Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

fftsw-poster“You’ve got a talent for understatement”

The Scoop: 2001 PG-13, directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara and starring Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, and Ving Rhames

Tagline: Unleash a new reality

Summary Capsule: The Boy Scouts team up with the Girl Scouts to battle wits with nasty neon monsters

DnaError’s Rating: The Best FMV ever made

DnaError’s Review: “Finally, after all these years!” “Just show it, no previews!” “You mean this isn’t Cats and Dogs?”

That was the conversation behind me as I sit down to the movie I have been waiting for for 5 years. It sums up all the hope and apprehension the many fans of the series have for the movie. And to be blunt, it does not disappoint.

The Final Fantasy games have been in my life since I was 6 and I got my first edition of Nintendo Power. Inside was a contest to win a “Final Fantasy Getaway” full of mystery and danger. I didn’t win, despite my multiple entries, but I did play Final Fantasy 1 until my thumbs bled. From there began a life-long love affair with the popular series. I still think Final Fantasy 3/6 is the best in the series, and one of the greatest RPGs ever made. And the only reason I bought a PSX was to play Final Fantasy 7 (which I was severely disappointed with, 8 made me wanna puke, but 9 was a sheer joy). Ever since I heard a movie was in the works, using photorealistic CGI, I was a mix of joyous anticipation and apprehension. Video game movies have a bad history, and how do you boil 70+ hours of gameplay to 90 minutes?

Let me alieve all your fears: This movie is incredible.

Visually it blew my geek mind. Words cannot express how utterly cool this movie looks. The much lauded human characters DO look real, frighteningly real. It’s not a complete simulation, the mouths have a “lip syncy” look to them, and Grey (Alec Baldwin) looks a little *too* much like Ben Affleck for my tastes. But man oh man, the visions of the ruined world..post-apocalyptic done right, the ethereal and deadly Phantoms, and sleekly anime look of the technology look beyond stunning on the big screen. A lot of love was put into this movie, and it’s seen in every perfectly rendered whips of hair or subtle eye movement.

The plot is so distinctly FF-ian that most people will be put off by it. Outsiders might call it “New-Agey” but the whole Fantasy-Scifi thing is a cornerstone of the games. While I would have liked the more detailed character development of FF3/6, what we have here is a chest pounding, chair-vibrating action/adventure. What makes the movie a success as a Final Fantasy movie is that, not only is it entertaining, but it’s SO FFian that I can’t imagine anyone else pulling it off. It’s instantly familiar and fresh. If you are a fan of the games, want to be wowed, just like a good action movie, or have a pulse, SEE THIS MOVIE.

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Justin’s Rating: Hold on… I know my Limit Break is around here somewhere…

Justin’s Review: To say I like Final Fantasy (the video games) is an understatement. When I first bought my PlayStation and a copy of Final Fantasy 7, no living soul saw my face for the next three days. And I’m not joking. Visions of Chocobos, health potions, and big honking swords filled my mind. At its very worst, I think I would’ve been content to have “Died At Level 27″ on my gravestone, if I had passed away playing the game.

So to say I was looking forward to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within would be an understatement on the same level of saying that multi-platinum rappers choose interesting names. Of course, there’s this perverse law that states if Justin is craving the release of a big movie, it’s going to let him down like a date with a clown fetish. Yet, why should I be surprised, since this is the umpteenth film based on a video game that is (a) not faithful to the spirit of the series, and (b) features dialogue so wooden they could be George Washington’s dentures. And thus ends the paragraph of bad similes and metaphors.

At it’s best, Final Fantasy looks garsh darn pretty, but didn’t make me go “W..O…W” at any point. The geek part of me cherished the sweet sci-fi setting, the cool gadgets, and the monster guns the marines tote around. The film student part of me appreciated the sometimes unique shots and camera movements that could only be achieved on a computer. What I was looking for, of course, was to see if they had accomplished the so-far impossible: computerizing a realistic person, so much that it fools the senses. Close, but no Cuban cigar. While there were moments I could’ve sworn that Aki and co. were just normal humans inserted into the film, there’s enough that’s just *off* to forestall any suspension of belief. For one thing, they just don’t articulate enough with their mouths, so it appears that everyone is mumbling through slitted lips. Also, while they have the grand sweeping gestures down, the small nuances (like scratching their behinds thinking that nobody is looking) are overlooked.

The regular Joe moviegoer part of me went, this looks neat-o, but there just ain’t any meat between this CGI bread. With the Final Fantasy name stamped on it, I do expect a few things I’ve come to love about the series: a conflicted hero, a band of do-gooders fighting against insurmountable evil, twists, storylines, plot, conversation… you know, the basics. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within isn’t Final Fantasy at all as much as it is Aliens. Seriously. There’s a strong heroine (who makes the brazen statement at the start of the film that she’s “going to save the world”); a Marine Corps gang which includes a mannish female, a joking techie, and a Ben Affleck-looking love interest; chase scenes where the good guys are trying to escape an alien-infested base (this happens like four times during the movie); even a drop sequence from space is presented to complete the ripoff. If this carbon clone wasn’t bad enough, the fact that the aliens turn out to be “not bad, just misunderstood” sunk my battleship. If they’re killing people and they *aren’t* bad, then what are we supposed to do? Hug them to death?

What little dialogue there is covers the “we did that, we’re going to do this, let me make a minor plot point” field with ease. It’s almost painful to watch what few small humorous or romantic exchanges that occur; the characters just don’t have enough of a personality to make it interesting. The plot is kind of a scavenger hunt, with Dr. Aki and her gruff marines searching the world for potted plants and the like. Ooh, I’ll trade you a potted plant for a Regen Ring, no problem. Possibly because there wasn’t enough computing power or time, Final Fantasy only has a handful of characters, which gives it a kind of twelve-people-populate-the-planet feeling.

About the only major Final Fantasy tie-in found in this film comes from the video game series’ bizarre obsession with the world and lifeforms and the universe being all alive and interconnected and whatnot, which is kinda hokey when you have to skip through these scenes during the game, but just falls flat on the screen. See, the humans have constructed this giant space cannon to wipe out the aliens (remember, they’re not bad, they just kill every human they meet), but Aki doesn’t want them to use it cause it’ll hurt Mother Earth and her Seven Dwarves. The reasoning of this logic causes most of the film audience (I assume) to side with the movie’s “bad” character, a military general who doesn’t seem like he’s ready to hug anything any time soon. Naturally, he’s a dolt and gets everyone killed, so we’re reluctantly left with Aki (granddaughter of Admiral Ackbar) and her dreams and “nothing really dies” speeches.

It’s totally surprising that Final Fantasy turned out to be as lame as it did (and trust me, I gave it more than the full benefit of the doubt when I saw it). Sure, it looks spectacular, but what is that going to help five years down the line with this sort of technical wizardry is common? Understand that this is not a hate rant against the movie, just a somewhat sad and let down fan failing to come up with a good rationalization to love this movie.

PoolMan’s Rating: My kingdom for a black mage!

PoolMan’s Review: Ah, say the words “Final Fantasy” to me, and images of my youth come flickering back to me. My thumbs twitch at the thought of finding the Orbs of Light, of guiding Cyan on his quest to avenge his poisoned family, and, to a lesser extent, watching hours of FMV involving superdeformed goofs riding a train. The Final Fantasy games have been at times a hallmark of the greatest in videogaming, at others showy, overproduced interactive movies, but they were always at the forefront of the gaming community. They are the stuff of video history. So when it became known that a computer generated FF movie was in the works, gamers everywhere were flabbergasted. Could it be true that someone was going to bring their beloved games to life?

Well, yes and no. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was created by Square, the company who has produced all the various FF games. There is a character named Cid, there are strong, spiritual overtones, and there is some eerily familiar sounding music playing over the final credits, but that’s about where the similarity between film and game ends. Gone are the trademark sword and sorcery visions. Nowhere is there an airship (at least, not in the traditional FF sense). And I didn’t see one castle that buried itself in the sand. Is this a problem? Hell no. I can honestly say that FF:TSW has to be the best videogame to film translation to date. And that’s not simply because most of the competition comes in the form of John Leguizamo in green overalls. This is a strong, fascinating, and extremely geeky movie that will bring cheers from its fanboy followers, even if they’re not cheers of recognition.

There are twists in the story that are worth preserving, so I’ll be broad. In about 30 years, a meteor will strike the Earth, releasing strange creatures we call Phantoms, which can kill us quickly by tearing out our life force, or slowly if we only brush them and acquire their pathogens in our bloodstream. In any event, mere contact with a Phantom is a virtual death sentence. In researching the creatures, we make huge leaps forward in energy technology that allow us limitless possibilities. Too bad the planet’s dying beneath our very feet. The Phantoms actually steal life from everything they touch, right down to the smallest plant. As our only real defense, mankind lives in giant, isolated domes (the one over Manhattan Island is where most of the story takes place), and we’ve resorted to building a doomsday weapon that would likely damage the planet as our next attempt at defense against the invaders. Can the infected Aki and Dr Cid perfect their spirit “wave” technology and prevent the firing of the deadly Zeus cannon?

A lot has been said about the CG in this movie. I’ll say this… there are times where you’ll forget you’re not watching film, you’re watching prerendered graphics. This says a lot about the quality of said graphics. The background, ships, and creature effects are borderline perfect. The actual animated human characters are leaps and bounds ahead of anything previously attempted, but still lack that certain je ne sais quoi that makes them look real. However, there are moments where even the illusion of human form are very true to life. You will be impressed at the undertaking, to say the least. I don’t see digital actors being the future of film, but they have here proven they can be a mighty fine supplement. And when they are voiced by this kind of talent (see side bar), the level is simply kicked up another notch.

And whether FF:TSW is any good or not, it’s still a very important movie. This is the flick that has Mr Tom “Magic Bow Tie” Hanks’ undies all in a knot, fearing his coming obsolescence to the machine could arrive at any moment. I don’t believe that’s possible- at least not yet- but it makes you think.

I could go on… and it’s tempting not to. So I’ll cut it short. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a surprisingly deep movie with a well crafted story, genuinely interesting characters, and a philosophical heart lacking in most movies featuring space marines. If you miss this, you’re missing a landmark in animation. Whether its a landmark in storytelling remains to be seen, but for my geeky money, I’m immensely satisfied, and I’m betting you will be too.

Canuck Alert! Donald Sutherland, that old Maple Leaf Smoothie, brings voice to Dr Cid.

Clare’s Rating: I wouldn’t throw it out of bed for eating crackers.

Clare’s Review: As one of the only Mutants who’s not totally enamoured with Final Fantasy the video game, I figured it might be worth while to have a review from somebody who had no expectations for the movie prior to seeing it. I walked into this movie watching experience completely virginal with no outside knowledge of anything related to Final Fantasy. Yes, my husband was the one who rented it and was convinced, per his own admission, that I’d be totally bored and hate watching every minute of it. It’s good for our marriage that I can still surprise him sometimes.

I didn’t LOVE Final Fantasy the way I’ve loved other adventure movies and there were certainly aspects of the story that made me roll my eyes and say things like “less talking about harnessing the inner energies of the planet and more exploding demonic phantoms with big teeth if you please!” but over all, as something to do on a Saturday night, it was definitely worth the price of admission. The animation certainly is something to behold and I’m pretty sure they developed the story only really as a way to showcase just exactly what the production team was capable of. But hell, that’s fine by me. Especially when the movie also provides the opportunity to scream out whoever you think did the voice work for the main characters (since I had no idea about who they’d hired, it was a nice test of my celebrity voice recognition skills). “Clearly that’s Alec Baldwin, but is that other guy James Woods or Hector Elizando? Oh. Wait. Obviously it’s James Woods.”

The only part of the animation I thought was lacking is the fact that facial movements in almost every scene and on every character were nearly static. They’d move their mouths, but because of the limitations in the medium (I have to assume that’s what it is and not just that the animators ran out of time or got lazy) everybody seems to be talking through their teeth and moving their lips as infrequently as possible. If Nick Park can make plastacine chickens emote frame by frame, you’d think these folks, who made small details and huge backdrops look as realistic as they did, could come up with a way to make their characters have realistic facial expressions.

But for whatever piddley complaints I may have, the fact remains that when the bad guys were coming for the good guys and the good guys were doing whatever they could to vanquish and/or escape from the bad guys, I was actively involved in wanting to know what would happen next. So in as much as I think good movies are really just good stories told well in a particular form, Final Fantasy works. Is it the greatest achievement in animation in the last ten years? Um, no. Is it interesting to watch? Well, yeah, it is.

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Intermission!

  • The name of the character Dr. Sid is a reference to the Final Fantasy game series. Most incarnations of the game include a character in some fashion named Cid. In each game, Cid is an older, wiser character and has been represented in professions such as a caring research scientist (Final Fantasy VI), an airship mechanic (Final Fantasy IV) and head of a mercenary academy (Final Fantasy VIII).
  • Director Hironobu Sakaguchi produced the first eight Final Fantasy games.
  • Rumours abound that there is a Chocobo somewhere in the flick… I [Pooly] only remembered to look for it about halfway through, but didn’t have any luck. Anyone?
  • Whenever ANYTHING goes wrong in a movie with aliens of some kind, they always send in the Marines. Do they even have other branches of the military in the future?

Groovy Quotes

Aki: There’s a war going on, Doctor. Nobody’s been young for a long time.

Cid: I take it this is going to be a rough ride?
Neil: You’ve got a talent for understatement, Doctor.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Aliens
  • Titan A.E.
  • Starship Troopers
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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Wing Commander | Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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