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

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Final Fantasy: the Pixels Within

Jul 12, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The computer-generated images on display are bold and beautiful.

Cons:The script is about as dull as day-old dishwater.

The Bottom Line: "I love the animation! Such detail! Did you see the Cheeto-dust on that fat guy's fingertips?!!" (Oh, wait...I was thinking about Toy Story 2) Been there, seen that.

Tom Hanks has nothing to worry about.

Along with many of his fellow flesh-and-blood colleagues, Mr. Hanks has publicly fretted that he will soon be replaced by a computer. His remarks came on the eve of that new Dawn of Cinema: the theatrical release of Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within. Supposedly, it’s the “first all-digital” movie to ever assault your eyeballs (Question: what were Shrek and the Toy Storys? Chopped pixel-liver?). The full-length computer-animated feature employs human characters who will never own a SAG card: the very real-looking Aki Ross, Dr. Sid and General Hein—detailed figures who were completely created in the bowels of bytedom. Only the voices belong to real people (Ming-Na, Donald Sutherland and James Woods, respectively).

Still, Mr. Hanks is perturbed. “I am very troubled by it,” he says. “But it's coming down, man. It's going to happen. And I'm not sure what actors can do about it.” This, by the way, coming from a man whose last co-star was a volleyball.

Well, Tommy-boy, I have seen the future. And it ain’t here yet. At least not as a result of anything Final Fantasy has to offer.

The movie, based on the popular Sony Playstation video game, gets stuck in the nice-try-but-no-thanks rut in the first 10 minutes…and stays there for the remaining 110 minutes. Like its namesake, the pace of the movie mainly goes something like this: shoot-move-shoot-move. There were times when I felt my thumb start twitching, like it was in search of the A-B buttons on the controller.

The story is a muddled mess revolving around the lithe-and-blithe Aki Ross as she searches for life on Earth in the year 2065 and then hermetically-seals fragments of leaves or human tissue in a last-ditch effort to save mankind. With these “spirits”—connected in a sort of energy-generating DNA chain—she hopes to destroy a race of phantom aliens which have blasted the landscape into something resembling John Carpenter’s vision in Escape From New York. Ross is joined in her quest by a military squad whose leader, Grey (voiced by Alec Baldwin), is Ross’ former lover, thus making what Final Fantasy producers think is a “complicated” story between love, duty and saving the earth.

Complicated, shmomplicated. Anyone who has seen anything remotely resembling a Saturday matinee cliffhanger—from Buck Rogers to Luke Skywalker—will instantly recognize the stereotypes that come zipping at the viewer like pink lasers from stormtroopers’ guns. Everything old is not new again in Final Fantasy—it’s still old.

There’s still the headstrong hero(ine) who, despite the added romantic conflict, is still about as complex as whipped butter.

There’s still the villain (General Hein) who clenches his fist, grits his teeth on cue and roars, “I’ll blast you all to hell!”

There are still the requisite characters of diversity: the burly black dude Ryan (Ving Rhames), the steel-tough one-of-the-boys female Jane Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin) and the comic-relief smartass Neil (Steve Buscemi, looking prettier here than he’s ever been). And they are still just as disposable as every other supporting character actor who is black, female or smartass in these kind of movies.

There are still planets to be blown to digital smithereens, plot holes you could drive a Millennium Falcon through, and, yes, someone has to say “We’re not gonna make it” before the movie is through.

Final Fantasy is the kind of science-fiction movie that relies on mumbo-jumbo terms like “bioetheric energy flow” and “spheric waves” to patch up those potholes (I mean, plot holes), in hopes the viewer won’t notice the dull, dry stuff on the screen.

In fact, I’m willing to gamble all the bioetheric energy in my body that the makers of Final Fantasy were hoping that viewers would be so wowed, so floored, so “wouldja lookit that!” by the advanced digital technology they saw on screen that any semblance of a script was a second thought. Make that a third, even a fourth thought.

And so, we’re saddled with dialogue that doesn’t take any risks or push any boundaries. The second-hand on my watch hadn’t even done five revolutions before I heard Aki Ross say—and I swear I am not making this up: “Will I be able to save the Earth?”

Forget the Earth, honey. Try saving the movie.

But director-writer Hironobu Sakaguchi and all the nice folks over at Columbia Pictures are hoping we don't notice those problematic minor things (plot, dialogue, etc.). Instead, all our attention is supposed to be focused on the wouldja-lookit-that animation. Is it impressive? Certainly. Was I floored? Well, I would have been if I wasn’t on the floor already, taking a snooze courtesy of the narcoleptic script.

Sakaguchi and crew paint a lovely and bleak picture of the near-future, creating a dark, junkyard landscape that’s as eerie as Steven Spielberg’s submerged Big Apple in A.I. (or, better yet, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner). As for the humans…well…they’ve got all the details just right, all the way down to the pores of skin and strands of hair. But they forgot one thing: a soul. Look in Aki’s eyes and you’ll be staring into deep space. There is a pupil and a cornea, but there is nothing that convinces me there’s anything behind those eyes but a skull full of pixels. Aki Ross is not real—as all SAG members are convinced we’ll be convinced of—at least, no more so than Elmer Fudd or Buzz Lightyear.

So, rest easy, Tom Hanks. Like it or not, I think we’ll be stuck with you old-fangled, sacks-of-skin thespians for many years to come.

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