Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

The sequel to Next to Last Fantasy

This isn’t the first all-CGI animated film. No, those are old digital hat and common as pixels in a bitmap these days. Plus, a lot of “live-action” films now contain a great deal of computer created, tweaked, enhanced, or glossed-over imagery. Gone are the days when you could sit and wonder how the filmmakers were able to capture such a perfect sky for any given scene. They just made it the way they want.

However, Final Fantasy is the first such film that makes an effort to look as much as possible like it’s not animated, using as much depth of detail as our present technology can handle. Since it’s based on a series of video games, this line-blurring format is appropriate. The graphics and AI of video games continues to get more complex and powerful all the time.

After the Apocalypse… we find an Earth under siege. 35 years before, a big meteor landed that – like in The Blob – contained an alien invasion. The invaders in this case are invisible monsters called Phantoms that can rip the soul right out of a human on contact. Humanity backs itself into blockaded cities, hiding out while working on a way to combat the threat – guns can destroy them, but the aliens are far too numerous. The military, under the leadership of General Hein (voiced by James Woods of Scary Movie 2), has constructed a Death Star-type satellite in space and plan to blast away at the meteorite with their BFG until enough of the aliens are dead that they can mop up.

Opposing this plan is Dr, Sid (Donald Sutherland), who has been working for decades to identify and catalogue the actual life spirits of living things. His work points to the hypothesis that the planet itself has a spirit called Gaia that could become damaged in the attack. His alternative is a gizmo that will combine the wave patterns of 8 unique life spirits into a pattern that will cancel out all of the entire Phantom menace at once. Assisting Sid is Dr. Aki Ross (Ming-Na), who has secretly become infected by a Phantom during one of her trips to hunt down the 8 spirits. The fact that Sid’s device has managed to contain the infestation using only 5 of the spirits supports his arguments, and Aki is allowed some time by the ruling council to find the remaining 3 spirits, aided by her old flame Grey Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his Deep Eyes military squad.

Hein, whose family was killed in an early Phantom attack, moves to undermine Sid’s work. All the while, Aki’s contact with the Phantom has been giving her recurring dreams, which she believes may hold the ultimate key to survival.

Director/writer Hironobu Sakaguchi manages to make film that is both technically and artistically impressive. During the first act I was annoyed at being dropped into the middle of the complex story without much explanation, but later I came to appreciate the assumption that I’d be smart enough to figure it out.  I also appreciate that The New Age hokum is part of the story without getting in the way.

s amazing in many ways. For one thing, they’ve made Donald Sutherland look like Donald Pleasance, and sound like Johnny Quest’s dad. Plus, his Dr. Sid is the character that always gets killed in these movies, but somehow he manages to avoid death, despite many hazardous opportunities. They’ve also managed to make Alec Baldwin look like Ben Affleck, and this may be the first film in which Steve Buscemi doesn’t play the “funny-looking guy”. The artwork is most convincing with the unfamiliar, like scenes of alien army’s battling on another world. But they’ve also done incredible work with the film’s biggest challenge: animating the human characters. At best, they look just like real people. At worst, they look like the puppets from Thunderbirds.

The most amazing aspect of Final Fantasy, of course, is the leading lady’s hair, which looks like she uses about a gallon of conditioner a day. Animators had to work so hard on Aki’s hair that all the other characters’ hair is slicked back tight.

With all the work that went into creating the lead characters, there’s been talk about using them in other films. I can see no valid objection to that – after all, both Mickey Mouse and Mr. Magoo have starred in versions of A Christmas Carol, and Japanese God of Comics Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy) was fond of redrawing a cast of characters into different roles in his work. I wouldn’t mind seeing Aki and Grey turn up in a romantic comedy or a musical some day.

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