Stop me if you have heard this one before: the visuals are cool, buteverythingelse sucked. Such is the case with the new computer animatedfeature FinalFantasy: The Spirits Within. While the computer animation fromSquare Picturesis indeed fascinating to look at (with reservations), apathetic screenplaycoupled with pacing that would try the patience of adead person sink whateverpotential this film has from being somethingworthwhile.
Fantasy centers on a group of humans who are trying to reclaim our planetfrom aliens who have been wiping out the human race by swiping their souls.Leading the charge is scientist Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na), infected bythe alien force herself and is now desperately trying to collect the eightorganic spirits that will create a wave that would combat the alien menace.Helping her with her quest is Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland) and an elite squadof military personnel called the Deep Eyes Squadron, led by Captain GaryEdwards (Alec Baldwin) who has come across Aki’s path before. Of course,there is a human villain to deal with as well and he comes in the form ofthe arrogant General Hein (James Woods) who is determined to deal with thealien menace his own way as payback for wiping out his family a while back.Now, this could have worked if there was any effort thrown into the scriptand the directing. Alas, the screenplay by Al Reinert (Apollo 13) and JeffVintar based on director (and Final Fantasy game creator) HironobuSakaguchi’sstory takes said premise and throws in a truckload of genremumbo jumbo,clichd characters and situations we’ve seen before anddialogue bettersuited for Mystery Science Theater 3000. It borrows fromAliens, BladeRunner, Starship Troopers and Princess Mononoke among others .Anyone whohas seen his or her fair share of popcorn flicks knows that thistype of”creative borrowing” is nothing new and if it is done with a degreeofcompetency, the plagiarism can be dismissed. When it is not, it sticksout like a sore thumb or in the case of this film, two sore thumbs.
Sakaguchi’s directing is as weak as his storytelling (at least whendealing with movies – video games are probably a different matter). Withallof those films that he ripped off, this film should have moved at abreakneck pace, taking the viewer along for a fun-filled ride. Instead,Sakaguchi plods the film along at such a tired pace that any sort of lifeiscompletely drained, leaving us with….that script and dialogue. His directingof the voice talents is no better than his handling of the action. Not oneactor from an otherwise respectable ensemble breathes any life into theirreadings (although Steve Buscemi and James Woods try hard). There is enoughwood floating around here to build Noah another Ark or two.
As for the main attraction here, the computer animation, it is veryimpressivein a lot of places, but it is also pretty lacking in a lot ofspots (fleshand blood actors, breathe easy). The landscapes, cityscapes andfluid movementof the humans as they run and jump around is very, veryimpressive. Yet,it is far from perfect. For one thing, not all of thehumans look believable(each character was worked on at different timesduring the very lengthyproduction). Dr. Sid, who was created last, is themost life-like, whilethe others still look like…well, works in progress.Also, the mouths movedmore like the characters in a Charlie Brown cartoonmore than they didreal people (having nothing worthwhile to say makes thismisstep all themore apparent as well).
So, is Final Fantasy worth watching to see the latest progressive stepsinthe ever evolving computer animation film genre? Unless you’re a hard-coreadmirer of the animation process or a victim of insomnia, the answer isdefinitely not. If you want to see a kick-ass movie that is completelycomputer generated that won’t bore you to tears, go see Shrek or rent theToy Story films.