Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi
(Columbia, 2001)

Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of an exceedingly popular and successful video-game series, adapts it into an all CGI animated feature that may be the best game to big-screen project yet made. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within goes a quantum leap further than Toy Story 2 or Shrek in attempting to tell a story with so many computer-simulated human beings taking center stage. The technical wizardry behind it all, in a process dubbed "hyperRealism," produces truly astonishingly intricate details, especially in all the background settings (buildings, gizmos, lighting, alien critters, landscapes, etc.). Yet the people come across as being somewhat stiff and artificial -- so close to believability and yet so far -- with some very effective emotional moments nevertheless, the excellent voice talent helping a great deal, no doubt.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within's plot involves a rather familiar science-fiction scenario with some interesting spiritual dimensions. In the year 2065, the Earth suffers devastation from a meteor crash that had happened years previously releasing myriads of phantom-like alien beings which "feed" on people's souls -- sucking the spirit out of the body when in close proximity. These invaders can assume a variety of glowing, translucent forms designed for maximum creepy effect -- coming equipped with combinations of tentacles, bug-eyes, antenna, several multi-segmented limbs, scales, tendrils, etc. usually attached to long, snake-like bodies.

The few surviving humans live in domed settlements behind energy-barriers. In the NYC enclave, youthful, smart, sensitive scientist Aki Ross (voiced by Ming Na) and her elderly, kindly, balding mentor Dr. Sid (voice of Donald Sutherland) search for a way to save Earth and to find out why the extraterrestrials came here in the first place, how many shapes they come in and where they came from. Close-range, alien-fighting technology involving rifles that fire energy pulses that can destroy the creatures does not always prove effective. Aki and the good doctor enjoy help in their quest from a para-military team that includes the heroine's old flame Grey Edwards (Alec Baldwin), hot-shot technical whiz and wit Neil (Steve Buscemi), brave African-American Ryan (Ving Rhames) and tough gal Jane Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin). Dr. Sid's research indicates that in order to overcome the otherworldly beings, Aki must find eight lifeforms that possess spiritual qualities connected to Gaia, the very soul of the Earth. By tapping into that profound source, the octet's essence will form a type of "wave" of transformative energy that can stop the destruction. Aki's mysterious lucid dreams of eerie, unearthly vistas and beings also provide important clues that assist her in her quest. The protagonists must addtionally face and overcome opposition from amongst their own kind, an overzealous military general Hein (James Woods), whose heavy-handed orbital laser beam, blast-from-the-sky approach to ending the alien problem could mean the end of the Earth, too. Not all the lead characters survive at the denouement which comes after some developments which were predictable (alas, the black guy dies), and some which were pleasantly surprising. Much of this managed to be emotionally involving despite the artificiality of the CGI, thanks to the talented actor's vocal performances.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within delivers maximum, eye-candy dazzle along with some intriguing spiritual dimensions that enliven the not-always-original plot. The true creativity and wonder of this movie lies in its amazing visuals, a detailed rendering of a future Earth and exotic life-forms that could not be done with such verisimilitude with any other method. The excellent, symphonic score with haunting and dramatic passages adds the right atmospheric touch to the characterizations and plotting that offers more depth and interest than any other game-derived film so far. Anybody with a love for genre cinema and who wishes to enjoy the cutting-edge of animation technology must not miss the imaginative flights of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in which the virtues outweigh the flaws.

[ by Amy Harlib ]
Rambles: 4 August 2001

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