10 October 2002 | marblespire
Eye Candy But Nothing More
For a movie based on a video game, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was very good. Next to such atrocities as Tomb Raider and Street Fighter, it positively shines, and when compared to the complete gibberish known as the Super Mario Bros. Movie...
Having said that, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within could have been A Lot Better.
If you paid attention to the Final Fantasy games, to any of the hype surrounding the movie, or to the CGI industry in general, you already know the computer animation for this movie is far-and-away the best ever done. Back when Square first started producing the movie in 1998, they were progressing at a rate of about one second of film PER DAY, because of the immense quality of the graphics, and none of that quality was lost as technology caught up and time passed. The backdops are jaw-dropping and the CGI actors look more real than some actual actors. Really simply, Square declared itself the current king of CGI animation. Pixar, Dreamworks, move over--the studio that cut its teeth on PlayStation games is in the house.
Unfortunately, having been a fan of the Final Fantasy games since it first sprouted on the original Nintendo, I'm a little jaded towards visual grandeur. And when you take that away, there isn't much left.
The plot is pretty standard--Earth is a wasteland; most of Terra's population has been wiped out by the unexpected invasion of mostly-invisible aliens called Phantoms. The remaining Earthlings struggle to survive. Aki Ross (the main character) and Dr. Cid (there's been a character named Cid in EVERY Final Fantasy production since 1991) have isolated eight Earthborn Spirits--not ghosts, but tangible lifeforms; one of them is a plant, and don't ask me how the plant has a spirit--that, if combined, can wipe the Phantoms off the planet entirely. With the help of Captain Grey Edwards and his crack band of soldiers, the Deep Eyes (Final Fantasy also has a knack for weird names--I mean, who came up with 'Premium Heart'?), Aki sets off to find, capture and use those eight Spirits. And then finally there's General Hein, a megalomaniac fellow who's just trying to blow everything up using a a very large gun.
No problem there. Anyone who plays Final Fantasy is used to Fetch Quests (in which the main characters perform a service to a ruler, generally retrieving a stolen object of enormous power, in return for help from that ruler). What I want to complain about are the characters themselves.
They are FLAT.
A lot of them die, and we don't miss them except that they don't speak any more lines. Grey and Aki (male and female lead) don't really evolve over the course of the story--and Cid is just there to provide technobabble. Oh, and by the way, there's almost no 'fantasy' elements in this movie, with the sole exception of the Spirits.
My two favorite games in the Final Fantasy series are numbers Eight and Ten. They are my favorites because they have unique, interesting, convincing characters. True, most Final Fantasy games take 40 hours or more to play, giving the writers a lot of time to flesh the characters out, but generally within the first five minutes of being introduced to a character (sometimes within the first few SECONDS, as with Zell and Kimahri) you know most or all there is to know about them--they are already convincing, already realized in the player's mind. Square's GOOD at doing that sort of thing.
If Square had bothered to invent real characters for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the movie would have SOARED. As it is, it just barely limps along under the power of a few snappy lines of dialogue and a lot of pretty vistas.
It's worth seeing once, for the same reason any museum is worth visiting once--you'll get to see things you've never seen before and may not see again. But if you're like me and prefer your movies to have interesting characters and plotlines, be prepared for a disappointment.