Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (DVD, 2002) Reviews
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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (DVD, 2002)

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The World's Most Expensive Dumb Anime Movie

May 20, 2006
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great, occasionally breathtaking animation. American voice acting.

Cons:Not 100% photo-realistic. Dumb, poorly developed story. The Gaea thing.

The Bottom Line: Very nice visuals plus el dumbo grande story = 2.75 stars -- call it 3.

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" (let's say FF:TSW in future, OK?) can claim to be the first feature length movie completely produced using photo-realistic computer animation. "Toy Story" was the first to use CG for it's entire production but nobody could have mistook the characters there for actors. Anime is a genus of animated films from Japan. Most everybody who watchs Science Fiction films with any dedication has at least seen something of this category. "Robotech", "Ghost in the Shell" and even "Sailor Moon". "Speed Racer" is an example of Paleo-Anime. Culturally Anime tends to land somewhere in the range of Japanese -- to very Japanese -- to Complexly, Opaquely, Utterly Incomprehensibly Japanese. The plots of Anime films are often sappy and loaded down with "Eastern" spiritual philosophy of varying degrees of drippy-ness. FF:TSW is one of these in all but look and production. I'm not going to go into any details about these here, check out any of the above and you'll see what I'm talking about.

FF:TSW is a story set in the nearish future. The Earth has been nearly depopulated by "phantoms" from another world. The only remaining people are living in "barrier cities" protected from the space ghosts by some sort of technological shielding. The phantoms come in a variety of shapes, sizes and morphologies. All of them share the ability to extract the soul from a human, killing them -- I think.

FF:TSW is the story of Dr. Aki Ross, (it's pronounced "ack-EE", if you're interested) a researcher working under the direction of her mentor Dr. Cid (Just "Cid", when you're as cool as he is you only need one name, like Prince.) Anyway, she's looking for a series of "spirits" that may reveal the secrets of the "phantoms" infesting the Earth. (I didn't say it made sense and yes, Aki's a girl -- Anime style, young, freckled, willowly, with a funky haircut, the only thing missing is the square eyes.) Aki's assisted in this endevor by Capt. Gray Edwards and his crew. These guys are straight outa' "Aliens" right down to the tough-girl soldier-chick. It seems to my casual inspection that FF:TSW also owes something to "The Matrix" in some of it's exterior scenes as well.

FF:TSW was made by an outfit called SquareSoft (from Japan, of course) previously best known for the "Final Fantasy" series of computer games for various platforms. Many of these games feature elaborate and often breathtaking cut-scenes between sections of the games. These are excellently executed productions which add a lot to the game experience. Unfortunately, what wows the viewer on a Playstation may not be as impressive in a movie. While coders have the resources to lavish over a minute or so of cut scene in a game the same time and computing power isn't available for an entire feature film (yet). Therefore it follows that animation quality cannot be at that high level throughout, While the technical aspects of the animation rendering are uniformly excellent, especially in traditionally dodgy areas like hair, fire, and clothing drape, the characters often seem to move in an deliberate and un-lifelike manner. Unlike "The Last Flight of the Osiris" short on "The Animatrix" compilation, also made by Square, you never really think that you might be watching real actors. This applies especially to medium length shots which didn't get the detailed attention to detail as the close-ups and can't be "cheated" in the same way as longer shots. There is also a preponderance of "eye-candy"/"look-how-cool-this super-tight-close-up-of Aki's-eye-looks...Is-our-rendering-farm-awesome-or-what...check-out-that-reflection-mapping...?" This is OK a few times but gets to feeling manipulative after a while.

Aki is voice-acted by actress Ming-Na who does a decent, if somewhat low-energy job. The wise Dr. Sid is done by Donald Sutherland (kept bugging me through the whole film trying to place the voice). Aki's tough-guy army boyfriend Capt. Edwards is voiced by Alec Baldwin (Alec Baldwin's career... just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?). Steve Buscemi is the male character cribbed from "Aliens" (Hicks) and Peri Gilpin is the female character cribbed from "Aliens" (Vasquez). The oily, black-uniformed, vaguely SS-esque General Hein , the heavy of the film, is done by James Woods. All of these actors are competent if not overwhelmingly brilliant. At least the use of American actors prevents the Bizarro Godzilla-movie dialog that is often featured in Japanese media products.

A central element of the plot of FF:TSW are "phantoms" and "spirits". This is never very well explored. Apparently Aki has some of the alien phantom thingies inside her. If we are ever told how this happened, I missed it. Exposition is always a problem in Science-Fiction type films and too little is often better than too much. However in this film the little there is is rather muddled, diffused, and dumb. One of the important concepts in the resolution of the story is the idea of Gaea. This is the idea that the Earth, this ball of rock we all live on, is alive. Not in the sense that there is life on it but rather that the planet itself is alive, and sensient, and (usually) divine. This sappy, drippy nonsense made me want to puke the first time I heard it and I don't like it any better now. Gibberish like this didn't make me feel any better about the movie.

The DVD set I have has an extensive extras disc which I will watch the next time I feel like watching guys with Japanese accents talk about frame rates and texture mapping. There is no nudity and no serious swearing that I can recall. Mucho cartoon violence.

So, if you're an animation junkie or an Anime-head who is forgiving of the drippy story features I have outlined above, or if you don't find the drippy stuff drippy you might like this movie a lot, otherwise... no cigar. Nice try, though.

Recommend this product? Yes

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