Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

         
         As the centennial of the motion picture was celebrated around the
 same time as the dawning of the new millennium, it became clear that
 we were on the verge of various breakthroughs in how we would enjoy
 entertainment for the next 100 years. A generation had been raised on
 video games and in that short time, we saw developments from the
 crudely primitive figures like Pac Man to much more realistic renderings
 of human beings. It was predicted that one of the trends would be for
 movies to be made based on video games. There have been some since
 the turn of the 21st Century, but most still have not achieved the success
 that the actual video games have.

         When the trend began back in 2000, it seemed to me that most
 reviewers missed the point on these adaptations. Motion pictures like
 
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were merely extensions of the game world,
 albeit a in a three-dimensional version. Something along the lines of
 
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within marked a slight departure because the
 film's director, Hironobu Sakaguchi, was also one of the designers of the
 video game. Thus, he brought a combination of knowledge of the particular
 world and the characters and a unique visual sense to the movie.

         Much was made about the computer-generated characters and for
 the time, they were indeed impressive. Each of the major figures, while not
 exactly lifelike, reflected an impressive leap in terms of animation,
 particularly in the skin tones, musculature and hair. While the magical
 chemistry that can only exist between live performers was missing, these
 figures acted believablely (and in some cases, arguably more animatedly)
 than some of the usual suspects who headlined action features. Contrast
 the depiction of humans in this film with those in early Pixar animated
 movies and one can see quite a difference.

         Where
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within faltered was not in the
 stunning visuals, but in its pedestrian script (attributed to Oscar-nominee
 Al Reinert (
Apollo 13) and Jeff Vintar. Drawing on conventions of anime,
 many of which still seem to be beyond the scope of everyday American
 critics,
Final Fantasy was a quest film set in a futuristic world of 2065.
 The heroine, Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na), is a scientist searching for
 living examples of the spirits that inhabit the soul of the remains of the
 Earth. While trying to retrieve one of these samples, Dr. Ross is rescued
 by an elite force known as the Deep Eyes, commanded by her former
 paramour Grey Edwards (Alec Baldwin). Among the other members of this
 group are the stalwart Ryan (Ving Rhames), the wisecracking pilot Neil
 (Steve Buscemi) and the mannish Jane (Peri Gilpin).

         Aki Ross explained her work with Dr. Sid (voiced by Donald Sutherland):
 they were racing against time to locate eight samples of the spirit of Gaia
 (the Earth), in part to save Aki's life as she had been infected with an
 alien life form that would kill her. This invader, though, was attempting
 to communicate with her through her dreams, but she wasn't quite able
 to decipher their meaning. Working in opposition to them and advocating
 the use of brute force was General Hein (voiced by James Woods, and that
 alone should clue you in to who was the villain of the piece). The film then
 became a tug of war as the alien forms sought to take over the world.

         There was an underlying message of respect for the Earth and its
 limited resources.
Final Fantasy also included a number of elaborate
 set pieces, several of which recalled live-action films: Aki's dreams of the
 alien's planets and a charging army called to mind the Scorpion King in
  The Mummy Returns, while A.I. Artificial Intelligence was invoked when
 Aki visited the remnants of a destroyed New York City. There were scenes
 of massive destruction that were fascinating to watch, although they
 weren't emotionally involving. The dialogue, unfortunately, descended to
 the level of cliché, and the haphazard way the characters died off was fairly
 predictable. (As anyone who has watched enough sci-fi/action/adventure
 films will know, the person of color is generally the first to be severely
 injured, maimed or killed.)

         Although Dr. Ross and company were not human, they were as close
 to "real" as anyone had gotten via CGI to that time. Thus,
Final Fantasy:
  The Spirits Within
held a certain fascination. The landscapes were
 amazingly detailed while the quirks and individual characters were rather
 impressive. What was missing, though, was the magic and, perhaps some
 real emotional content. Technologically, the movie was a step forward;
 as an action-adventure, it was sub-par.


                                         Rating:                C
                                         MPAA Rating:       PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
                                 
Running time:      102 mins.
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.