VOICES OF: Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods

2001, 105 Minutes, Directed by: Hironobu Sakaguchi

Earth is a desolate wasteland in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Humanity has been decimated by an invasion of Phantoms, insubstantial aliens that extract and devour the spirits of living things. The few remaining humans have retreated to a handful of cities that are protected by massive bio-energy shields. The beautiful Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na) and her mentor Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) have discovered that the energy signatures of eight key Earth spirits can cancel out and destroy the Phantoms. With the help of Captain Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his band of marines, they must scour the globe for the last two remaining spirits before General Hein (James Woods) manipulates the refugee government into attacking the aliens with an orbital laser that may also destroy the Earth.

It was inevitable I suppose: a movie based on a computer game generated on, erm, computers. Final Fantasy is a computer-animated movie that, unlike let's say the recent Shrek, aims for complete photo-realism. 

That, of course, leaves the question whether it wouldn't have been better to use live actors and real sets instead of computer generated ones. The question hangs around until the first frames of the movie - then all doubts disappear.

Technically this movie is really, really excellent. Sure, it may at times feel as if you're watching over someone's shoulder as they're playing one of those games that comes on several CD-ROM disks and requires some serious processing muscle (like the Wing Commander games at one stage), but on the big screen Final Fantasy is simply astounding. Try to see this movie in a cinema: its splendor lies in its minute details like shadows, cracks, skin textures, etc. I don't care how big your TV screen is and how mean your DVD player; the truth is that if you haven't seen Final Fantasy on the big screen, you simply haven't seen it at all. Like one reviewer remarked, it's a Heavy Metal comic strip come to life (I was thinking more along the lines of the British 2000 AD comic).

Unfortunately this movie didn't do that well on the big screen (especially in the States) probably proving once again that U.S. audiences are only interested in cute furry singing Disney animals when it comes to animated movies. Animated SF seems to be dead in the water if the financial woes of efforts like the recent Iron Giant, Titan AE and even Disney's Atlantis are taken into account. All of which is a pity really, Final Fantasy cost quite a pretty penny to make ($140 million apparently). Who said Hollywood wants virtual computer generated actors because they'd be cheaper? While watching it I kept on wondering about some great science fiction novels and comics that could be made into movies this way.

Not only would the movie's incredible production values be lost on video (it also boasts a truly effective score by Alien 3 composer Elliot Goldenthal), but one would be forced to focus on the movie's biggest flaw: the storyline. While mainstream reviewers expressed bewilderment at the film's often muddled storyline I suspect that SF fans will have an easier time following proceedings. They would however be disappointed by the film's mechanistic plot. 

In the year 2065 humanity is forced to live in crowed domed cities while alien wraith-like invaders roam the rest of the desolate wasteland. Some scientists are devising a way to regain the planet, but some hot-headed military types could ruin those plans. Not only the characters are computer-generated, but the script also it would seem!

Some viewers might also be freaked by the movie's frankly New Age sensibilities, but to be honest I rather liked the whole rabid mad military (bad guys) versus hippie scientists (good guys) scenario. Lately it would seem as if the Pentagon runs Hollywood when it comes to the glorification of the US military in movies like Independence Day and StarGate, and this is a welcome change. Also, the alien creatures are both intriguing and scary. If it's still showing at a cinema near you, go see it now - don't wait for it to pop up on video one day . . .



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