Final Fantasy: The
matter what Maxim says, she isn't real. Stop thinking about it. Stop it.
But man, look at those polygons…
In the beginning, there was ink and paper. And it was good.
Yea, then after a dinosaur walked the theaters, someone discovered paint
and cellulose. And it was good.
Yea, and lo, a mouse didst walk the screen, with rabbits, and ducks, and
cats, and many sundry creatures, and the people didst laugh. And it was
Yea, and it did come to pass that men didst experiment with the paint
and the cellulose, and didst use computing machines to aid them in their
task. And a great mouse detective strode the landscape, and there was
Beauty. And a Beast. And then didst the children's playthings have their
own story, and yet again didst they. The insects didst live, and dinosaurs
rose again, though they didst but bore the people. And then there wast
Shrek. And it was good.
And on the sixth day, in what some said was to be the final fantasy, someone
tried to use the computing machines to animate man. And the people didst
say "ooh" and "aahhh," but it was not quite there yet. And still the interested
From its subtitle,
you can guess that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has a quasi-religious
bent. Alien creatures dubbed "phantoms" (and they are creepy
mothers) have invaded the Earth and wiped out a good deal of its population.
Only by using bio-etheric energy (I love science fiction) can humans
hope to shield themselves and create weapons that will stop the phantoms.
The man who harnessed said energy, Dr. Sid (voiced by Donald Sutherland),
has discovered that the final solution lies in harnessing the power
of "the eight spirits."
Many people consider
Sid to be a nutcase, especially General Hain (James Woods). Sid has
also posited that we are all spirits split off from Gaeia, and when
we die, we return to her to share our experiences. If he can collect
all of his "eight," he can create a bio-etheric wave that will wipe
out the phantoms and save humanity. Why eight? Why the particular ones
mentioned? Aren't there eight tiny reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh?
Look over there! It's a shiny object!
Dr. Aki Ross (Ming
Na), Sid's assistant, takes it upon herself to search for the eight.
Actually, she has already discovered five when we encounter her. Venturing
into the ruins of old New York City (because New York City always
gets it in post-apocalyptic fantasy), Aki finds the sixth spirit in
the form of a lone plant. As the phantoms surround her, she finds help
in the form of Nephites, soldiers specially trained to withstand phantom
attacks. This squadron is led by Gray (Alec Baldwin), possibly an ex-boyfriend
of Aki's, who still harbors deep feelings for her.
their love, Aki has an even more personal reason to find the spirits.
It seems she has been infected by a phantom, and needs to complete the
bio-etheric wave before the phantom takes over. Maybe. It's never really
quite explained, because for almost every other character, a simple
swipe by a phantom pretty much kills them. The phantom communicates
to Aki in dreams which detail the destruction of its home planet.
As Aki grows more
desperate in her quest, the evil General Hain uses those very dreams
to prove that she is in collusion with the phantoms. Hoping to discredit
Sid, Hain wants the surviving Earth Council to let him use his weapon
of choice - a really big cannon that sits menacingly in space. No mention
of Hain having a really tiny cannon of his own. Sid believes that if
the cannon gets used on the phantoms, it will drive them deep into the
planet, causing it to explode. This would be bad, but evil military
types in stylish black leather just never listen.
Fantasy has its compelling moments. You have to blink a lot, and
accept that some elements just will not be explained. A day later, you
realize that's because they don't make any sense. But in the middle
of it all, the ride can be fun, because the phantoms really are frightening
looking, and if some of it comes off feeling like Aliens, there
are worse science fiction films to have, ahem, homaged. Most
impressively, for a movie that literally does look like its videogame
origins, it feels far less like a game than many of this summer's other
movie offerings, even in its fight sequences. Co-writer/Director/Creator
Hironobu Sakaguchi clearly cares about his narrative. It's refreshing,
and bodes well for other game creators interested in dabbling in film.
What really gets
jarring is the animation. Yes, in some places everything looks plausible.
That only serves to distance the audience when a sequence looks like
animation instead of live-action. I found myself judging how each character
looked, instead of giving in to the whole thing. Part of it is, Maxim
cover aside, some characters still bear the signs of traditional anime
design, even Aki. Only Dr. Sid consistently looks like he could be a
real person, though in close-up, that would be a real person under a
lot of latex make-up. Don't protest that it's clearly animation; a lot
of the pre-release publicity for this film consisted of bragging about
how real these characters look. The claim has to be held up to scrutiny.
So actors should
not be worried about being replaced by digital counterparts. Yet. On
the other hand, being digital should appeal to many. In live film, Baldwin
has grown too old to play the young romantic lead, as Pearl Harbor
would attest. Here, he gets to play the role that Ben Affleck would
have, and he gets to even look like Affleck. Steve Buscemi can bring
his loony energy to a role and still look handsome. With digital actors,
you can be anything you want to be.
In the context
of Final Fantasy, it proves a little disturbing. We've grown
used to traditional animation molding characters after the actors playing
them. Sakaguchi's team has instead made the characters look like whatever
other actor they wanted: Hain resembles Christian Slater far more than
James Woods. And Frasier's Peri Gilpin looks suspiciously like
J. Lo, right down to the booty.
But why not break
tradition? Instead, Final Fantasy (which never seems final, does
it?) may be the harbinger of things to come.