For years, the name SquareSoft has been synonymous with the “Final Fantasy” videogame series that had its American roots on the original Nintendo platform and continued onto the Sony Playstation. Since its move to the Playstation, SquareSoft and the “Final Fantasy” games have earned a reputation for their incredible use of full-motion, computer-generated video graphics.
Now, SquareSoft has teamed up with Universal Pictures to bring their amazing, life-like animation to the big screen with the premier of Square Picture’s first movie, “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” Using Squaresoft’s computer graphic technology and under the direction of “Final Fantasy” creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, the results are breathtaking.
The movie opens with a stunning dream sequence in a surreal, otherworldly environment that includes a beautiful full-screen shot of the main character’s exquisitely detailed, green eye. From the lashes to the twitch of the retinas, the animation here appears more lifelike than anything ever seen before. The visual feast continues through the whole movie — from an apocalyptic, abandoned New York City to the phantom aliens that have invaded earth.
The only noticeable flaw in the animation — although minor — is the movement and facial expression of some of the human characters. At times, the character movement seems robotic and jerky, while facial expressions are tight and contrived. The animation is unlike anything else yet put to screen, but realistic human movement and expression are noticeably flawed areas that need to be worked on.
The story here takes place in the year 2065, 30 years after a horde of aliens known as “phantoms” dropped to Earth on a meteor and overwhelmed the planet’s population. Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by actress Ming-Na, “Mulan”), who herself has been “infected” by the poisonous aliens, searches desperately for the eight spirits which hold Earth’s only cure to the invading phantoms. Aki is joined in her quest by an elite commando team of trained soldiers, lead by former love interest Captain Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin, “Pearl Harbor”) and her mentor Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland, “Space Cowboys”).
A mixture of science fiction and fantasy, the story is told in a traditional Japanese animation style. The theme of the spirituality of the Earth rings eerily similar to that of another recent Japanese animation film, 1997’s “Princess Mononoke.”
While the animation is striking, nearly everything else in the movie falls flat. The little story that exists could best be described as boring, but that would require acknowledging that there is a plot of worth. There is nothing in the story that grabs the audience’s attention, and the themes stray from anything that might interest most science fiction fans or even general viewers.
The characters are all under-developed, mostly consisting of stock-movie characters like the vengeful, but misguided villain, General Hein (James Woods, “Scary Movie 2”), or the old, sage-like Dr. Sid. The love story between Aki and Captain Edwards is underdeveloped and boring. While the “Final Fantasy” game series is known for its interesting and involving stories, the lackluster plot of the movie will be a letdown for fans of the games.
Another major problem lies in the dialogue and voice acting. The voices seem disembodied from the screen characters and do not always match up with facial expressions. The novelty of having well-known American actors such as Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi providing voices quickly wears off and becomes distracting. It seems the film would have been more effective with unknown voice talents that do not distract from the realistic looking characters.
“Final Fantasy” is worth venturing to the movie theater to see, even if only to witness how far computer graphics and animation have come. For those concerned with plot and action, though, be prepared for a let down.