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  Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Save The Green Planet
Year: 2001
Director: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Moto Sakakibara
Stars: Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Keith David, Jean Simmons, Matt McKenzie, Dwight Schultz
Genre: Animated, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 3 votes)
Review: The year is 2065, thirty-four years after a calamity that wiped out much of humanity from Planet Earth and left the surface desolate and populated with strange "phantoms" which scoop the lifeforce out of any human they touch. One of the survivors is Dr. Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na), who has been studying the world from her vantage point in an orbiting spacecraft; she experiences vivid dreams which she believes constitute a message from some kind of Earth spirit she calls Gaia. Now she must embark on a mission to rid the planet of phantoms once and for all...

Before this movie instalment of the Final Fantasy computer game series was released, there was a buzz about it rumouring that this would revolutionise the scope of filmmaking forever: if you believed the hype, there would from now on be computer generated characters in films interacting with actual actors and actresses utterly indistinguishable from the real thing. That's how convincing it was going to be folks, and then we got to see the production, whereupon anyone who thought that the stiffly moving figures with the robotic appearance exhibited here were totally lifelike would have been seriously deluded.

Still, there are filmmakers who endeavour to create the better than life human image, and although this film was a flop, every so often there is another film that purports to offer real-looking people fashioned with computers, and they never quite make the grade as what we have been promised. The reason for this is curious, especially when there are plenty of perfectly capable performers who have not been designed on machines, and the fact that nothing in the field has really gone better than Jar Jar Binks (whether that's a good thing or not is a matter of personal opinion). Still, Final Fantasy, created by one of the game's original team Hironobu Sakaguchi, did look as if a lot of work had gone into it.

It's just that none of the work seems to have gone on the elements that make for entertaining motion pictures. You could forgive the unnatural-looking characters, yet the dialogue is one cliché after another, so much so that you can pretty much guess what they're going to say before they've spoken, and the visuals lean far too heavily on industrial gloom for too much of the time to be particularly entrancing. Join that to a plot which opts for vague spirituality in place of concrete twists and themes, and you can see why this did not take off with the public - if only someone had pointed the flaws out to them while they were in production.

Obviously, the makers were doing their best with the realistic movement, but it appears that they were concentrating so much on getting every hair on Aki's head to move naturally that they forgot that she should not have the lack of personality of the typical action figure. But this is a problem that often arises when dealing with so much high technology in the manufacture of movies, so it's not as if the Final Fantasy creators were alone in their difficulties. A sense of humour might have helped, but having Steve Buscemi fire off a few lame wisecracks is about as good (or bad) as it gets, and otherwise this takes itself painfully solemnly, leaving a sense of indifference to its earnest plodding. Intermittently there will be a striking image that means this is not a dead loss, but boredom is the most likely feeling the majority of viewers will take away. Music by Elliot Goldenthal.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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