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

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The Scriptwriters from "Dune" Have Found More Work

Jul 15, 2001 (Updated Jul 16, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The CGI is almost lifelike

Cons:Inscrutable plot

The Bottom Line: Bad writing doomed this movie to failure from the beginning.


I normally include a very brief synopsis of a plot to get the reader started on the movie, and I'll make a go of it here. The Earth is struck by a meteor. Then these translucent things that look like a cross between a dragon and a spirochite fly around and kill everything. Manhattan gets covered in a glowing yellow energy shield (the other four boroughs were apparently left to a fate worse than New Jersey's). But, the space alien/phantom thingies are not immune to bullets and you can shoot them and they die even though they're, like, ghosts. So, naturally, the the heroes have to debate religion and talk about their feelings, while they fly all over the Earth and collect various stray puppies, weeds, and probably mushroom spores to construct a "wave" surgically implanted in the heroine that will turn the invaders into something called "Gaia" before this other dude shoots a big laser.

If any this makes the remotest bit of sense to you, please drop me a line and explain it.

While the producers spent acres of cash on using the most advanced computer graphics to make the best-looking picture they could, it looks like they hired the scriptwriters who wrote my computer's technical support manual to do the plot. It would make sense -- these are the guys for whom great copy like "48-prong (3-series) 32-bit coaxial DIMM/SIMM triple-socketed support stacks on motherboard supports 8-64M cards" is really illuminating writing. For the rest of us -- a little exposition might be nice! Instead of a coherent explanation of what this mysterious "bio-etheric" pseudoscience stuff is all about, we're apparently supposed to "ooh" and "ah" over the beauty of the computer animation and ignore the fact that nobody can figure out what is happening.

I guess the scriptwriters just assumed that everyone who went to see the movie had played all of the various Final Fantasy video games and knew the whole mythology behind all of this nonsense.

The characters' rendering was very good for body movements. Faces sometimes looked good -- but only when there did not need to be a lot of emotion expressed. Lip-synching was not always good. The faces sometimes looked cartoony and computer-animated. The spaceships, landscapes, and props all looked, well, "fake" would be too strong a word, but "animated" is too weak. I could tell that it was a computer-created visual. My assumption is that this was deliberate, because every once in a while, higher-quality shots were created that were indistinguishable from real film. Sadly, though, these shots were rare. While the quality of the animation was consistently outstanding and the detail was occasionally remarkable, it was still visibly animation. The digital animation in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" was better, and even that was obviously CGI.

The biggest problem with "Final Fantasy's" animation was that while the movie tried to focus on its primary characters, the animation was simply inadequate to express their emotions. Computers are apparently unable to handle the complexities and subtleties of the human face. When two of the characters kissed, many people in the audience laughed out loud. It wasn't romantic -- it was kind of awkward and uncomfortable. I think the animators may not have had a lot of experience with that kissing stuff.

I also think that, of necessity for a movie made entirely on computers, normal production tricks couldn't possibly have worked. In a "normal" live-action movie, a writer is on hand at the set to revise the plot as needed, as the movie gets filmed and the realities of the production become apparent. Actors can ad-lib and improvise as necessary, and they put in their own emotional take on their characters and the situations they're in.

But here, they had to start with a script. Then they had to get the voices. Then they had to computer-animate the characters to lip-synch with the pre-recorded dialogue; and do the action and scenery around the script. This means that the script, once written, was set in stone. In this case, the result was that insufficient work got put in to the script -- the plot, the dialogue, the story, the exposition -- and then they had to build a movie around it.

In a situation like this, the producers should have known better. They needed to make sure they had a top-notch, super-A-plus, great-great-great script. What they got was cheesy dialogue, cardboard cut-out characters, and a failure to explain fundamental elements of the plot. It's like they started working with the first draft and, like I noted above, once they got started they couldn't change the script at all.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. A movie lives or dies, succeeds or fails, sucks or does not suck, based solely upon its writing. Good writing gives the producers the opportunity to make a good movie. Bad writing, however, guarantees that no matter how good everything else is, it will still be a bad movie.

So listen up, Hollywood -- No amount of eye candy can overcome a bad script. You can play with your computers all you want, but if you want to make a good film, one that people will recommend to their friends and will go see again and again, you absolutely must have a good story to tell.


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