Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 07/11/01 19:37:05

"An awe-inspiring achievement"
5 stars (Awesome)

Final Fantasy is not just a lush and eerily realistic feast for the eyes, its also has a compelling story to tell. Director Hironobu Sakaguchi, who also produced the video game, exceeded anyone's expectations by asking for, and receiving, meticulous attention to detail that made the computer generated characters so real that at times, even looking into their eyes felt like peering into the soul of a human being. Aki, the doctor voiced by Ming-Na was rendered with 60,000 strands of hair that were all animated separately to achieve the effect of natural movement. The effect is startling. The animators paid careful attention to creating the multitude of facial movements that are so important to how we communicate with each other. You recognize these computer-generated characters as people. They should be especially proud of themselves for life-like kisses and skin texture. The server farm for rendering this film must have been enormous and the end result is worth every last meg of ram. Real time immersive reality may become more than just science fiction if processing speed and memory continues to get cheaper and more powerful and we are able to create images that look and move as realistically as this film.

As beautiful as Final Fantasy is to watch with detailed, exotic settings that are a CGI cousin of the best that Japanese animation has to offer it also has a compelling story. Aki is on a mission to collect wave forms of bio-etheric energy in an attempt to save the world from hostile alien invaders. The good scientist Doctor Sid (Donald Sutherland) has taught Aki that all living things have a spirit: rocks, trees, people and even planet Earth has a spirit he calls Gaia. Doctor Sid's ideas, although used in practical ways by the remaining human enclaves, is still not readily accepted by The Council who sees over society and is flat out rejected by the ego driven and power mad General Hein (James Woods). General Hein has his own ideas about how to deal with the aliens and he'll stop at nothing to execute them. General Hein's methods, however, may shift the fate of the human race into the hands of the aliens unless Aki and the elite Deep Eyes Squadron led by Aki's former love Captain Grey Edwards (Alec Baldwin) can stop him and finish Doctor Sid's mission. There is no assurance of success, but in a grand gesture of hope, the team bands together to do the only thing they believe in.

The bleak opening scene of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan sets the tone for the entire film. Neil the sharp tongued technician (Steve Buscemi) and Jane, the surly butch gunner (Peri Gilpin) are supporting characters that each have their own important moments in the spotlight. Neil is a guy who doesn't let his pessimism get in the way of doing what needs to be done. And Jane accepts defeat with honor. They both weave a subtle complexity into the story that is already drenched with suggestions of deeper meaning. The scene where a nuclear like blast destroys a population is a hardly veiled allusion to that cataclysmic event in Japan. And the suggestion that humans must cooperate with nature for its own survival is repeated constantly. I think its cool that Sakaguchi revisits important moments in history and uses science-fiction to do what science-fiction does best, drop hints about our real lives by speaking in moments and metaphors while creating an engaging story.

Final Fantasy explores the relationship of humankind and nature. Spirit is an important theme and the relationship of spirit to physical matter is conceptualized in visually intriguing ways. The animating spirit of the physical body inhabits that body for a reason and separating spirit from body in a process other than a natural death creates a psychic trauma that telegraphs to the audience. This film even has an answer to the question, "what happens when you die".

It's as near perfect as you can get. Great action, anxious anticipation, stuff for your head to gnaw on, stuff to delight your eyes and draw you in, a moody score and even a romance. The characters have complex motivations, a compelling past and a present that demands the best of themselves. Prepare to be taken past the expected into the edge zone where myth and science meet.

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