Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

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Movie Reviews by Dr Kuma and Susannah Macklin

Starring: Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Ming-Na, Ving Rhames
Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi

Review by Dr Kuma

In the not too distant Future, the Earth is invaded by Aliens. The great cities are deserted, Populations are decimated, Alien beings have taken over the planet. Precious few Humans remain. Those that do must find a way to survive the invasion and reclaim the Earth.

So goes the synopsis of the latest cinematic “innovation” FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN.

Those familiar with the computer game will obviously be aware of the perilous situation our animated heroes find themselves in. Those who have yet to play the game or have yet to read the background to the stories premise, will have little to no idea of what the movie is trying to say. Although the story is well known to sci – fi fans, the lack of background leads those of us who are unaware of the need to find the “spirits”, or those of us who missed the very brief and basic monologue at the beginning of the movie will be confused to say the least. Even DUNE at least attempted to give some kind of background explanation before dipping in and out of an already protracted story. We are only told that our heroine “must save the Earth”.

Although the movie has obviously taken inspiration from other titles – BLADE RUNNER, THE OMEGA MAN and even the under water sequences of WATERWORLD – it is the first to offer the incredible spectacle in digital animation. This animation (which would have been science fiction itself 10 years ago) is incredible. The characters have had each hair digitally animated for a lifelike look (WATERWORLD again??) and even liver spots have been added to the older character of Doctor Sid (voiced by Donald Sutherland).

Although the movie is beautiful to look at, it’s the old story of great effects, poor story. The major problem the movie has is that, although the movements of the characters are so perfect you could not possibly tell they were animated had you entered the movie half way through. The major problem is that the most important part of the animation, the lip synching, never quite comes off. The actors behind the voices are miscast. Ming-Na who plays the Heroine Aki Ross (who looks awfully like Jennifer Connelly) is fine, but both herself and Alec Baldwin, who voices Military captain Gray Edwards, sound forced. Steve Buscemi’s performance too doesn’t seem to correlate with that of his character. The only ones that really work are Donald Sutherland and the always excellent James Woods, who plays the evil General Hein (who unfortunately looks a little too much like Action Man). The spirits themselves seem to borrow too heavily from the monsters of the Id from FORBIDDEN PLANET.

Although I may have dwelt a little to long on the lack of basic story, 99% of the people who will be interested in this will go for the effects and spectacle and on those fronts, they won’t be disappointed. I can’t deny that the people who made FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN are artists, it’s just a shame they didn’t know any animated writers.

I would love to see this talented lot tackle the classic Richard Matheson novel “I Am Legend” where the source material would be as strong as the visuals and where the scenes of Old New York that played in the films opening, could be used to greater effect. A groundbreaking movie but with a too often visited scenario.

3 out of 6 stars
Review by Susannah Macklin

If this is anything to go by, then Hollywood’s finest don’t have to worry about an invasion of synthespians encroaching on their territory just yet! Brought to you by director and creator of the original Final Fantasy computer games Hironobu Sakaguchi, this is the most surreal and aesthetically bizarre film you’re likely to see this year.

Set on a ravaged Earth in ‘the not too distant future’ when the planet has been virtually destroyed by aliens, Dr Aki Ross (voiced by Ming Na) searches for the 8 organisms whose spirit signatures combined, will help put an end to the destruction of the planet. She is aided by Dr Sid (Donald Sutherland), who shares her theory about possible ways to destroy the alien forces and a band of soldiers headed up Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin). Aki and team are prevented from carrying out their precious work by megalomaniac General Hein (James Woods) who has other methods in mind for destroying the alien forces and won’t hear of her ‘nonsense’. And in all honesty nonsense will be the word that rings in your ears after an hour or so of this.

Visually, this movie cannot fail. There’s no doubt that the photo realistic animated characters and scenery are amazing to look at, even stunning at times and some of the images are so sharp you’re desperately looking for the flaws. Vocally there’s also some superb talent in the line up (including a nearly unnoticed support role from Steve Buscemi). But what this film does lack is reality! Contradictory as that may sound, it’s not unusual for good animation to be able to achieve this. The perfect imagery here almost has a reverse effect on the audience’s way of thinking and rather than leave the cinema with a Disney cartoon feeling that you’ve forgotten its an animation, you’re constantly reminded of that fact because of its perfection!! The characters design also appears to prevent the eyes from registering emotion and there too lies the problem – they are wooden. So much so in fact that if you add to that the poor dialogue – by the end of the movie it all seems so phoney and hammy that you can’t see the wood for the cheese!

This is probably one of the only movies you should go and see just to witness cinematic history in the making. But don’t expect anything too life changing, because once the novelty has worn off, I guarantee that you’ll be straight back home and popping in your video of THE LION KING.

2 out of 6 stars