intimate sequences involving characters; however, the visual look of The Mists of Avalon is lush and the production designs and costuming are always first-rate. The direction by Uli Edel always keeps the various sub-plots moving forward with enough special effects wizardry and action to entertain all. The battle sequences at the end are wonderfully conceived and feature real humans on the battlefield, not CGI enhanced armies. The DVD contains a wide selection of extras including a gallery of photos, storyboards, costume/production designs, a family tree, cast profiles and a wonderful letterboxed print with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. But most importantly it contains many deleted scenes, many of which seem pivotal to the plot. It seems that cable television is becoming, more and more, a viable venue for the production and release of wonderful new movies, often times movies presented in the elongated mini-series format, not always an option for theatrical features. So let's get over this "Movie of the Week" TV bias and accept The Mists of Avalon for being one of the better romantic fantasy adventure stories released in a long time.

 

FANTASTIA 2000

Movie: 3.0; Disc: 4.0

(Buena Vista Home Entertainment)

The marriage of visual and sound is what makes the movie experience so magical. The original Fantasia, a classic of Disney animation, really can never be topped, but the original concept of updating the movie for future generations certainly deserves merit.

Fortunately, Fantasia 2000 does not outwear its welcome; clocking in at about one hour and 15 minutes, the film reprises only The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the original (a favorite starring Mickey Mouse) and includes all new segments, conducted by James Levine of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Employing both cutting-edge computer generated cartoon animation (the flying whales from the Pines of Rome sequence), as well as the more traditional Disney animation (Donald Duck’s segment, Pomp and Circumstance), Fantasia 2000 attempts to be just as amazing in 2000 as the original version was during the 1940s. And while animation and special effects have grown as a genre so much in 60 years, Fantasia 2000 still manages to mesmerize and amaze, as it blends the visual and the auditory, creating “music videos” for some of the best musical compositions ever composed: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, etc.

The home video DVD is a showpiece disk, the THX-certified mastering with a choice of either DTS 5.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Both the visual presentation and the audio presentation are so outstanding that this is one movie that you want to use to show-off your home theater system. In the Introduction sequence before Donald Duck’s Noah’s Ark segment, Mickey Mouse has to find Donald Duck who is still showering and is late for his segment. As Mickey hurriedly tries to find Donald Duck, in a surround sound eye-opener, Mickey literally runs around the theater speaking from every sound-field possible, left-right-front-rear—and every spot inbetween. It is absolutely amazing and demonstrates just how advanced home video has become and how marvelous the DVD format truly is (much of the credit due to Dolby Digital and DTS sound).

Fantasia 2000 is designed both for the young and the young at heart, and while some sequences may work better than others (my favorites are those incredible flying whales, the Noah’s Ark sequence with Donald and the Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 featuring the adventure of the brave tin soldier to save his beautiful ballerina from the evil Jack-in-the-Box)), the movie as a whole succeeds beautifully as cinematic art and simply amazes as good movies always do.