I am not a fan of the Final Fantasy games. There, I said it. I'm a Games Advisor, I'd like to think of myself as something of a hardcore gamer, and Final Fantasy games do nothing to interest me; it's just not my type of game.
Recommend this product?
Based on that, I honestly did not expect to see myself going to see Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I was curious, mostly to see what Square was going to do with the millions of dollars they'd spent on rendering this film. (Rumor has it they spent $10 million on one character's hair alone.) But I just wasn't interested. The fellow Epinionator Xopchipili showed me two passes to a free screening and asked if I wanted to accompany him. Being curious, and figuring that if I was disappointed, I'd be out no money than it would take to get into the city to see the movie, I accepted.
Not only was I not disappointed, I was actually impressed.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is the tale of a dystopian Earth circa 2065. An asteroid had crashed on Earth's surface, and it carried with it aliens known simply as the Phantoms, who apparently waged a war on the earth. The human population was decimated, and what people were spared were relegated to "Barrier" cities, which were protected by a force field of sorts.
Ming-Na (whom you might recognize as the voice of Disney's Mulan) plays Dr. Aki Ross, a scientist who is researching a defense against the phantoms. In order to do so, she needs to collect 8 "Spirits" from around the globe and put them together. (It's never really explained what the spirits are or how they go about extracting them, but it's easy enough to imagine). However, this research is based in Gaia Theory, pioneered by her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), which is, at best, unproved, and at worst, heresy. Dr. Sid compares Gaia Theory to Galileo's theory that the Earth is not the center of the universe; while it ended up to be true, it got him thrown in jail.
To make matters worse, General Hein of the human military (James Woods) is gung-ho about blasting the Phantoms into oblivion from space via his Zeus Cannon, despite protests that the cannon would likely make no progress and that it would likely injure the very spirit of the earth. He uses any means necessary to get things done his way, regardless of the consequences. Thus begins a race against time for Aki and a squad of soldiers led by Captain Gray (Alec Baldwin), coincidentally Aki's on-again, off-again love interest. They need to collect the remaining two spirits (the sixth is collected at the start of the film) and use them against the Phantoms before Hein gets his way and destroys the Earth and humanity in the process.
Of course, the first thing that needs to be discussed with this movie is the computer animation, which is breathtaking. Square definitely got their money's worth out of their animators. There are times where you forget you're not watching a live-action movie. Of course, the movie features lots of close-ups in the first fifteen minutes to show off the quality of the rendering. One needs to wonder, though, if that was gratuitous, to say, "Look what we can do!", or as a way to get the audience happy that they saw what they came to see, and then redirect their attention to the story rather than the graphics.
I did have two minor complaints, though. Firstly, the mouths didn't always match the soundtrack, which is distracting, but it either becomes less noticeable or less of a problem as the movie progresses. Second, some of the animations of the computer terminals that the characters interacted with were kind of jerky and gave me a bit of a headache. These too, were less of a problem after the first half hour.
The voice acting was extremely well done, though some of the dialogue was a bit hokey at times. Nothing was terribly horrible, though. A standout performance actually came from Steve Buscemi as Neil, one of the soldiers in Gray's squad. He provides ample comic relief throughout the film, especially during extremely tense moments, and his comments are just sarcastic enough to be funny without being overly obnoxious. At one point, when a base is damaged and the PA repeats, "Please proceed to the nearest evacuation facility," he says, "I think maybe we should move to the nearest evacuation facility."
Overall, though, the story was enjoyable, and kept me entertained throughout. Granted, there was standard movie cliché throughout, like the couple jarred back to work right before the big kiss, but it's still an entertaining ride. If you're looking for a movie that makes you think a little, but not too much, then Final Fantasy is a perfect fit. (They also kept the Star Trek-esque "technobabble" to a minimum, which is much appreciated by most.)
My main complaint about the movie, believe it or not, is that it was too short, The storyline seemed to be resolved far too quickly; once I was comfortable with the back story and what was actually going on, they were already at the final confrontation. I realize this is mostly a result of the sheer cost of the movie, but I think another 20 or 30 minutes would have allowed the movie to come to its conclusion at a better pace and leave the audience a bit more satisfied.
So, yes, they converted the non-believer. I came in expecting the worst, but I was actually impressed. It's not groundbreaking cinema, and it's probably not going to win any awards (aside from best animation, maybe). However, if you're in the mood for a good action movie with lots of nice explosions and breathtaking visuals.
I may not be running out to buy a Final Fantasy game after seeing The Spirits Within, but I'll certainly be first in line for the next movie Square produces.