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Pros: This is a taste of the animation of the future...
Cons: ...but we aren't quite there yet.
The future of films is nearly here in all of its stark reality. With the presentation of this summer?s film Final Fantasy film critics actually are starting to take animated films seriously. For the most part though, this means that they are able to be as harsh as they are on any other film, no holds barred and no leeway given because of the fact that the characters aren?t real. Astonishing visuals combine with some seriously photorealistic character animation to present a picture real enough to pile on the criticism!
Unfortunately for the film, it is mostly negative criticism. I can?t really argue that the criticism isn?t warranted but how many animated films in the past had pretty much every critic actually panning the acting with studious detail? I mean could you picture someone making the statement ?The actress that played Lady had a sterling performance but the Tramp?s performance was pallid and lifeless? or ?Snow White was simply trash except for the fine performance by [the actor that played Grumpy] who shone through the gloom of the rest of the picture? with a straight face???? I sure couldn?t picture that! No I wasn?t serious with those examples and seriously couldn?t tell you who played Lady, the Tramp, or Grumpy. That is my point.
Yeah it could be argued that critics did take some notice with the film Princess Mononoke of a few years ago (Mononoke Hime to aficionados) or even this summer?s Shrek but the former had the problem that it was a foreign import while the latter actively presented itself as a comedy so the performances were much different and it is tough to take comedies seriously. Final Fantasy on the other hand is very much a serious (somber even) picture. This is where it runs into some difficulties...
The story unfolds in a visually exciting dream sequence. A viscous battle is occurring and Dr. Aki Ross is in the middle of it... Sorta. In an odd dream-detached sort of way. These are the visuals that are shown in the trailers. Really neat effects but in a detached sort of way: aliens fighting each other on a stark alien battlefield with a ominous alien spire jutting out of the ground. Yeah it has a point later in the film but it doesn?t try to explain itself when we first see it. It is just a coolio visual.
Anyhow, Aki quickly puts herself in harms way as she searches for the spirits of the Earth [to get the proper effect that statement should be said in a high-pitched reverent female sorta voice]. One of these spirits has been sighted in one of the ruins of the shattered Earth and Aki has to rescue this spirit while avoiding evil insubstantial monster ghost things hell-bent on sliding her soul right out of her body.
Oh yeah, Earth has been devastated by these alien ghost thingees that came out of a meteor that crashed into the Earth a few years back. [We don?t really learn this until a little later but it kinda helps to explain things a bit.] For the most part humanity has been driven into outer space colonies (or maybe just one colony?) to protect themselves.
Anyhow, Aki is rescued by a group of Marines who then accompany her on her quest to find and unite these spirits and save the Earth.
For the most part the characters in the film are stiff and he dialogue is stilted. Aki (played by Ming-Na) is a tudious scientist type and acts like a studious scientist ype, aloof and technical--a bit too aloof in the emotional arts though. The marines act like fairly basic marines that ou see in films such as Aliens and you see the same sort of stereotypes: the tough black guy, the tough-talking woman, the smart aleck guy (Steve Buscemi) and the heroic hero/love interest. All pretty ordinary for the action genre... I did actually like the smart aleck guy?s part (he provided the few light moments in this otherwise dreary film) but the rest of it was just par for the course.
The big problem with talking about the acting of the film is that the character animation just isn?t quiiiiiite here. The movements of the characters is stiff and not animated enough. It reminds me a lot of video games of a few years back such as Resident Evil. The poses the characters choose just don?t fit the action bill. They aren?t heroic enough and are just too stiff-moving. Aki walks around like her underwear is on too tight and everyone else in the film is just about the same (in permanent wedgie mode). They could take a few hints from comic book poses (where the action seems to jump off of the page at times) or if they really want to be serious, they could check out some serious fast-action poses of people doing the same thing.
On the positive side though, the characters look astonishingly real! They aren?t the blah animated characters (or perfect ones) of yesterday (including Shrek here) and instead come complete with blemishes, moles, and even a stray hair or two on occasion. The facial expressions aren?t quite articulate enough but they are sure getting close (and besides, everyone is supposed to be very somber anyhow). I enjoyed checking out these advances in animation a lot.
The spirit-alien-monster effects are sufficiently spooky and those creatures are certainly nasty. The beasties reach into people and pull out their ghosts and those people are toast. The ease in which these creatures were able to kill people was disquieting and more than a little morbid. I would say that this is probably not a film for kids because of it. I didn?t exactly mind it but it was more than a bit disturbing anyhow.
The general theme of the film was something of a Earth Mother religion meets battling spirits sort of thing and it was a little tough to take. Sort of a zoned-out twist on spiritual philosophy clashing with the typical alien invader film. Personally I would have rather had the straight alien invader thing or at least making the film a bit more direct. I suppose that the style choices has roots in the Anime movement from Japan and I have seen similar theories espoused in a couple of those features but it just didn?t feel deep or substantial enough in this film.
The animated backgrounds in the film were sometimes as impressive as the characters (like in an early city sequence) but fell prey to the theme in a lot of places such as the finale where we see a whole lot of spiritual energy flying around but none of it really felt menacing but rather felt somewhat airy and insubstantial (kinda a giddy light-headed feeling rather than an Oh No! sort of thing). Basically they didn?t feel real when the situations weren?t realistic.
With all of those negatives though, I left the theater with a rather upbeat attitude. The animated medium has actually reached the point that it can be taken seriously in the United States (albeit with negative criticism) and this is the first film that I have seen that actually has been taken seriously by the critics as well (aside from the conceptual level--seriously as a film on a practical level--I realize that movies such as Wizards, Heavy Metal and even Shrek have been taken seriously on some levels but seriously as animated films, not in their own rights as movies). Now maybe we can get some cool science fiction stories out as animated features where before they would have been too expensive due to special effects budgets! Yeah I realize that this might be sometime in the future but this movie demonstrates that we are nearly there. When people can gripe about the acting of animated characters, solid productions of the same are right around the corner...
I would recommend checking this film out if you are into really cool visuals but be prepared for a half-hearted plot...